Nouf Almarwaai, Saudi Arabia’s first Yogacharya, the recipient of India’s fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri in 2018, says yoga is spreading across Saudi Arabia as its people are interested in fitness.
This year, as part of the celebrations on International Yoga Day (June 21), around 10,000 people in Saudi Arabia, its nationals included, participated with enthusiasm, in tune with the strategy adopted by the Saudi Yoga Committee “for which we work every day”, she says. Excerpts from the conversation:
How did you popularise yoga in an Islamic country like Saudi Arabia as many of its asanas reference deities and sages?
His Excellency Dr Mohammad Alissa, general secretary of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), had mentioned during his historical visit to Bharat that Indian wisdom has been known worldwide since ancient times. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali was written around 500 BCE and it’s exactly what the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations are about—to promote peaceful living among all of humanity and to care for planet Earth. This is the core of the 2030 Vision of His Highness Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Saudi Arabia was the first country that add a cultural dimension to G20 agendas and created the first working group for it during the Saudi presidency of G20 in 2020, in the midst of COVID-19 and made it the theme back then. This initiative continued after that with other countries such as Italy, Indonesia and now, India.
How does yoga help in everyday life, and does it have a religious root?
Yoga is suitable for any time and system. As I mentioned in my speech during my participation in the G20 working group for yoga, we in Saudi Arabia studied and developed yoga standards and systems that provide a wide range of options of practice for health and well-being, for rehabilitation for athletes, who prefer that form of yoga. People have different preferences and needs for yoga practice. One of the most important messages we carry through the Global Yoga Program under G20 with ICCR and United Consciousness is to promote yoga in Arab countries so that everyone in the region can benefit from it. Yoga reduces violence in behaviour and promotes serenity of mind.
What does today’s Bharat look like from your point of view?
Bharat is a second home for me. Bharat gave me yoga and Ayurveda. I wish Bharat and its people happiness always.
What would you like to say about India’s presidency of G20 that concluded recently in New Delhi?
It showed the richness of Indian heritage. The Konark temple of Odisha and yoga are UNESCO-registered heritages of India. The wall in the Bharat Mandapam hall in Pragati Maidan showcases yoga asanas and practices by ancient seers—the promotion of yoga by the government of India as a message of G20 was an amazing move.
How do you view India’s diversity?
It is highlighted in the Indian Constitution, and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” is one of the most important values of Indian society since time immemorial. I witnessed that every single day when I was in India. I, being a Saudi citizen and Muslim, was awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India for my contribution towards yoga. I continue to engage in yoga promotion overseas due to my strong belief in the message of peace and happiness for humanity.