Friends of Yoga in the UAE


A solidarity for body-mind harmony
Friends of Yoga, a teaming up of yoga enthusiasts, has been conducting free, open-air yoga sessions in the UAE’s public parks since 15 years

Photographs: Mohammed Rasheed

Fifteen years ago, in Dubai, yoga wasn’t a healthclub fad. The ancient practice that promotes mind-body harmony wasn’t hijacked by high-flying yogis or healthclub therapists.
Yoga, then, was a personal passion for many, some initiated into its postures since childhood. There were others, including Western expatriates and Arabs, quickly won over by the simplicity of its philosophy.
KB Madhavan, managing director, Astic General Trading, Dubai was already familiar with yoga. He has always believed in three simple essentials for human life: Food, sleep and exercise.
If no one doubts the necessity of food and sleep, he wonders, why do they feel exercise can be avoided? He discovered in yoga, with its written history dating back to 5000 to 2000 BC, a total exercise that kept the body fit while ensuring total harmony of the mind too.
Derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” (meaning, to yoke), yoga in common parlance has come to denote the integration of mind and body through a series of breath and physical exercises.
Moving in from Mumbai, India, Madhavan had initially confined his exercise routine to early morning walks. He met KB Rai, a yoga practitioner, during one of those outings, and that meeting was to change the lives of many hundred people soon.
Together they decided to do open-air yoga sessions, in which any one was free to participate — for free. Teaming together under the banner of ‘Friends of Yoga,’ they had started off with a handful of people. Keeping a low profile, the friends’ circle grew through word of mouth publicity. Today, Friends of Yoga work to promote yoga in 13 locations in six countries including the US, the Philippines, New Zealand, Singapore, Oman and Pakistan.
In the UAE alone, Friends of Yoga practise yoga at pubic parks in Dubai (two), Sharjah (four) and Abu Dhabi (one). And all of the Friends of Yoga classes in the rest of the world are founded by former UAE residents, who used to practise here.
Dubai residents would be familiar with the sight of the Friends of Yoga classes at the park near Deira taxi stand, the very first venue of the group. The yoga classes are held every day from 5.30 am to 6.30 am and 7.30 pm to 8.30 pm. Madhavan says the classes were rarely suspended and that too, only to mark events of national mourning. All other days, come summer or winter, the ‘Friends’ meet for yoga lessons.
No money is charged for the lessons and every one is free to join and leave, according to his or her will. “There is no discrimination on any grounds,” adds Madhavan.
A typical Friends of Yoga hour starts with a prayer (according to one’s faith), followed by warming up exercises, yoga exercises and breath exercises for lungs and heart. Madhavan says that individuals improve on any given yoga posture as time goes by.
On any given day, about 200 people take part in the yoga classes held in any given location, says Madhavan. Over the years, some 7,000 people have benefited from their association with Friends of Yoga. At least 11 members who had joined in the 90s’ continue to practise yoga at the Friends of Yoga get-togethers in Dubai.
He says many people join the yoga classes after they are identified with some health problem. Once they recover, many of them leave only to return again. It is not uncommon to find people in wheel-chairs attending the Friends of Yoga sessions.
Madhavan says yoga has been found to be particularly effective in people with stress-related problems, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and even obesity. “In fact, we even have dozens of doctors, allopathic practitioners, who endorse the health benefits of yoga,” he adds.
One trend Madhavan has observed over the years is the increase in awareness of the efficacy of yoga. The acceptance of yoga as an effective physical and mental exercise is reflected in the participation Friends of Yoga has fetched.
Apart from its multicultral composition of children and adults, men and women, including those from the Sub-continent, Friends of Yoga has Western expatriates, UAE nationals and other Arab expatriates. “They come from all walks of life: From chief executives and business tycoons to blue-collar workers,” says Madhavan.
Personally, Madhavan says, yoga has helped him tremendously at work and in his personal life. “I can tackle any pressure. I have no mood swings and I can take any ups and downs with equal calm,” he says.

84 Comments

  1. Hi, My name is asish and Iam interested to join the yoga classes. I stay in sharjah citycenter.pls let me know which center near by sharjah citycenter.my Email:ashi0920@gmail.com

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  2. hi, iam asish i stay in near by sharjah citycenter. iam interested to joining yoga classes. pls let me know which center near by sharjah citycenter. plz forward me contact details.my email:ashi0920@gmail.com10:54 AM

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  3. Hello ,My name is Mittu and i stay in Rolla.Kindly please let me know about where the classes are held and details.I am a post trnsplant patient of 26 years and my weight poses me a serious issue and have to do something about it through yoga.I would be much obliged if you could mail me the details and ur contact number at mittu.shan@gmail.com

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  4. Dear friend,I heard about yoga Friends of yoga when i was in my country. Now i am living in Abu Dhabi, and i would really be happy to practice with you. Could you, please, send me more informations where i can find you. My mail is ljubicababic@gmail.com

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  5. Hi my name is anil. I live in Frij Murar Deira.I read an article in khaleej times regarding the yoga classes conducted in various parts of UAE. The place in deira where the class is conducted is called Deira Creek. May i know where is deira creek? your help wud be appreciated. anilvka@hotmail.com

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  6. Hi ! I stay in Al Nahda. I m interested in yoga for overall good health and weight loss. Request you to please advise where are the classes held and what time.I'd really really appreciate!livom115@hotmail.com

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  7. Hi,I live in Qusais, Iam interested in knowing where this Friends of Yoga is being conducted here apart from Deira and Bur Dubai creek areas. Also, is there any class conducted for children in Yoga?

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  8. Hi,My name is Jayesh. I would like to participate in the yoga classes. I stay in Bur Dubai. Please let me know the time and location in Bur Dubai where yoga is pratised by Friends of yoga.

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  9. AOA… hi i live in sharjah…i need to know that where de yoga classess are available in sharjah…i also live in sharjah ..so dat…i can easily take de classes.. thnkz… plz do reply me soon…

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  10. AOA…. hi i lve in sharjah.. and i need to know where de yoga classess are available in sharjah so dat i can easily join themm…plz give me contact number …or de location…so dat i can easily join them… thnkz… plz do reply me soon…

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  11. hi.i am really interested in yoga.n i just read about friends of yoga.i live in sharjah so can any one please tell me where are the sessions held in sharjah.n the timings n all other details. my email id is impreziv_grl@yahoo.com plz reply me soon…

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  12. Hi, My name is Latheef and I would like to participate in the yoga classes. I stay in Muhasinah -4, Qusais. Please let me know the places in Qusais where yoga is practised by Friends of Yoga. I would appreciate anybody can help me.

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  13. Hi, i'm looking for a some excercise classes to reduce my weight. but i htink this yoga practice will be helpful for me. pls let me know the details of when & where in sharjah are the Friends of Yoga are gathering so as to attend it myself with my family. jdinteriordesign@gmail.com or 050 8677928

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  14. Nice to know about this growing yoga community, its a courageous and very healthy practice you guys gather together and practice this divine art of spiritual and mental health. All the best for my dubai yoga lovers and practitioners. Lets make it a daily routine and start feeling the spontanity of life by making each moments lively.

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