By Nadia Ismail
Breathe in. And breathe out.
Walk into a yoga class, and one of the most recurrent themes of the class is the need to breathe in the energy from without and release the stress from within.
In Egypt’s current unstable political and economic situation, where anxiety and stress are bubbling over, many Egyptians are turning to the ancient art as a means to step out of the daily grind and manage their emotions.
“Cairo is a very crowded place, and life is hectic in many ways,” said Cairo-based yogi Ayman Emad. “But taking time off and practicing yoga and meditation helps in releasing the stress resulting from such a tiring life.”
For Samar Yehia, another Cairene, coming to yoga is a way to quiet the energy-draining mental chatter from an overcrowded lifestyle. And for her, like many, it is the breathing techniques taught to them in yoga that forms one of the most life-changing aspects of their practice.
“What really differentiates yoga from physical sports is that it works on what I grew to call ‘the inner body’ not just the outer body, through the connection between breath, movement, and mind,” Yehia said. “Although it is a full workout in its own right, it actually breeds inner flexibility with time.”
With practice, Yehia said, yoga nurtures a “feeling of centeredness and closeness to oneself which brings with it a sense of acceptance and friendliness.”
Yoga has become a quiet and still unrecognised seed of change for many who search within for personal strength and a deep-seated spark of inspiration to deal with urban living.
Yehia said yoga has been essential in helping her to face the challenges that come with living in Egypt, whether it is Cairo’s traffic, daily power cuts, the occasional petrol shortage, or even people’s violent tempers and rising intolerance on the streets.
“I’ve taken to practicing abdominal breathing while driving in heavy traffic to calm my nerves and keep my irritation in check,” Yehia said. “Immediately following a yoga class, I usually enjoy a sense of letting go and gently drifting with the flow of life.”
Cairo-based yogi Yusra Badr said practicing the patience required of flowing in and out of challenging yoga postures has given her new perspective of “patience, perspective and humility” in daily living.
“It taught me how to place matters and obstacles into their real size, and in reality, what seems to be a disaster is nothing more than a small hurdle of many,” she said.
In a city where even the smallest fights tend to end as shouting matches involving a crowd, yoga has inspired Yusra to take a calmer and respectful approach.
She said she now feels like she has the tools to let go where a fight may have ensued.
“I guess it allows me to have a bird’s-eye view on things,” she said. “With people, it augmented my preliminary tendencies to be nonjudgemental and to be objective about everything.”
Nermeen Edrees, a Cairene who has practiced yoga for just over a year, agreed.
“I have noticed a change in dealing with certain situations, where I intentionally notice and deal with the anxiety attacks, which are much less frequent, when they hit,” said Edrees, who works at an international bank in Cairo. “I get angry still, but I acknowledge my anger and don’t reveal much, and I actually now weigh things before I act or speak, I try to balance.”