Yoga in Kuwait: ‘Namaste’, let’s begin our Yoga class
Austrian-born Hedwig Muellner started doing Yoga after she slipped a disc in her back. Muellner credits Yoga for getting her back on the road to recovery. At 78, she still does Yoga every morning despite having had a pacemaker for the last ten years.
‘Namaste’, let’s begin our Yoga class. Since bygone days when many Indians wandered in the mountains to meditate for days on end, people have been practicing Yoga, with the goal of attaining inner happiness and reaching a higher level of consciousness.
The technique of attaining and experiencing the higher states of consciousness via mediation subsequently became known as Yoga. To this day the writings and teachings of the ‘Father of Yoga’, Pathanjali, can be found in ancient Sanskrit texts and religious works. “Indian people would go into the mountains and meditate for days sitting in the one posture,” said Dr Anju Varghese, instructor of Yoga at Pilates and More Women’s Health Club in Kuwait.
After attaining this higher level of consciousness they would be able to leave their body. They believed that they needed to find happiness and this was the way to do it,” said Varghese. “They finally realized that happiness is found within ourselves. Once a person finds their inner happiness then everything will come to them”.
Varghese explained that once Pathanjali had reached this realization for himself he wanted to be able to teach others to find their own inner happiness and set about developing the physical movements and postures which are now collectively known as Yoga.
Varghese says that it is rare these days to find someone who will sit for days on end in the one posture. For people to attain the things they want in life, she says, people have to live in the ‘here and now.’
Yoga is a union between the body, mind and soul,” said Varghese. “Today too many people only think of the physical wants such as money and power, never thinking of anything more.
World Yoga Day
January 30th is World Yoga Day where millions of people around the world will join in a one hour yoga session devoted to human rights. “The purpose of World Yoga Day is to have everyone thinking and meditating on something that serves a higher purpose than themselves,” said Varghese.
Project 2011 focuses on bringing water and sanitation to the people of Ethiopia. The aim of World Yoga Day is that as many nations as possible will come together to participate in a 24-hour yoga marathon where donations of tuition fees will go towards Project 2011.
Benefits of yoga
Dr Femi William, who is also a Yoga instructor at Pilates and More, says the benefits of Yoga are experienced on three levels: physical, mental and spiritual. “On the physical side your muscles, joints and ligaments all benefit from yoga,” explains William, adding, “Everything will be stretched to become flexible and strong”.
William also claims that internal systems such as the nervous system and internal organs will also benefit from the stimulation provided by Yoga exercises. “Yoga helps the body to enhance the positive things in your body to remain inside while the negative toxins and energies will be expelled,” said William. “It is a complete detoxification routine.
On the mental level the instructors agree that Yoga enhances general wellbeing, inducing a positive mood, increasing concentration levels and enhancing one’s powers of understanding. They say that when a person begins to experience a rise in these positive aspects it leads to their being a happier person.
Yoga versus other exercise regimes
William says that while yoga encompasses the body, mind, and soul many other forms of exercise don’t. “As an example, Pilates is very good for the physical side or the body,” she says. “While it has many moves similar to yoga they are also very different.” Yoga is a ‘parasympathetic’ exercise that works to increase relaxation, she explains, while Pilates is solely ‘sympathetic,’ working only to stimulate the body.
In Pilates you perform the exertion of the exercise while breathing out, as with many other forms of exercise, using the mouth and nose,” said William. “However, with yoga you inhale during the exertion and only through the nose”. She also claims that with Yoga there is less strain during a session which leads to greater positive Karma.
An exercise for all
Anyone can do yoga, regardless of age, sex, race or levels of fitness. Even pregnant women can perform yoga postures, albeit in a modified form. William, who is currently six months pregnant, revealed that she still practices yoga every day.
In the first trimester you have to modify any kind of exercise, including yoga,” she told the Kuwait Times. “However, in the second trimester you can go back to regular sessions. As you get bigger the postures are modified to accommodate the growing stomach. In the last month of pregnancy we concentrate more on the meditation side rather than performing postures in order to get ready for the birth”.
In everyday life people perform yoga, whether they realize it or not. From the very young to the elderly yoga is practiced the world over. “I started yoga classes in 1975 with a Filipino Yogi here in Kuwait,” said Muellner. “I would attend his classes two or three times per week. After a while he left Kuwait saying he’d return, but he didn’t”. For the next two years Muellner continued practicing Yoga by herself and learning new postures.
Some of my friends who also did yoga suggested I start teaching it myself,” explains Muellner. “I spoke with the Recreation Manager at the Hilton Hotel where we used to do our classes and he said, ‘What a good idea.’ So I started teaching”. Muellner taught yoga classes from 1977 to 1987 in Kuwait during which time she travelled to India attending many Ashrams.
Traditionally, an Ashram is a religious setting in which to practice yoga. Ashrams are usually located far from heavily populated areas, in forest or mountain regions. They take advantage of the refreshing natural surroundings, which are conducive to spiritual instruction and meditation.
In 1984 Muellner gained her Siddha Yoga Course certification. She attributes her continuing good health to her dedication to practicing yoga. Although she now wears a pacemaker, Muellner says she believes that a brief break from yoga could have been behind a decline in her health. “Since I got the first pacemaker I have returned to Yoga and I haven’t had any major problems,” she added. “Every day I practice yoga before breakfast and take a one-hour walk in the afternoon”.
Muellner says that Yoga has benefitted her in keeping very physically flexible, increasing her blood circulation and helping to keep her joints supple, especially in her back. She explains that suffering a slipped disc years ago whilst playing tennis first started her off with Yoga. “Since I started yoga my back problem has disappeared,” said Muellner. “I also do meditation as well for good mental health”.
Muellner says her age has not stopped her from performing all yoga positions, although she adds she’s had to give up doing headstands for a while because of a small problem in her neck. Once this has cleared up, she asserts, she’ll be back to doing headstands again.
Yoga in Kuwait
Varghese and William say that whilst awareness of yoga is very high in Kuwait, the awareness of its full benefits have yet to be realized. “We have a high demand for yoga classes not only in the gym but also private sessions in the home,” said William.
In support of World Yoga Day, Pilates and More are holding a comprehensive yoga workshop to rejuvenate the body, cleanse the mind, and awaken the soul. There are many forms of yoga classes available, including Vedic Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, various meditation practices and even Laughing Therapy.
Laughing therapy involves various postures and facial expressions. To begin with the laugh is often forced. As the class progresses the laugh becomes a natural reaction relaxing the muscles and, its proponents claim, causing the brain to emit Alpha waves, leading to a happier mood. As the classes come to a conclusion participants are sent off with a prayer of peace, Om Shanti.
Wendy Clayton, Staff Writer