When Hibbah El Sayad was first introduced to yoga, she didn’t like it. Accustomed to high adrenalin, fast paced gym fitness, she was more used to blaring music, weights, and a high-octane workout. After moving to NYC in 2011, El Sayad began exploring the different yoga classes and realized there were types of yoga on offer to suit a number of needs. In the mood for a faster pace of movement with music? Power yoga is the answer. Need something slower and more mellow? Hatha yoga is the ticket. Coupled with her usual workouts, she began to notice changes in her behavior after a couple of months. Cairo West Magazine learned more about El Sayad’s journey to becoming a certified yoga instructor, and how yoga changed her life and can help others achieve more awareness and harmony in their lives.
CWM: How did yoga initially affect your perception and approach to life?
HS: Weeks after beginning yoga practice, I was reading a book and remembered there was something I needed to do. I went to get up and heard a voice in my head saying “Sit down, focus, finish what you are doing and then move on to something else”. I thought to myself, “Who is this?” For me, this was a big deal. At the time, I didn’t relate these small changes to the yoga practice I was doing, but today I know it was due to that. Yoga has an effect on us whether we intend or don’t intend it. Once you start to bring awareness into the equation, it can be life changing.
In 2012, I was facing a very challenging personal experience. I was physically, mentally and emotionally collapsing and knew I had to find a way to stand back on my feet. The only physical movement at the time I could do was yoga. I started practicing daily, and it was the only time I could soften, release, and let go of what was going on inside me. Yoga brought me back to life. It introduced me to a new version of myself with more awareness and a greater inner strength. That sparked my passion to learn, practice, and teach yoga to as many people as I can.
What experiences within your training were really eye-opening and meaningful to you?
During my training I had a shoulder injury, so I had to learn to modify my practice, which I realized later had a profound impact on me as a person and teacher. As a naturally competitive person and a perfectionist, doing my teacher training on my knees and not able to execute simple and basic moves was so frustrating, annoying, and humiliating.
Later on, I realized there were so many lessons to learn from working with an injury like that, and I am grateful for it. Nothing in life remains constant, which taught me humility. I learnt to let go of perfectionism (a bit) because there is no such thing as perfect. I became more kind and compassionate with myself, which reflected on others, and learned to honor and respect what I feel today regardless of what the situation is.
What does yoga mean to you?
Yoga is not only a physical practice; it is a way of life. It is almost religious in the way that it calls for us to be kind, loving, live in moderation, be honest, forgiving and non-judgmental or harmful. If you begin to apply some of these characteristics into your life, I believe you end up being a better person.
Yoga taught me what it means to actually breathe. It’s amazing how many of us breathe so shallow. Learning to deepen my breath allowed me to connect and bring so much more awareness to my physical and emotional self. Today we live in such a stressful world, people don’t even notice their breathing, let alone how deep it is.
In your opinion, what is appealing to so many people about yoga practice?
I believe one of the main reasons people practice yoga is to begin looking within and slowing down the stressful and noisy world we live in. There are so many different types of yoga, each catering to what someone is looking for. There is no one way or type that is right or fits all. We are each different, with different bodies, needs and circumstances and no one should judge anyone’s practice.
My practice is very personal, and is kind of like praying, how can anyone judge whether someone is praying right or wrong? There is no right or wrong type of yoga. I believe it’s about connecting from the heart, breathing, being present and communicating in your own way in your practice.
What are your thoughts on the commercialization of yoga and the social media culture around it?
I believe people have a choice in what they want to see and what they don’t want to see. If they feel someone is commercializing yoga practice and it bothers them, they can just unfriend or unfollow the account and move on instead of being judgmental and critical. What might be commercialization for one person might be inspirational to another.
People are in different places in their practice, or like different things, or have different views and we just have to learn to accept and respect each other’s opinions. I think it’s important for people to know yoga is for everyone – no matter how old, inflexible, fit, weight or size you are.
Anyone can practice yoga. You can’t compare someone that’s been practicing for years to someone who is just starting. So people should not get discouraged upon seeing others doing advanced poses or practices on social media. Find a practice that works for you and move at your own pace. There are times I struggle to stand on my mat and struggle in my own yoga practice. I have my phases of doubt, being down, unsettled and being all over the place because that is how life works. What is reflected in pictures and social media is one side, and usually the good looking one, but we all have times of struggle no matter what might be actually reflected.
What are some good tips for people to get the most benefit out of their yoga practice?
In order to get the most benefit out of yoga practice, the person must have discipline and be consistent in their practice. To really reap the benefits of yoga, you must practice at least 2 to 3 times a week, or on a daily basis even if it is for 30 minutes. As Pattabhi Jois would say “Practice, practice and all is coming”.
I would like people not to get discouraged when they first start, as it may seem overwhelming for some, but you will get used to it. People may be under the impression that they have to be flexible or fit to practice yoga, but anyone can practice yoga. I always advise people to try different types of yoga and different teachers to find the instructor and type of yoga that resonates with them.
You can contact Hibbah via Facebook for more information and class schedules: www.facebook.com/VinyasaYogaFlow