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Breaking the ‘Bad Body’ image

July 10 -16, 2019

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly Breaking the      ‘Bad Body’ image

Yoga teacher Fatema Majdi, who has been criticised by other yogis for not fitting into the thin and slim body image of what a regular practitioner should look like, is on a mission to promote self-love in the community as well as spread the message that every ‘BODY’ can practise the physical, mental, and spiritual discipline.

The Egyptian Bahraini interior architect, known to her family, friends and followers on Instagram as Bohemian Fatema, is certified as an instructor by Yoga Alliance – a US-based non-profit membership trade and professional organisation for yoga teachers.

And while she has received her certification in Bali, Indonesia for Vinyasa Flow – which is one of the most popular and classical styles of yoga characterised by stringing postures together so that you move from one to another seamlessly, using breath – she is still being told that she is not good enough because of her size?

“I have been told, a lot of times, surprisingly by a few yoga teachers, that I don’t fit the body image,” said the 24-year-old entrepreneur who started her own yogic brand and lives in Sanad. “I believe we are so brainwashed and sucked into self-body shaming and a world of excessive dieting …and that is not healthy.

“If I was to look at 100 yoga posters, I would be amazed if I see just one slightly heavier or God forbid even a covered lady representing yoga and posing in that poster!

“The main reason why my Instagram is public and active is to break this stereotype. I fought a lot to be where I am with some conservative family members not believing in me and my own self-esteem issues. That is why I post everything that I do.

“It is not easy to share raw videos of myself attempting a pose or practising the discipline when I’m being told by people that it doesn’t show that I’m a yoga teacher or that I can even do yoga. That just doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t tell you how many slim people I know that are not that flexible or strong!

“I sometimes get messages of appreciation or that I inspired people. That is the best booster for me to continue doing what I do.”

Fatema started a campaign called #whatisyoga, where she had yogis from all around the world share what the discipline means to them and to explain to others that it isn’t about body image but how it is about a whole new world of understanding the mind, body and soul.

“A lot of people also assume that heavier yogis result in promoting obesity, which makes no sense at all, as personally, I go for an annual checkup to make sure everything is healthy with me,” said Fatema. “I am a vegetarian so I always make sure my vitamins, cholesterol and sugar levels are stable. I am thankfully healthy and active even if I am heavier but that is a whole different story. It is just an example that we are so insecure to the point that we don’t encourage anything that is aesthetically not pleasing to promote.”  

Body image is the concept of how a body looks and changes based on a person’s inner feelings. It usually has very little to do with facts and is heavily influenced by mainstream media, people’s relationship with their surroundings, with their peers and most importantly with themselves.

People have been controlled by their external appearance more than their inner beings. Many men and women have suffered from bad body imaging leading to eating disorders and self-esteem issues. However, yoga’s philosophy teaches that all the answers we seek exist inside of us and we simply need to believe in ourselves which Fatema hopes will reverberate onto others.

“I always remind them that I was not born this way,” she said. “I was so stiff and could barely hold my breath. It just took breaking barriers within me and constant practice has helped me achieve the level of confidence and experience that I have today.”

Fatema started practising yoga in India, in 2015, when she lived there for a year. During her time there, one of her 11 housemates found a random yoga studio on the other side of the building and suggested booking a class for all of them to try.

“We went the next day at 6am,” she said. “I could barely do anything. However, I still felt so good after the class. I was the only one who continued going and when I did, I saw an old couple the next day doing a shoulder stand. I clearly remember at this point the stereotype in my head broke and I got so curious to discover what my body could really do.”

Now, she teaches Vinyasa flow yoga which is sometimes confused with power yoga. Her classes offer a variety of postures and no two classes are ever alike. Fatema also demonstrates Restorative Yoga which is a practice that is all about slowing down and opening up the body through passive stretching. Those that take a restorative class may hardly move at all and will complete just a few postures in the course of an hour. It is a completely different experience than most contemporary yoga.

She hosts classes, with a maximum of 12 students, in a private hall and has around 40 active members that believe in her positive attitude. Her aim is to push her students’ limits to achieve their goals, to encourage self-love, help them stay active and to relax their busy, exhausted minds.

“I have been told that I have a unique way to calm people and rid them of their negative energy,” said Fatema. “I have also had students join my class because of my can-do-anything attitude, that I am open and optimistic and I am just very relatable. I’ve been told that they love my confidence and my videos. For, example, one girl told me that my videos that show me practising different poses are quite inspirational. She saw how I struggled with one pose for a while and she saw my persistence. When she saw I finally achieved it, that gave her a push to set her own goals to achieve.”

Fatema also thanks her father, a legal adviser, and her mum, a professor in marketing and public relations and a non-profit therapist, for all their support. She is also grateful to her brother, a manager in an advertising company, and her sister, who is a manager at an exclusive car dealership, for their encouragement to keep up an active lifestyle as they are involved in a variety of sports such as football, basketball and general fitness classes.

Fatema added: “I hope people believe in themselves and what their body can do.”

Follow @bohemianfatema on Instagram.

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