x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Yoga students stretch out in the UAE summer sun

Yoga sessions are usually held in 39 degree heat indoors, meaning summer is no problem.

Noura El Imam teaches outdoor yogalates -a mix of yoga and pilates- during the summer months at Frasier Suites in Media City.
Noura El Imam teaches outdoor yogalates -a mix of yoga and pilates- during the summer months at Frasier Suites in Media City.

DUBAI // As the rest of the UAE heads inside for the summer to air-conditioned malls, offices and even gyms, the yoga teacher Noura El Imam is embracing the great outdoors.

But when your regular yoga workout takes place in a room heated to a baking 39°C, the outside temperatures are a welcome, open-air alternative.

Ms El Imam has been holding her outdoor yogalates, a mix of yoga and pilates, outdoors during summer for three years now and says in spite of the heat and humidity, demand rises with the temperature.

The blend of styles is much less intense than traditional bikram and other forms of active yoga such as astanga and vinyasa, so it is perfectly suited for the climate.

"I definitely tone it down," says Ms El Imam. "I offer more static poses with less flows, which tend to act as cardio where the heart rate elevates, and use more ground-work instead."

Ms El Imam's classes are held on the terrace at the Frasier Suites on Sheikh Zayed Road. Even though this is a workout, comfort and safety in the heat is a key concern.

"I make sure my clients are sipping water every 15 minutes when doing major transitions such as moving from standing to ground- work or after core work.

"Overall, I do tone the sessions down slightly but my clients enjoy the heat more as it allows them to go deeper into the poses when their body is warm, so there is less tightness overall."

When the heat gets too much, there are options to go indoors, but clients like to stick it out.

Robyn Stafford, 28, from South Africa, is a regular at Ms El Imam's classes. For the physiotherapist, who grew up on a farm, the outdoors and the heat are second nature.

"I'm used to the heat," she says. "I love to be outdoors. I work all day inside and I don't even have a window. Being outside, hearing the noises and feeling the wind on your face is good. I have to be outside in the summer. My sanity depends on it."

Despite making the most of the heat, Ms El Imam is conscious of the dangers the hot weather can present. "If the humidity builds up to an unbearable, unsafe factor, we have the indoor studio at Fraser Suites to use to make sure clients are safe. I always encourage them to bring a bottle of cold water and dress comfortably.

"Of course, if I notice clients looking slightly dazed or dizzy, I tone down the class accordingly. Safety is a priority."

Christine, who asked not to give her second name, has been going to the classes for about a year and a half, and says even in the peak of summer the heat is bearable - and a welcome break from stuffy offices and freezing malls.

"It's nice in Dubai to be able to breathe a little bit," she says. "I spend so much time in the airconditioning at work. This is a good way to keep fit, strong and yet relax at the same time. You just get a bit more sweaty."

As it is not an explosive sport, like running or cycling, yoga is compatible with the hot weather. "It's calm and quiet but you can still keep fit."

Liz Terry, a yoga teacher of seven years based in Dubai's Exhale yoga studio, says that while there are many benefits to yoga in the heat, ideally between around 39°C and 42°C, especially for those suffering with tight muscles and inflexibility, it can also have its risks.

"Having the airconditioning on in any class is actually a deterrent to getting the full effect of the postures," she says. However, as muscles relax in the heat, they can be overstretched. "During any workout your body's muscles have a natural way of telling you when to stop, a sensory ability known as proprioception.

"Heat relaxes the body and the nervous system so much that proprioception in the body becomes lessened. When that happens, the muscles have the ability to go beyond their natural state, which can cause many injuries such as a muscle strain or pull. Overall, yoga in the heat can be beneficial as long as people are aware of their bodies and know when to stop."

mswan@thenational.ae

For more in our Heatbeaters series visit www.thenational.ae/heatbeaters