x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE yoga festival visitors stretch limits

Instructors and enthusiasts from all over world gather for a celebration of meditation, music and unity, with a special message of peace

Angela Pashayan leads an early-morning yoga class on the second day of the Dubai Yoga and Music Festival. Sarah Dea / The National
Angela Pashayan leads an early-morning yoga class on the second day of the Dubai Yoga and Music Festival. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // Hundreds gathered yesterday for the UAE's first international yoga and music festival.

The event at Dubai's Westin Hotel began on Thursday evening and attracted about 200 men and women from a wide range of nationalities.

The event is expected to draw more than 500 people over its two and a half days.

From yoga on the beach to music from the likes of DJ Pierre Ravin and musicians from around the world, the event's founders hope it will bring unity to the region's growing yoga community and spread a message of peace.

The event founder, Angela Pashayan from the US, said bringing the festival to Dubai was appropriate given the UAE's cosmopolitan community, while the UAE was chosen for its safe and welcoming environment in a region seen by many across the world only for its turbulence and instability.

Yoga originated in India and in Sanskrit means union, a theme Ms Pashayan wanted for the event.

"It is a way to experience the culture of a faraway place in a safe manner," she said. "When you know someone from Russia, you care more about Russia.

"A yoga festival like this creates global citizens with peaceful hearts. Yoga is the one thing that has the potential to unite people from all cultures together in harmony. This is very powerful."

Ms Pashayan has organised similar, smaller, events like this in the US and said it was the perfect time for beginners to come and learn more about yoga, because many of the classes were geared to introduce new students to the practice, or existing students into new and more challenging ones.

Teachers applied from all over the world, from every continent except Antarctica, to take part in the event.

Peewee Sanchez, the gym chain Fitness First's yoga manager for the Middle East, said while many travelled to India or Thailand or even the US to study yoga, this event would change people's perceptions of the country as a yoga destination.

Ms Sanchez, who is leading a chakra meditation today, said: "Most of us have to leave the country to enrich our practice. Having this type of activity here means that in the near future people will be coming to us for a change.

"You will never get this mix and diversity of styles and sessions in a normal yoga class or yoga centre. There are the yogis from out of town both joining and presenting sessions, which maks it quite unique."

Liz Terry, who teaches at studios in Dubai and is the founder of Satya Flow Yoga, is also teaching over the weekend. She said: "Dubai is becoming a great yoga hub in the Middle East."

Ms Terry said it was a good chance to introduce people to the concepts of yoga, from the physical practice to the more philosophical sides, with talks on subjects such as the ancient concept of karma, meditation, reiki and feng shui.

"It's a great way for beginners as well as advanced practitioners to experience something different to a normal yoga class.

"It's offering much more than just a yoga class, like talks as well as an opportunity to try new disciplines from various teachers all over the world."

Mark Tarpinian, co-founder of the Joy News Network website who led a yoga and meditation session, was on his first trip to the region.

The American, who is now based in Taipei, said: "I knew Dubai was grand and majestic. I knew the architecture would be amazing and new but the atmosphere here and the multicultural daily life is fun and fascinating.

"I'm only here for eight nights this time but I can imagine what a lifestyle would be like living here, meeting people daily from around the globe."

The festival continues today.

mswan@thenational.ae