A break from Cairo's chaos, the long awaited spiritual festival Rou7, hosted by Dune Raider and Zwad at Fayoum's Zwara ecolodge will be kicking off this weekend. We speak to some of the Yogis giving classes about what to expect at the festival and why yoga will change your life.
Everyone is talking about it…the first spiritual festival in Egypt; Rou7. We went out last week to talk to Dune Raider, who are organising the festival along with the master minds behind it, Zuwad, and discovered that the event will be bringing together spiritual healing, meditation, and traditional Sufi music bands at Zwara Ecolodge in Fayoum. Not to mention crafts workshops including the ever so appealing, pottery. And of course, any spiritual festival would not be complete without a little yoga. We spoke to three of the yogis who will be teaching classes at the festival to find out more about the practice, their introduction into the yoga world and the respective types of yoga they each teach.
Ahmed Osman, 26 - Teaches Akhanda Yoga at Zen Space and Yalla Yoga.
Osman has been practicing for four years and teaching for one year after doing his teacher training in India. He teaches Akhanda Yoga which is a holistic kind of yoga where you chant mantras and engage in breathing techniques and Asana practice. The physical practice is mainly Hatha and every class has a theme where things such as yoga sutras or chakras are discussed at depth. The class ends with a ten minute meditation, and the whole session is one and half hours long.
“In the army I did a lot of meditation and felt I needed a shift and chose the path I love, learning more about Reiki, and crystal healing. It was either get depressed or take it as a chance for self realisation and so I took up dynamic meditation, and full moon meditation,” says Osman, when we asked him about how he got into the yoga path, “I’m excited about the festival because everyone who thinks the same way will be there. The environment is different. It's the first spiritual festival in Egypt.”
Abir Yehia, 29 - Teaches Hatha Yoga at Zen Space of which she is the owner and founder.
Yehia fell in love with yoga four years ago and just last year got certified in Egypt by an Indian teacher who she invited to come to Egypt to teach her and others. Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga and it works on the holistic well-being of a person. The class will start with meditation and asana followed by a sequence of postures and ending with meditation. It is strengthening and works on flexibility by working on the spine and developing strength of muscles, and brings you to a state of peace of mind.
“The first time I tried it was with Iman Sherbeeny (owner of The Shala, and who will also be teaching at the festival) in Sinai. I fell in love with the whole process. I exited the corporate life and followed my passion. I started to go to India, came back and opened up Zen Space,” she tells us. Yehia, who opened up Zen Space in September 2014 elaborates more about the studio which offers numerous workshops, events, and private sessions. It is the place to go to experience serenity using different tools. As for those who view the concept of serenity with skepticism, Yehia says, “Skeptics should just give it a try, and then we’ll talk.”
She will be teaching Hatha at Rou7 and assisting in the five elements session which is a meditative shamanic dance, that is said to make you eventually enter a trance-like state. Yehia says she is “very excited about Rou7. We were offered festivals before but I was never excited but this is the first place that Zen Space would fit in. I want to be part of this.”
Angie Mehrez, 27 - Teaches Yin and Hatha at Zen Space.
Mehrez was a teacher but didn’t like it. She was always interested in sports and was a squash player. “I always thought I was going to be an athlete,” she says. Two and a half years ago she started doing yoga and became so passionate about it that she took teaching training a year ago and was certified in Yin and Hatha.
At the festival she will be teaching Yin which is a static type of yoga focusing on fascia which is a layer of connective tissues that surrounds the body. Postures are usually held between 3-5 minutes and can be up to 20 minutes. You don’t have to be young or flexible. Anyone can practice it from beginners to experts including athletes and body builders who get injured a lot due to lack of appropriate stretching and flexibility. “There is not much talking. I just show people how to do a pose and ask them to focus on breathing from the navel which helps put them in a meditative state for one hour to an hour and 15 minutes,” she explains, “When you’re in a pose for 3 to 5 minutes it gives you time to meditate and get grounded. It’s not easy but if someone is helping you, you’ll get it. It’s like a guided meditation. It is not like any other yoga practice. You just let gravity and breathing take care of you. You stay longer in poses and let gravity do the work rather than muscles. Surrender.”
On the Misconceptions of Yoga
Osman says it is absolutely necessary for instructors to help in “changing people’s habits and getting out of their comfort zone. Yoga should be in the morning. Especially Ashtanga and Hatha. You should never do a sun salutation in the evening.”
“I think that’s a good thing about Rou7,” says Yehia, “It will help educated a lot of people who are not educated on yoga.” Mehrez jumps in saying that it’s not all just head stands. Yehia agrees, saying, “Maybe you need Yin and another needs Ashtanga. What suits you today won’t suit you tomorrow. It’s where you are and what you wanna do and your state and what you wanna bring in your life. Am I control freak who needs to surrender? Or do I need to take charge of my life?”
Osman says, “It’s all about awareness. People think it is just sitting there meditating, they don’t know the difference between yoga and meditation. There are so many types of yoga. This festival will introduce you to that.”
On How People are Not Willing to Make their Health a Priority
“People unfortunately don’t have their well-being as a priority," Yehia tells us, "They make up excuses and scapegoats about work and money. Your well-being is a priority. You need to give time for yourself so you can give time to others whether it's family or partners or friends. People complain about being tired and drained. You should give time to yourself. Cairo has become so loud and hectic, so I’m excited about Rou7. Everyone should join. The theme of festival being in Fayoum is amazing and spiritual. Everyone deserves a coupe of days of peacefulness.”
Mehrez also tells us, “It’s up to the yoga people to explain the purpose of yoga to newcomers. It is not an aerobics class. They should ask people if they practiced yoga before. If someone doesn’t understand the purpose of yoga they will eventually get bored.” Osman agrees, saying that “Yoga is the practice of being here and now. Establishing the mind in stillness. It’s not just physical exercise.”
Yehia also has a piece of advice for anyone who is reading this. “You should never give up on yourself for being inflexible or being unable to just sit. Just sit on the mat and see where you can go. There is no competition and no ego. No competition with self or pushing self. It is also good for weight loss. A lot of positions help with digestion and boosting the metabolism regardless of the type of yoga being practiced. All yoga types help balance the appetite. Ashtanga however is the highest fat burner.”
We decided to head out to Rou7 this weekend from 29th October to 31st October, giving up Halloween for some hardcore spirituality and serenity. Stay tuned to find out what it’s like, or hurry up and join in and find out for yourself.
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Photography by Ahmed Najeeb.