Namaste to the World of Yoga
By Leila Khalil
Having been introduced to yoga by his sister at the YMCA, Yogi Ali, who conducts yoga classes in Cairo, fell in love with the practice from the beginning. It was seven years later, however, that he started to devote himself to the practice through intense study that took him as far as India. With an air of tranquillity and positivity about him, it becomes quickly evident upon first meeting him that yoga has shaped who he is today. Yogi Ali shares more about his passion for yoga with Cairo West Magazine.
CWM: Is yoga suitable for all ages?
Y.A. In general, yes. Yoga can be done by anyone, but as it does require remaining still and focused for certain amounts of time, classes such as the ones I regularly hold are best suited for those 15 years old and up. Younger children typically have a lot of energy and are not always able to sit still. Nevertheless, there are no restrictions in yoga – everyone is welcome.
What are the main benefits of practicing yoga?
Fitness, healing and spirituality. It’s a holistic practice meant for the body, mind and soul, the breath being the bridge for it all. Yoga allows you to see your potential. It gradually improves your strength, flexibility and even your balance. I remember the first time I did a headstand I was up for half a second, yet I was so inspired. I had done something I wasn’t able to before. Yoga teaches you to open your mind, and that anything is possible.
How often do you recommend a person practice for, and for how long each time?
Every day! Coming to class once or twice a week if you have the time is great, but the point is to practice independently. Just try to set some time aside to invest it in your body. If you can practice for two hours a day, good for you! Yoga is meant as a daily practice; there are many simple postures that do not take much time but offer great benefits. The more one engages in it, the better effect it will have on the mind and body.
Are there any lifestyle adjustments that would complement practising yoga?
Waking up early would be good! Maintaining a proper diet can also support one’s practice, because physical and mental health are directly related to one another. The great thing about yoga is that it is flexible and can be worked into most lifestyles.
Yoga is a practice that helps develop discipline and commitment, and depending on your intentions can offer great personal growth.
What classes and sessions do you hold in Cairo?
There are several types of classes and sessions available, anyone interested should check my Facebook page or give me a call.
Do you need to pre-book to attend?
Yes, as classes fill up very quickly. I ask people to register via my Facebook page, or message me by phone up to two days prior to a class to reserve their spot.
Ali also discussed a branch of yoga that he practises and shares in his sessions, Yoga Nidra. The ancient art of Yoga Nidra, according to Ali, “is yogic sleep,” and has been observed to reduce cases of tension and anxiety, relieving symptoms such as headaches, chest and abdominal pains, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. It is the deepest exploration of the subconscious mind, where one is between the state of sleep and wakefulness. By becoming one with the entire body, a person is able to relax his or her mind and enter a meditative state to achieve peace. Ali’s Facebook page, Yogi Ali, explains that this form of yoga is four times more effective than the equivalent duration of sleep.
With so many forms of yoga, what are the main points in Yoga Nidra?
Yoga is the science of self-realization. Yoga Nidra is one expression or practice that brings you to that. It is not physically active like other forms of yoga, instead it has you lay back and ask your body to relax. You start by bringing the awareness to the feet and slowly work your way up the body to the top of the head bit by bit. This form of Yoga has very positive effects particularly for those with psychosomatic disorders. You see, when there this too much tension in the mind it begins to manifest in the body. In Yoga Nidra we work in reverse by calming the body to bring ease to the mind. On a deeper level, Yoga Nidra helps relieve the subconscious mind. This part of the mind is very receptive and it’s the storehouse of our memories, fears and trauma – all our conditioning! By practicing we begin to relieve ourselves of these issues and when you incorporate an intention it’s like planting a positive seed into the depth of your being. Eventually, the whole of our being begins to move in the direction of our intention.
Meditation and Retreats
How important is it for people to try and find time to meditate, and how can it improve their health and life in general?
Mediation is a process of coming to know oneself. Unfortunately, most of us are slaves to our circumstances, conditioning and our fears. Sitting with oneself is quite difficult at first; but gradually you begin to appreciate, accept and even love yourself.
But once you get over the hard work, it’s beautiful.
Here is the key – what meditation is all about. Accept yourself. Respect yourself. Appreciate yourself. Love yourself.
What types of retreats do you run, and where?
One of my intentions is to see as many of the beautiful places Egypt has to offer and then come back to some of them with my students. I’ve taken groups to the desert in Wadi Rayan, the beaches of Sinai and the banks of the Nile in Aswan. I dream about Siwa and I think this is the year I’ll finally go. Generally, my retreats combine a beautiful and natural setting with a meditative atmosphere and an itinerary that goes beyond just yoga. On my last retreat to Aswan, for example, we visited a number of sites by boat including the Temple of Isis and the botanical gardens. We even had dinner in a Nubian home!
In March, I took a group on my first trip abroad and our destination was Rishikesh, the Capital of yoga in North India. I was excited to give my students a taste of the yogic lifestyle and guide them around the town that helped open my heart and awaken my spirit. And by the time this goes to print I’ll have announced a retreat to Konya, Turkey where Rumi the great Sufi poet and teacher lived and taught.
How often do you conduct retreats, and how long do they last for?
Honestly, I like to take things as they come and so there’s no fixed template. Typically, retreats are 2-4 days long but the further we travel the longer we tend to stay. I always have something in the works but I’m also committed to my students in Cairo and try not to be away too long or often.
How many people usually attend these?
It really depends on the sort of place we’re going but the average has probably been 12-15 people in the past.
You close your eyes, and for a few peaceful moments, all the problems clouding your mind disappear. You hear those next to you, exhaling all their troubles away. The soothing sound of the instructor’s voice reassures you that you are in a safe and loving place. For the first time in a long while, your soul feels clear – as if it’s been reborn and rejuvenated. The instructor asks you to perform a few poses to help your mind and body become one. As you move from down-ward dog, to plank, to child’s pose, you feel the oxygen flow through your nose and reach every part of your body, collecting all the negative energy and filtering it out. This lasts for about an hour and half, however you are not the same after. Your body, mind and soul are more connected and you feel light and happy. Placing your palms together against your chest, you bow slightly and greet those next to you with a single word… “Namaste”.
After taking Ali’s class, I was relaxed and calm. I definitely recommend this class to anyone regardless of their age, gender or lifestyle.