Teacher Feature: Hibbah El Sayad

How and when did you get into yoga?

I was introduced to yoga in 2009, Ashtanga Yoga specifically. I tried a class or two and it just wasn't really for me. I didn't like it. I dismissed it and I went back to doing my regular fitness workouts. Two years later, I moved to the States and I was re-introduced to yoga and that's when I realised that there were so many different types of yoga. I attended a power yoga class which was very exciting and fun. I started to add yoga classes to my routine and that's basically how it started. I was doing different types depending on my mood. Then, in 2012 I had a personal challenge and that's when I really started getting into it. I was physically very weak and so yoga was the one thing that I could really do so I started practicing on a daily basis and it started to open so many doors and soon, I started to get better and get back on my feet. I really believed in it then and that's when I realised that this is what I want to do. I really want to understand it more and know it better. I want to learn it in order to teach it and to share it.

How was yoga able to help you through your personal situation?

The personal situation I had was very traumatic, I was really mentally, physically and emotionally totally collapsing. I really needed something to ground me. What was happening was that I was not allowing myself to really feel in order to move on. When I practiced yoga though, it was the only time I felt that I was starting to release, because it's no longer an option. When you really get into the practice and in the end, you go into meditation, what your body is doing is not up to you anymore because it's completely letting go. So, my yoga practice became my time to feel, my time to connect with myself, my time to let go, my time to not have to be so strong and tough. It was my time to just even sit on my mat and cry. The practice really allowed me to feel and to walk through it and to get stronger from the inside out. It really strengthened me, it really helped me to get to know myself better, it brought a lot more awareness to where I was and what I was feeling, it brought a lot more acceptance to being ok with today, to being ok with moving slowly, being ok with imperfection, and just letting things go.

As a mother, how did yoga change your relationship with your kids?

What struck me most about yoga was the emotional side of it, how it works on aligning the mind, body and soul, that was personally for me the highlight. Yoga allowed me as a person to become much more accepting, much more compassionate, much more grateful, and just much more everything. I even became more loving, accepting and kind to myself. And I really think that when that happened, it reflected on my relationship with my kids. I'm a true believer that we can try on the outside to do things but when we don't feel it for ourselves first it's very difficult to give to someone else. So, I think it definitely allowed me to be more understanding and compassionate. I'm trying to move away from wanting everything to be perfect and according to the book, because I do have that in me, but it's something I'm constantly working on, to be more able to let go.

Having practiced yoga in the US and in Egypt, do you feel that there is a cultural difference within yoga between the two countries?

I definitely feel that there is a very big difference. Yoga in the US for people that I've been around and seen, is not something that you think of doing, it is something that is a part of your everyday life. It's completely incorporated in your life. Every day at 7 o'clock in the morning we are 40 people standing on our mats, the same 40 people every single day, it's not a question of “Am I in the mood to go? I don't think I'm up to it.” No, this is what's happening. So, I feel that the commitment levels of people are much higher abroad. I think here in Egypt, for some people definitely it's a part of their lifestyle but I would say the majority of people still need to make an effort, which is something I admire because people are really trying. But what I'm trying to say is that for people in the States it's so incorporated in their lives, it’s not an option, and I think that this is because of their upbringing. People abroad are brought up to, I believe, a higher level of commitment. I'm not judging anyone here or saying that one is better than the other I believe it's just a cultural thing, it's how you're brought up. Our lifestyle and culture is completely different which does not allow us to move into this the same way.

Another difference I definitely see is that a lot more men abroad are willing to do yoga. There is no difference between a man and a woman doing yoga. Men here are interested to do it too but I think there is the factor of worrying about coming to class and being the only male, which I understand of course, it can be intimidating being one man around 15 or more women. But I think there's a mindset in Egypt that it's more of a woman thing than a man thing and I really disagree with that. I see so many men get into yoga and it really shifts them physically, emotionally and mentally so it's really not a man/woman thing, it's for everyone.

So, for someone who is new to yoga and wants to integrate it in their life the way that you're saying, what tips would you give them?

I think that the first thing to do is to set an intention: I want to practice yoga. Second is to make a commitment and say I'm going to start this journey and I'm going to stay on it for at least 3 months and then I'm going to make a decision of whether I want to continue or not. Third, I believe the person should go around and try different types of yoga and different instructors because they need to find what resonates with them, which is different for every single person. I've been to teachers that are just simply amazing but I don't have the chemistry with them and that doesn't make them any less amazing but we just don't have the chemistry. I go to someone else and we have the chemistry and that's what counts. For me, that is key in a yoga practice. Trying different types is also important because each type can work for us at different stages and times in our lives. You might be going through a phase where Ashtanga is the best thing for you, you might be going through a phase where Hatha or Vinyasa and being led in a class is better for you. There is no right or wrong, there is what is working for me right now. We need to listen to what we need. I'm saying this as someone who tried to Ashtanga a while back and thought it wasn’t for me. I've now been practicing Ashtanga for the last 2 or 3 months and I love it, I'm really enjoying it. We just need to constantly revisit ourselves.

When you stop practicing consistently, what changes?

First of all, I believe that yoga is a philosophy, it's a way of life. The practice is a part of yoga, and it's a big part of course but there’s more to it. When you go into the practice and you're ready to connect to your breath, it really allows you to go a lot deeper within yourself. It allows you to bring a lot more awareness to yourself, awareness on the physical level, on an emotional level, on a mental level and on a spiritual level; it really takes you on a journey. So, when I stop practicing or I'm not practicing as frequently, physically, I will not be as open. But once you start doing it again it's going to start to come back on a physical level. What concerns me more with yoga though, or makes me see the added value it gives me on an emotional and mental level, is that it allows me to really bring awareness to myself, it makes me notice things. Every time I get on my mat I start my practice by taking a deep inhale and I ask myself "So how have I arrived physically on my mat today?" And then I breathe again and I ask myself "How have I arrived emotionally on my mat today?" And I don't judge, I'm just bringing it into my awareness, noticing where am I today. So, when I don't practice and I don't ask myself these two questions, I'm not going to be in the same place. I’m not checking in with myself. And sometimes, it's really difficult to have the discipline to stand on your mat and practice. Some other times, I can't wait to wake up because I want to practice. I don’t judge, I learn to push myself when I can and accept myself always.

Hibbah's Schedule: Galleria 40: Monday & Thursday 10:30am, Saturday 11:00am, Tuesday 8:30pm, • Nūn Center: Sunday & Tuesday 9:30am • Gardinia: Monday 7:00pm