Kuwaiti Hessa Shumaimari is a devoted practitioner of yoga and one of its greatest ambassadors as she works to reduce cultural resistance to the exercise.
In an interview with Al-Shorfa, Shumaimari refuted the prevailing view in Kuwait that yoga is simply a representation of Hindu and Buddhist religious beliefs. She said yoga offers both psychological and health benefits. As more people begin to attend classes and learn about yoga, the resistance has declined.
Al-Shorfa: What inspired you to study and practice yoga, and did you encounter problems?
Hessa Shumaimari: I began practicing and teaching yoga nearly 15 years ago until it became the focus of my life. At that time, no one knew its meaning, and as a result I encountered many problems. In Kuwait, they mixed it up with Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, and this of course is unacceptable.
But with time, people learned more about yoga and the view started to change, and they began to accept the practice.
Al-Shorfa: When did you become secretary-general of the World Federation of Yoga in the Arab Gulf States?
Shumaimari: This happened two years ago after I attended the Second World Conference for Yoga which was held near the Dead Sea in Jordan. I attended as an instructor after they saw my work during the first conference which was held in Taba, Egypt.
I did not plan to become secretary-general or seek the office. I was practicing yoga and enjoying it. I was working on developing it to benefit from it as much as possible, and this encouraged them to select me as secretary-general.
Al-Shorfa: What certificates did you obtain when you assumed this role?
Shumaimari: I got a special badge from the federation that allows me to give out certificates in teaching yoga. I also took the logo that I can use in any business project I wish to start, but I have not yet thought about how to use it.
Al-Shorfa: What are the most requested types of yoga in Kuwait?
Shumaimari: The most requested and the best is therapeutic yoga, which is used to treat many diseases such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome and also the nerves, depression and other maladies.
For those who believe that yoga is just exercise, they can look for any videotaped exercise lessons and use them for practice. However, therapeutic yoga requires practice and follow-up with a special instructor.
Al-Shorfa: What kind of resistance does yoga face in Kuwait?
Shumaimari: Some people see it as a kind of Hindu or Buddhist religious practice, but the more we shed light on it, we find that the more they accept it. There is a belief that a flexible body is necessary to practice yoga, and a lot of people in Kuwait do not move much, so they are afraid of experiencing pain if they practice yoga.
Some yoga instructors do not have the basics that you should employ when teaching so people who go to these instructors believe that everyone is like them, given their lack of professionalism. Much of the public does not know the true meaning of yoga, and they believe it is just an athletic exercise, but it is an effective method to treat many diseases.
Al-Shorfa: When do you expect the Kuwaiti government to take an interest in this field?
Shumaimari: Our government is not interested now because it is not aware of the importance of yoga, unlike other sports.
But we hope and expect the government will take an interest in yoga in the near future because there is a global trend to teach it to children in school.
This project came out of India and moved to Europe and the United States because they found that children have a lot of negative habits that affect them when they grow up.