DUBAI // As winter started last night, more than 100 people gathered at the edge of a lake in Internet City for a full-moon yoga class at the Middle East's first Yogafest.
From sunrise to sunset, about 350 people stepped onto mats to stretch their limbs and breathe a little more deeply during the day of free hour-long outdoor classes.
Volunteer instructors led novices and experienced practitioners though 11 styles of yoga. More popular styles such as the Hatha flow were contrasted with trends such as bikram, body balance and yoga dance.While few office workers attended the day classes, about 40 per cent of those at the evening courses worked full-time.
"It's great they managed to get out of the office on time," said the organiser Elaine Kelly.
Anna Wallenten, a yoga instructor and life coach who is a long-time resident of Dubai, said yoga had become more popular in the emirate. New studios continued to open and a couple of established clubs had trained instructors.
Ms Wallenten said the shift came in the past two years. She said many people who moved to the UAE for career or money reasons "are starting to look for something more".
"People want something that helps them develop their soul, something more meaningful than just going out to clubs," she said.
Around the grassy knoll, onlookers gathered to watch the classes, eating lunch or reading reports. Others stopped to ask questions and took copies of the timetable. While a few people arrived with yoga rolls in hand, others were not so prepared.
Abdul Rahman, who works in Al Quoz, does not usually attend yoga classes. Coming directly from his job as a marketing manager, he moved through the Hatha yoga postures while still wearing his office clothes. His folded coat and shoes lay on the grass beside him.
About 10 people cleared their day to attend all 11 classes. In the early afternoon, Amani Mansour felt invigorated after the first five classes. The morning classes were basic enough to not be too taxing, she said, adding "yoga is really based on how far you want to push yourself".
More challenging classes in lesser-known forms were offered in the late afternoon.
Becky Hart is the only instructor in the Middle East to teach budokan, which mixes martial arts and yoga. While waiting for the class to begin, Ms Mansour said she was excited about the chance to try something new.
"It's a great idea, something that we should have more often," she said.
Yesterday's event was inspired by the US Yogafest, when thousands gathered in New York's Times Square to do yoga all day and celebrate the summer solstice. Dubai's Yogafest was held on the winter solstice, but kept the same spirit.