From Bahrain to India: How Yoga Changed My Life

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:

Image source: Fatima Al Mansoori

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.

Image source: Fatima Al Mansoori

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.

Image source: Fatima Al Mansoori

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.

Image source: Fatima Al Mansoori

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.

Image source: Fatima Al Mansoori

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.

Image source: Fatima Al Mansoori

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.