Standing in warrior pose or Virabhadra asana, dressed in a blue t-shirt and soft cotton pants with a towel draped on her shoulders, Rose Khan holds the pose for a moment before reaching for her water bottle from the console.
Taking a seat on the couch, she let loose a volley of questions. Her enthusiasm to get to know potential disciples is evident in the sparkle of her eye, almost brighter than the sliver stud piercing her left eyebrow.
Rose Khan has been teaching yoga for the past 10 years in the city – daily instruction for her disciples. Living in what is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where women live in restricted spheres strictly monitored by men, Rose never lost sight of the end goal. Learning yoga? Becoming the only yogi in the city? Check and check.
The instructor who hails from Malakand division and resides in Peshawar is also a mother of five. Physical fitness became an integral part of her life ever since her childhood. She was a table tennis champ in her school and practised judo, aerobics and gymnastics from an early age.
“Yoga is my passion,” said Rose. It might require a person’s body to be—well—bendy but it’s the mind which she focuses on. “I always ask [potential students their] history and try and understand their state of mind to get a better sense of what sort of therapy I have to provide.”
All about the flow
Although yoga is an ancient art form, over the last decade it blossomed from a slightly esoteric, East-based practice to a rising cult-like movement in the West, eventually transforming into a more mainstream, demystified health regime. While it still has its roots in the East, yoga has become more accessible to people regardless of geography, brought to health junkies in the city by Rose.
Yoga for Rose is a slow and gentle step towards positive reflection which helps reduce stress. “With this one exercise, one will be able to think optimistically – no other singular exercise combines litheness and stress relief quite like yoga,” she said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
She teaches a combination of yoga techniques, mostly derived from hatha and power yoga. While there are conflicting descriptions of hatha, the most common aspect is its focus on understanding the posture of the body and using it to channel energy.
When asked about the hurdles she might have had to face when she was setting up shop, Rose went silent for a few seconds before saying, “Not as such.” But the furrow on her brow indicated a conflict perhaps best left behind. Her mantra of using yoga to spread positivity was not just words for her; she does try to approach things with a best-foot-forward sort of approach.
After she was pressed some more, she admits she had to go through a rough period when a business area where she worked shut down and she had to shift to the premises located on the main road.
She takes an hour-long yoga class daily, demonstrating poses and guiding her students as they wobble to hold their balance. The training cycle ends after every five months and covers yoga, aerobics and meditation. Yoga takes place on Friday while the rest of the week is left for other exercises.
Her studio is equipped with weights and other exercise gadgetry. The room is air-conditioned and has wall-to-wall mirrors on one side. With low lights and mood music, the room transforms for meditation.
This is Rose’s 10th year, practising and training; she has mentored and tutored more women than she can remember in this decade.
She went to India in the 80s to meet her relatives and ended up spending time learning yoga from the Indians, their understanding of aerobics. The Indian aesthetic and focus on movement and form—also seen in dance—made her more passionate, she said.
“Those suffering from pain, depression, helplessness and hopelessness need to learn this art; it does wonders.” Yoga helps mentally and physically – both of which are important for women, she said.
The power of yoga
According to Aqeel Amin, the founder of AQ Yoga in Karachi, he is proof of the health benefits of yoga.
“I had various issues like a back problem, asthma, stress and I was overweight. It happened by chance that I started practising power yoga. I realised it was actually a passion for me. My teacher Saima Khan pushed me to teach a small group of four students and I haven’t looked back ever since,” said AQ as he is popularly known. AQ became a yoga teacher after “a full year of practice seven days a week with 2-3 months of training. I attended some workshops abroad as well. Other than learning in Pakistan, I also had two teachers abroad.”
AQ told The Express Tribune, the most beneficial poses to start the day with include
Surya Namaskar A, Surya Namaskar B, a balance pose of choice like the tree pose or the dancers pos, followed by a hip opener and ending in dead pose (Savasana)
“Power yoga is more Vinyasa/Ashtanga style of yoga where we don’t sit cross-legged and meditate for hours. It’s a workout of its own,” said AQ. “It engages all parts of your body. When you practice power yoga, you “flow”. You flow from one posture to another synchronising your breath with your movement, focusing on Dristi or the focal point, and that if done correctly is meditation on its own.”
A person can burn up to 600 calories in a power yoga class depending on the duration and the way the class is designed, said the yoga practitioner. “We focus on a lot of core work as well. It can definitely tone your body up while you shed extra fat. I’ve personally lost 65 pounds practicing power yoga.”
AQ pointed out the health benefits of yoga are countless but there are some which have been seen repeatedly.
“It can cater to lowering blood pressure; when you lose weight your cardiovascular system improves and it also helps stress and depression.” He added, “Power yoga can help your digestive system, reduce cholesterol, improve your skin because it helps detox. People with asthma benefit tremendously. And then people with sciatica, back pain or accident injuries also benefit a lot.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.