CSP caught up with Fatima Al Mansoori, the internationally renowned yoga therapist from Bahrain on how she took to yoga, her keenness to study yoga in India and the ways in which she is influencing Bahrain and the Middle East in enabling them to be self-aware:
How did you take to yoga?
In July 2006 I had a major car accident and had mild concussion, bruises and stitches. After that there were a couple of years of struggling with fatigue, not feeling refreshed after sleep, and widespread pain. In 2008 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Doctors said that there was no cure for it. I tried to find a cure, believing there must be a treatment that would work, but nothing worked. I finally decided to accept this dis-ease and be at peace with it rather than try to fight it. Acceptance was the key, and then I found myself guided to live a healthy lifestyle, practice yoga, eat healthy, and meditate. We live in a society that constantly teaches us to fight and never give up, but not everything can be sorted out with resistance; some things need acceptance. There’s a difference between giving up and surrendering to God, and only through complete surrender do we find peace and guidance. I didn’t know much about yoga but I knew that it was more than what was being offered at the gym halls! I was God-guided to travel to India to learn yoga. I never expected that I could be cured. My intention was to improve my quality of life and manage the symptoms. As I kept practicing an authentic holistic way, I started to notice results after three months, and I felt noticeably better in six months. Within eight months I was back to normal and my energy levels were even better than at any time before.
What specifically pushed you to come to India to study yoga? What made you want to teach yoga to others?
I knew that there was something more to yoga other than just a physical practice; I wanted to learn the therapeutic approach… I was looking for authentic knowledge so I had to seek from the origins of yoga… India.
After recovering I wanted to resume my career (previously a founder and director of a graphic designing company). I was so attached! However, when I started sharing my experience on social media many people were inspired by my recovery and needed help and guidance, so I chose not to look back and decided to take a new path to serve humanity. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made and one of the most important lessons I needed to learn and practice/apply in order to grow. Let go.
What specific aspects of yoga were you most drawn to? Have you been able to relate to the spiritual aspects of yoga? Were you aware of the spiritual side of yoga when you first began practicing?
Patanjali’s Yogasutra and Ashtanga yoga. Practising Yoga gave me a compatible perspective on my own spiritual practice as a Muslim. Yes and I loved the interfaith aspects of spirituality.
How would you describe the perceptions that people have about yoga in Bahrain today?
When I first started offering sessions most locals who joined had never heard about yoga and some who had heard about it thought it was a Buddhist ritual, some thought it was a Hindu religion and some thought it was what they see in western movies – acrobats and stretching or posing. Some even thought it was a Chinese form of cultural art!! Bahrain always had groups who knew what yoga was and practiced it since the 90s – mostly foreigners with few Bahrainis. Gyms and sport centres have been offering yoga asana sessions almost everywhere in Bahrain but that doesn’t help in terms of propagating the science, it actually gives a wrong perception of what yoga is! Since I came back from India my mission was to share the health benefits and to propagate yoga therapy which wasn’t popular. It has come a long way since 2011. It’s never easy to get the acceptance and recognition from the medical community but I had my recovery experience and that attracted a lot of medical doctors to pay attention; they even started referring patients. Soon I was asked to offer sessions in government and private hospitals and medical centres. It’s all about integrating a scientific approach and using the right terminology and continuing regardless of disappointments and shut doors. It’s also about learning the gaps and where to fit. Soon it spread like wild fire… I started getting invitations to deliver sessions at schools, community societies, institutes and universities, cultural centres, EVERYWHERE – to all groups and societies!
Is yoga officially recognised by your country’s government? Do you require an official license or certification to teach yoga in your country?
No, when I went to the National Health Regulatory Authority to inquire with regard to applying for my accreditation as a yoga therapist so that I can get the necessary license to practice, I was told that it is not categorised as a therapy since it’s not invasive so no license is required and it can be taught as a sport! Since then I have been demanding categorisation and sharing why it is essential on local media like TV, radio and newspapers and on my social media accounts. It was a great achievement to hear the Minister for Health at the Yoga Day in 2016 stating that “Yoga is a medical modality” during her opening speech at the International Yoga Day event.
You are an adjunct professor at the Human Consciousness & Yogic Sciences department in Mangalore University. Tell us about how you got into the role and what aspects of yoga do you teach?
