On International Yoga Day, people around the world are all set to take out their yoga mats and start exercising, but they might not be aware that yoga goes back centuries. Yoga is considered to be an ancient practice that originated 5,000 years ago in India. Yoga was developed as a way to interconnect the mind, body and soul to step closer into enlightenment. As the practice became popular in the west, it became popularised as an exercise and relaxation method, with claims to help the body’s general well-being, alleviate physical injuries and chronic pain.

For many, these routines are a way to connect the body, mind and soul in a way that has existed for centuries. In the words of one of its most famous practitioners, the late B. K. S. Iyengar, “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”

Israa Shafi, who is the only certified face yoga teacher in Pakistan, has been making a conscious effort to introduce and highlight its importance. She started in 2017 with formal training from Nepal Yoga Academy. Having navigated through various career roles, she found her true calling in teaching yoga. “I got into face yoga after I had developed eczema on my face and this led me to look into ways of taking care of my skin. Turning 34 pushed me to look into non-invasive procedures to keep my face healthy just like the body. I’m the only one in Pakistan, who is certified in face yoga from Danielle Collins – the face yoga expert,” she divulges.

Although, in the beginning, she didn’t really enjoy the practice. Instead, it was something that changed her life “In my mid-20s, I found myself physically and mentally unwell. As a person, I found myself unable to comprehend the emotions I was feeling. I believe all of this translated into severe anxiety, fear and also the diagnosis of early stage arthritis and asthma,” she relays.

“After I got married, I decided to break this cycle that I found myself stuck in. That’s when yoga changed my perspective on life. It helped me understand a whole lot about myself and those around me. I felt connected to the beauty of existence, life and what comes with it.”

Israa found a shift happening in her life through the power of yoga. “My physical symptoms went away as I got mentally well. I began to react less and became calmer as a person in terms of my anger and anxiety. I also learnt the art of letting go and I feel this is an ongoing process,” she adds.

To put it simply, when we carry a lot of emotional burden within ourselves, it eventually translates into physical and mental symptoms. We carry traumatic experiences in our body. Yoga and other such disciplines help us release this burden. It’s like peeling the many layers of an onion and that’s how we humans find ourselves healing through those layers to get to the core (soul) of us. “I always recommend people to seek therapy along with yoga to help with depression or debilitating anxiety. We all need to start somewhere, taking the first step towards healing is crucial,” she advises.

She strongly believes that yoga is an inclusive practice and doesn’t have anything to do with your gender or age. “Yoga is for instilling humanity in the first place, the discipline itself doesn’t discriminate,” she comments. “It is a practice to instil compassion, kindness and first mostly self-awareness. It is to understand that as humans we are not separate from one another even though each one of us has our own unique experience to share but on a deeper level we are all connected as beings. We are entangled in this thing called life together so why not be there for each other to make it a space that shares mutual respect and love for one another and this earth that helps us survive every day,” states Israa.

Kehkashan Nadeem has been practicing yoga for the past two decades. She shares that it is through her daily yoga practice where she is teaching to let others reconnect with their bodies. She is the first person to introduce the practice of aerial yoga in Pakistan. While many aerial yoga classes have an acrobatic element, a growing number of classes and teachers are also using the aerial silks much more therapeutically. Kehkashan is a huge proponent of using the aerial silks in a more therapeutic way. “The biggest shift in my life was Aerial yoga, which I brought to Pakistan in 2017. I’m so happy to see it changing many lives for the better including mine. In general, I can say change is inevitable, I have changed a lot and continue to evolve. Knowing our bodies, exploring breath, creating space in the minds and bodies to live a better healthy, and happy life,” she discloses.

The yogi believes that attending yoga sessions is very different from studying yogic philosophy and living a yogic life which is what has evolved for her over the years. “So, one can say not every teacher is a yogi, but the first step is to start with physical practice as our bodies are the doorway to our mind. When we transform our bodies, we transform our minds. As a result, our thoughts, decisions, expectations, and response to life change,” she explains.

Kehkashan says that women, especially, must learn yoga. “Along with a physical workout, yoga is a mindful practice, including breath work and meditation that helps the body recover from daily mental and physical damage. Yoga strength is not obvious by looking at the body like strength trainers but yoga bodies are strong, supple, and stable, and have multiple benefits,” she reveals. “Women’s lifestyles these days tend to be sedentary in many ways and demand a lot of mental commitment which leads us to burn out, and an unrelaxed and busy mind most of the time. All of our energy is consumed mentally. This negatively affects the performance of our organs and we quickly get tired, agitated, and unhappy. We notice an increase in our demands and complaints and also end up making wrong food choices. Yoga helps restore calm by balancing the physical with the mental and we know that a relaxed mind is able to perform better in all aspects of life.”

Adding to this, she shares a piece of advice with new or current yogis, “My message to everyone is to live peacefully, joyfully in all the chaos of this brief life. Your body is totally yours so learn to keep it fit to enjoy it, no one will do it for you. Integrate good Karma in you and others.”

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