How did you get introduced to yoga?
I actually got introduced to yoga a very long time ago when I was still in school, around 12 years old, I'm not even sure why I was interested in such things it was very random and to this day still a mystery. Why would something so profound and spiritual appeal to a child? But it just did. I think I was reading online one day about religion and spirituality then I read about Buddhism and that lead me to Yoga. I found it very interesting. I went to Diwan and I bought myself a book about yoga postures; it was a very basic book with pictures and diagrams of different traditional asanas and how to get into them. I remember taking it home and when I tried to practice I realized it wasn't as easy as it looked. It was really challenging; I wasn't athletic and I mainly wanted to become more flexible and stronger. It felt like a nice way to move my body besides P.E. in school. I grew fonder of the practice and I started looking for teachers, until I finally stumbled on Hala Barakat. She was the only teacher I found in Egypt at the time. Long story short I couldn't go to her classes because of our different locations and because of school so I just dropped the whole thing.
A few years later, a friend of mine told me about a new yoga studio that opened in Zamalek called On The Mat. I started going to classes and practicing at home, exploring a lot of types, trying to visit studios whenever I traveled. I just wanted to learn as much as I could about Yoga.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
Honestly, when I decided to take training, my intention wasn't to become a teacher at all. I was unemployed at the time I wanted to do something with my life and I found a local Yoga course. I didn't even realize that it was a teacher training at first, I just thought it was a month-long Yoga course. Because I love yoga and because it was accessible, I decided to go. During the training, whenever we practiced teaching I felt very good and really enjoyed it. So, when we were done with the training, I decided to give teaching a shot and it's been fun and amazing since then.
How did the non-physical part of yoga show itself to you?
Initially, when I first started to learn about yoga I saw the connection but it wasn't very strong to me. I saw a clear cut between meditation versus movement. I knew that they were related somehow but I never really applied it in my practice or even think it was important to do so. I didn't even realize at the time that the movement itself can be meditative or could lead to a meditative state. Later on, when I became a more regular practitioner, the relationship started to make a lot more sense and it was no longer just about the physical part of Yoga.
A lot of people wonder if doing the training locally is worse or better than doing it abroad. As a teacher who took her training here in Egypt do you have any insight about this?
It's not going to be too easy for me to answer this question as I don't have a frame of reference for doing it abroad but I can tell you that doing it here, it wasn't very immersive. Obviously, you go home every day you're going back to your regular life and you're free to do anything "un-yogic" that you want, without the need or pressure to follow the yogic system; you're not doing all the other aspects of the practice that you should be doing. So, it's very much up to you to do all that, which is also liberating and nice because you have the choice to follow the path on your own because this is what normal life is. No one is pushing you all the time to do things a certain way; it's going to be up to you. You have to think for yourself, you have to do karma yoga yourself, you have to do meditation on your own and all that.
So actually, doing it here in Egypt, allowed for the transition of yoga into my life to be somewhat seamless. I would assume that transitioning back from a really immersive abroad training would be harder. But, being already here in my environment, it was easy for me to keep practicing and to keep following the path of yoga on my own. Having said this, I imagine that the abroad immersive course is very different and I would actually like to experience it. The idea of being fully dedicated to yoga 24/7 and live the whole experience sounds really appealing.
Here in Egypt and around the world, there are new Yoga teachers every day. Now, yoga is yoga but, how does a teacher try to make the experience he/she gives to their students unique? And do you think it's important for it to be unique, to add a bit of "you" into the equation?
I believe that whether you like it or not, you have a character and this character will very much show in the way that you teach and the way that you interact with your students. You have a presence and you have an energy and they will transform the classroom. It's something that you don't even have to try to do, it's there. As long as you keep a positive and caring intention, because you're here to care for and help others, then the best of you will come out. Each person has something different to offer and their best is a very specific thing that will give the classroom a very specific and unique energy. No effort needed here to be special or different, you are special and different so you just have to be you.
So, you've been learning about yoga since you were 12. What are things that you learnt about yoga only when you started teaching it?
Being on the other side is completely different. They both seep into my life and my character but they are two very different parts of my practice. Practicing on my own alone is one thing and teaching is another journey altogether. You are learning about yourself in a very new light, through others. When you're alone, it's I am angry or I am sad or I am explosive; it's a one on one conversation. When you're in a class your learning about yourself on a whole new level, immersed amongst other people. For me, I try to hold enough space to include everyone and make everyone feel comfortable but also make myself comfortable. I think it's just a very different way of seeing yourself and seeing yourself in relation to the world.
The classroom in itself creates a space for everyone to change not just the students and not just the teacher. Personally, a few of the things I learnt in the classroom include learning more about myself, learning to be really patient, how other people influence me, how I can influence and help others, and how my power to help is actually limited. I learnt that I can only do so much to help you but the rest is up to you, and some of it even is out of both our hands. This was a very big lesson for me. A lot of the time, you walk into the classroom confident and sure that you can teach all of these people, but you realize overtime that it's not that simple.
At the end of the day, I've been practicing yoga for so long and I'm not the strongest person and I'm not the most flexible person, and I really hope that people who come to class can focus on yoga's other benefits as well, not just a physical part. I hope for them to take all the teachings to help them make sense of things. Yoga is not about how you look in a pose, there are just so many benefits that you can reap from it. I can't deny how important - and how beautiful - the physical part of yoga is, but if you're not focusing also on the non-aesthetic physical benefits and spiritual benefits, then you're really missing out on a very big part of this beautiful ancient practice.
To practice with Shahd, catch her classes at On the mat on Sundays at 7.15pm & Wednesdays at 8.00pm • At Mudra Yoga Studio on Mondays at 8.00pm & Thursdays at 8.30pm • At Beit Mariam on Saturdays at 12.00pm