I was a student at the Department of Human Consciousness and Yogic Sciences in Mangalore University and I completed the basics of Yogic Science Course at the department. After two years I returned to deliver case presentations and joined the Yoga for Stress Disorders International Conference. I kept submitting my activities and after another year, I was honoured with the professorship due to my achievements in the field. I have been visiting to deliver special lectures to the students. “Teaching Yoga in GCC Countries, Compatibility and Challenges”, “Public Speaking for Yogis”, “Yoga and the Sustainable Development Goals”, “Yoga for Humanitarian Crisis”, “Integrated Yoga Therapy Clinical approach” – these are some of my lecture topics.
Do you think there would be a demand among university students to come to India to study yoga at an official institution like you did?
It’s challenging to live in the hostel or ashrams. They need to adjust to the living conditions but I think it’s part of the experience, to eat what is given to you and to not have the luxury to select your food or room… acceptance and adjustment, becoming flexible and adapting to different living conditions is a very important lesson. My first night wasn’t easy, I remember walking to the registrar’s office the next morning with a swollen eye due to a mosquito bite, and I remember she said “Which course are you signing up for? I’m sure it’s the shortest course and I don’t think you will finish it!!”
Can you give us a sense of the students that you cater to by teaching yoga?
My sessions are individual, by booking. For therapy purposes I don’t believe in group sessions… It’s a clinical approach. I have designed a therapy course for chronic conditions. A lot of doctors refer patients with stress disorders, breathing issues, IBS, obesity, diabetes, skin issues due to stress, sleep disorders, headache, chronic pain as well as pregnant women. Some come for prevention and some come seeking a cure. I do not and I will never claim to give cures but all they need is guidance and they find their own way to recovery. I’ve seen and documented that over and over again. Doctors are happy with the results we are achieving.
How often do you visit India? Your impressions of India?
I love visiting India; I learn something new every time! I should visit more often (every semester to deliver lectures) but I can’t always visit due to needing to renew the visa. It becomes a stretch because I get invited all over the world to speak in conferences and sometimes I can’t jump to India from another country due to visa expiration!
On average what are the demographics of your classes? Is it mainly a local audience? Are there Indian nationals who attend? What is the average age of attendees roughly?
Everyone is welcome; mostly locals come – both male and female, from children to teenagers, all ages up to retirement age. Some Indians and Saudis cross the bridge to seek the therapy sessions as well as few Europeans and other Arab nationalities, due to appearing in the most famous Arab talk show on TV, which attracted people of different nationalities.
Finally, tell us about the vision and mission of your entity, the Sustainable Humanitarian Development.
Apart from the clinical sessions, many group sessions are offered free of charge to support the community groups of special needs, blind, sickle cell patients and lots of other groups and there is an increased demand. I have also witnessed from my humanitarian missions that the experience is of great benefit and we get amazing feedback for providing the sessions to refugees. Due to the increased demand and the need to grow, in 2018 humanitarian initiatives became a priority and I established SHD (Sustainable Humanitarian Development) Educating, Training and Consultancy, so that I could provide services and overcome the challenges much more efficiently. There is no sustainable funding or support to such initiatives and that is why I ultimately decided to launch Sustainable Humanitarian Development as a registered entity so that it can sustain itself by offering payable corporate services, educational programs and workshops that can provide basic logistic fees for the missions.
The vision was:
– Establishing a Not for Profit, social entrepreneurship entity in this part of the world was a challenge to begin with, due to the lack of understanding of social entrepreneurship. Promotion of human welfare, while working towards advancing the wellbeing of humanity and promoting human dignity in the middle of man-made crises or natural disasters with active participation to alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity.
– Promoting sustainable lifestyles which can have a great Impact on quality of life, health and wellbeing.
– Integrated Health Promotion and community wellbeing.
– Providing corporate training programs to boost occupational health and wellbeing
– Spreading awareness of clinical yoga therapy in Bahrain and the GCC region so that it becomes an essential supportive component in governmental hospitals and primary care centers and gather evidence on the effectiveness for the treatment of different ailments and to promote and encourage research in the field.
– To introduce mindfulness and yoga in schools in Bahrain and the region.
-To conduct educational training programs and create career opportunities in the field.