How and when did you start yoga?
When I was 13 years old, I had a lot of back pain and my parents and I didn't know what it was. I started yoga to relieve the pain and I actually hated it. I kept my practice anyway because it did help my back a lot until I went to university and then I stopped. After I graduated and moved back to Abu Dhabi I started meditating using headspace. I also started attending yoga classes next to my workplace with a teacher named David who made us practice to music and it was all very new and fun to me with great, refreshing energy. Doing these two things together finally made me understand why we practice yoga; it was no longer just about my back.
When David left Dubai and I was left teacher-less and travelling around a lot with work, I needed yoga on the go. I started practicing online with a teacher called Rodney Yee. It was a 20-minute morning daily session that ended up changing my life. I started feeling so much better and I started looking forward to my days more, I was absolutely in love with it. In 2013, I started feeling restless about my job and I felt that I needed a change in my life. I had a lot of interests and I was looking at different courses in the US when I got a newsletter from Rodney that they opened a new space in New York and were about to host their first 200-hour teacher training course. I quit my job, I packed my bags and went to pursue this. As someone who was completely obsessed with Rodney, it was an incredible experience to learn from him and start a new phase in my yoga journey.
Who do you think yoga is for and do you really think somebody needs to be flexible or strong or thin to be able to start yoga?
First of all, I'm not your typical skinny, tall, very fixable yoga teacher at all. One time I was teaching at a Wild Guanabana event and at the end of it, this woman came up to me and said, "I never knew that fat people can do yoga! They always told me I had to be thin first!" I was like, "Well here I am as you can see, doing yoga!" I think just seeing me and seeing that I'm not that flexible or slim and I'm still doing it, that in itself helps change that stigma. Going back to my actual practice, I no longer look for things that make me stronger or more flexible, I look at the part that's a lot more powerful than that. The physical aspect is great for your body but the rest of yoga is so fascinating and so much harder actually. When you practice yoga enough, you realize that the physical part is just the first step into this big new world.
So how do you think yoga is different from any other kinds of fitness?
When practiced in its full form, yoga is not just a physical practice. Yes, this is what we see and it's what a lot of people expect from it but it's only the first step into it. What's different about yoga is the idea of working within your own limitation. A lot of other sports are about pushing yourself beyond limitation and using that ego that we all have to make yourself go further and deeper and harder. While that can be great and sometimes necessary, with yoga you learn more about yourself. For example, today I can't go too deep into my backbends and that's ok. For me, the most important thing is the meditation aspect of it. Not just seated meditation even but the meditation that you inevitably do while you're practicing. It takes you out of your mind and more into your body. Our brains are working nonstop from the moment we wake up until we go back to bed. Being able to take all that attention that we keep in our brain and moving it to the rest of our body, that's yoga.
With yoga becoming more and more popular, online and offline, what do you think it takes to be a true sharer and teacher of yoga?
First of all my two cents about how yoga looks online is, yes it's annoying and yes a lot of the times it's misrepresenting the way yoga should be but it's also bringing awareness to a really powerful practice. I’ve had my fair share of being annoyed at yoga on Instagram but now I think it introduces people to yoga and if that brings one little benefit to their lives then great, let it. For what makes a good yoga teacher, I'd say first, brutal honesty. If you can be honest with yourself day in and day out and you're able to see beyond yourself and see the people in your classroom that you're meant to be holding space for, that makes you a good yoga teacher. Second, it's not about a fancy training, you need to learn about human anatomy and you need to maintain a good practice. Third, and most importantly I might add, is continuing to learn. What we know about yoga has been passed on to so many people over thousands of years in a language that we don't even speak so whatever we know now is not even much. So we have to keep learning. Another thing is, you have so many different students with different bodies, different abilities so the only thing you can really bring to them is your attention. If you're very attentive and you're able to observe yourself and other people who are practicing with you, that also helps make you a good teacher.
Why do you chant OM in class and what does it represent to you?
I don't usually start my classes by chanting OM but I do end them with it. It's not always approachable to everybody especially those who are new to class so that's why I don't start with it. At the end of class though after a good Savasana, OM is a great way to bring them back. I find that it unifies everybody; all those people who don't know each other and who come from different backgrounds, it brings us all together into this one sound. We get to know each other by chanting, it connects us all through the vocal meditation that OM creates. I also feel that at the end of the class, chanting OM prepares you to leave the yoga room and go back to your daily life.
How different do you think your life would be if you weren't practicing yoga?
I think my life would be very disconnected. The one thing that makes me realize how important yoga is, is when I feel really disconnected and angry, as soon as I practice, it reconnects me, not necessary to my true self because I don't even know what that means, but it just reconnects me to me. Without it, I would be unaware of what's happening within me and around me, and when you're unaware, you're very disconnected. I just think that there's so much more to yoga than meets the eye, more than just the physical part we see. Yoga does not fit in a box and that's the beauty of it. It's so diverse, you have so many options and so many different ways of practicing making it accessible to everybody.
*If you'd like to practice with Nadia, you can find her at The Breathing Room on Mondays at 6:30pm • Osana Family Wellness on Tuesdays at 6:30pm & Fridays at 5pm.