Muslim-majority countries Egypt and the UAE joined the world in celebrating the third International Yoga Day with a large number of people performing yogic asanas which have gained popularity in the two Arab countries over the years. In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, a large number of people gathered before Iftar at the Baron Palace, a distinctive historic Indian-inspired mansion in Heliopolis, to practice yoga with professional trainers. In his speech during the celebration, India’s Ambassador to Egypt Sanjay Bhattacharyya thanked the local authorities and Ministry of Antiquities for their support in organising the event. He said Indian Embassy chose this year to hold the event at the Baron Palace as it is the only building in Egypt with architecture which is similar to Indian temples.
“We have been changing the venues of the celebrations for the past years. The first time was at the India House (in Zamalek), last year it was at Al-Azhar Park and this year we thought to bring it to India,” the ambassador said. He said the celebration was held later in the day and not early in the morning due to the holy month of Ramazan. Muslims observe fast during the day time in Ramazan.
Besides Cairo, the Indian Embassy is organising another IDY celebrations at the beachfront of Sheraton Montazah Hotel, Alexandria and at Nadi Moini, Gama al-Adima, Ismailia. Although yoga is part of India’s intangible cultural heritage, it has emerged as a global brand and is now being practiced internationally, including in Arab countries. During the past few years, schools and centres that teach yoga in Egypt have increased to about 50, the Indian envoy said.
Yoga is one of the major classes offered by the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture in Cairo and it is attended by a large number of people from different governorates in Egypt. “I have been practicing yoga for years and I am so happy that there is a yoga championship in Egypt,” said 27-year-old yoga trainer Amina Ihab, who participated in the yoga championship last month and received the first award in the category of above 18 years old.
“I think that now Egyptians became more understandable for yoga, which is the science of the right living. It changes the body shape and benefit the soul,” she added. Another winner of the championship, Egyptian-Lebanese Dani Koury, said the reason behind the increasing number of women yoga practitioners – which exceeds men in Egypt – may be due to wrong promotions by some centres or schools.
“Yoga is for all people and all ages. However, some people have commercially promoted yoga as a light sport for women, which made men more shy of doing a sport which is being described as for women. But yoga has different positions some of them are tough and it suits all people,” said Khoury, who is preparing himself to be a yoga instructor. Ibrahim Mamoud, 23, said that for him yoga is a very important healing process.
“It is not just for flexibility in your body or your soul, it is healing. It is very important as it keeps you healthy and young and makes you believe in yourself and that everything is possible,” said Mahmoud, who has been practicing yoga for the last two years. One year ago, Amany Yasser, 40, with her three daughters and mother went as a family to MACIC to learn yoga.
“Yoga is very interesting. We travelled different places across Egypt to practice it as part of the centre’s events,” said Yasser, who is the winner of the First Award of the below 50 category. Yasser’s five-year-old daughter Laila Nader Abdel Rahman is the youngest yoga practitioner at the MACIC while her mother Laila Mahmoud Helmi, 72, is the oldest. Helmi, who won the First Award of the yoga championship of the above 50 category, said she found that yoga improves body flexibility, self-confidence and character. In the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, over 4,000 people participated in a yoga session where various yoga associations exhibited their different styles.
The highlight of the programme was the ushering of the main event with ‘Laughter Yoga’ which injected a good deal of happiness among the Emiratis dignitaries, diplomats and nationals of several countries. A 25-minutes film on Yoga Harmony with Nature was also screened. Indian Ambassador Navdeep Suri thanked Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance, for gracing the International Day of Yoga celebrations in the month of Ramazan.
“Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being,” Sheikh Nahayan said in his speech. He also noted that India and the UAE have enjoyed a long and fulfilling relationship.
“We are all thankful for the opportunity presented by this celebration for promoting the friendship and understanding that exists between our two countries,” he said. Sheikha Lubna highlighted yoga’s importance as a force promoting tolerance, acceptance, and peace in the world.
She hoped International Day of Yoga will bring inner and outer peace, and lead the way toward more tolerant societies. She drew a parallel between the holy month of Ramazan, efforts of her Ministry of Tolerance and the message of harmony and peace conveyed by International Day of Yoga.