2019 was a big year for Saudi Arabia. They finally started issuing tourist visas, women are no longer required to wear an abaya by law and can finally legally learn to drive! Employment is 70% women in most sectors and women in fact, enjoy a special status.
I was invited to lead a yoga session for an all-women’s fitness event. Vidafit, a first-of-its-kind venture in Riyadh, the Kingdom’s capital, is a women-only fitness centre with over seven branches throughout the city. February 1 (coincidentally falling on Ratha Saptami), marked their first annual mega-event.
It was a moment in history. For the very first time, hundreds of women gathered in a large outdoor space (the Saudi Aviation Club) in order to let loose their abayas and take part in an entire day of fun fitness activities geared especially for them. The day started off with morning yoga. The temperature was a staggering eleven degrees Celsius along with wind chill but as we performed one Surya Namaskara after another, the sun shone brightly and a few drops of rain actually fell from the heavens. I thought I was dreaming so I asked the crowd if they felt it too. It was indeed a warm welcome from the ‘powers that be’ in mystical Arabia.
After ninety minutes of a meditative asana pranayama practice, I received so many, “Namaste”s with folded palms from the crowd. Many people went out of their way to express their love for yoga and how it makes them feel calm and de-stressed and how they want more of it. It was a welcome surprise. The warmth which I received from the beautiful women of Riyadh, the totally uninhibited way in which we spent our day together, the cultural exchange, the conversations over Arabic coffee (exotic and amazing), were all truly life-affirming that humanity exists in a place I was previously conditioned to think it did not. The entire world is privy to the knowledge that the practice of yoga is essential to one’s physical well-being. The nature of the practice will take care of the rest.