CHENNAI: The audience at Chettinad Hari Shree Vidyalayam was seated in stunned silence. The story of Saudi Arabia’s first certified yoga instructor, founder of Yoga Arab Foundation, and Padma Shri awardee (2018) Nouf Marwaai, had kept them in awe of her journey and her influencing on many lives through yoga. At this event conducted by Center for Soft Power and Chettinad Hari Shree Vidyalayam on Sunday, the 39-year-old yoga practitioner spoke to CE about her life-changing transformation through yoga — what she calls a wellness sport — and how it can be used as a tool to build the relationship between Saudi Arabia and India.
Nouf traced her journey back to 1998 when she took to yoga. “I struggled with an autoimmune disease and all its adverse effects since birth, with no diagnosis. I began practising yoga and anaturopathic diet. It helped overcome my illness. It triggered my interest in the field. I learned yoga, Ayurveda and naturopathy from teachers with diverse backgrounds spread across India and in the Himalayas,” said Nouf, who is also a clinical psychologist. She’s one of the first women from Saudi Arabia to come to India and learn yoga and Ayurveda. HH Swami Veda from Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh was her mentor.
She established her first yoga studio in 2006 when she was 26 years old and a yoga school in 2008, the first registered yoga school in Saudi Arabia. Later, she founded the Arab Yoga Foundation in 2010. It is the first body in the Gulf that registers and recognises yoga teachers and schools. She has trained 10,000 students and certified 700 teachers in her 18 years of experience. “There are many similarities in cultural, family values and several other aspects between Saudi Arabia and India. Earlier, people were apprehensive about chanting mantras. I wanted to clarify the misconception that yoga does not conflict with religion. Now, many students are actively practising it in our nation. I have trained many Arabs. Perspectives are changing and people in our country want to know about Indian culture,” she said.
India is second home to Nouf. Every year, she frequents the country with three or four groups from her yoga foundation. They visit either the southern or northern parts of the country depending on the season. Her last batch of 30 students was the first from Saudi Arabia to pass the AYUSH exam.
Nouf is working towards quality certification programmes for yoga practitioners.
“Indians who live in Saudi make for the biggest expatriate diaspora. Four million out of 13 million expatriates are Indians. Our eating patterns, attire and values have changed with yoga. Our ministries have included yoga in recreational therapies, rehabilitation and in curing illnesses by offering free yoga classes. Yoga will bring us together and closer,” she said.