Diversity of yoga
Part of yoga’s appeal and rising popularity is its ability to be interpreted and shaped by the culture or society in which it is practised. Traditional styles of yoga such as Iyengar or Ashtanga co-exist alongside more new-age forms such as boxing yoga or rave yoga, even Christian yoga.
Some religious conservatives complain that yoga is rooted in the religions of the Indian sub-continent, notably Hinduism and Buddhism. This perception has restricted the rise of yoga in conservative Islamic societies such as Qatar, where it can be seen as blasphemous. The small Gulf nation is governed by an austere form of Islam known as Wahhabism, which views yoga with suspicion. Despite its global popularity, many Muslims feel that practising yoga is tantamount to practising another religion.
Noor disagrees. “Yoga is not a religion,” she told Al Jazeera. “It is a discipline.”
The reason Noor is able to practise and teach yoga at all, is because of Valerie Jeremijenko. She is an early pioneer of yoga in Qatar, perhaps the earliest. Valerie has been a yoga teacher in Qatar for the past 15 years and has operated her own studio, Yama Yoga, since 2009. She also runs a successful teacher-training programme. However, while the perception of yoga is changing, she still faces some, mostly cultural or social, difficulties.
“This has less to do with yoga and more to do with Qatar’s licensing laws that do not like mixed male-female classes or recognise yoga outside of a sport,” Valerie told Al Jazeera.
Valerie said that the kinds of yoga that took off in the West, physically demanding practices such as Ashtanga and hot yoga, were rooted in the Protestant work ethic, and as such, don’t really suit traditional Qatari society.
“The daily ethic of a rigorous practice is not really part of the Qatari culture, nor is individual expression … so yoga as it is practised in the West does not really work with the traditional Qatari way of life,” she added.