Change is an inevitable force that moves our lives through their natural cycles of ebb and tide. While some change is consciously and intently sought out, sometimes the best change comes about our lives unnoticed and unsolicited – such as the day yogini Ohoud Saad walked into her first yoga class by mere chance, leading her through a series of events that forever transformed her life.
Accidentally in Love
Growing up in a big family as an angry child, Ohoud often lived with a lot of bottled up anger, a matter which prompted her take up jogging for a long while. Although it was momentarily relieving, jogging never fixed anything. And it wasn’t long before a knee injury forced her to quit jogging which led her to explore other workout options. At that point, yoga was as good as kickboxing – it was all new to her – but she felt intrigued to try out yoga.
“I loved it, but I loved it as a workout,” Ohoud recalls. “I could tell that its rhythm was different. I didn’t know at the time what it was, but it just kept really pulling me back to it.”
With newfound love for yoga, Ohoud started seeking out new classes wherever she could find them; a search that took her through the different kinds of yoga she never knew existed. “If you ask me today what was the kind of yoga I started with, I wouldn’t know,” Ohoud says. “But it was Ashtanga yoga that I eventually really liked.”
After a few months of committed practice, Ohoud put yoga on pause for a family trip which spanned her entire summer. “During that vacation, I had a very strange feeling because I realized that the things that I didn’t like about myself were reemerging,” she says. “But when did they go away in the first place?
“The only thing that had changed in that phase of my life was that I had started doing yoga and that I stopped it for those two months. It was then that I understood that there is a lot more to yoga than meets the eye. The physical practice was just the beginning.”
From then on, Ohoud’s return to yoga taught her plenty on how to deal with life’s challenges both inwardly and outwardly. “It almost works indirectly on the things that you don’t like,” she explains. “That’s why there’s no guidebook for how yoga influences your life. Every person is completely different in terms of what they’re open to, what they let in, and how they process the things they go through.”
With growing commitment for yoga over time, Ohoud and her family could clearly see the effect it had on her. “My parents thought I was maturing, but it was really yoga, and it was the meditative part of it.”
Meditation, Awareness and Achieving Oneness
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which means ‘to unite’. To achieve this unison, yoga calls for the alignment of thoughts, feelings and actions. “Let’s say someone is trying to lose weight; although they’re aware they shouldn’t eat certain things, they may still defy that thought and act otherwise. In that case, the thoughts and actions are not aligned,” she explains. “This example can be scaled from the simplest to most complex matters in life.”
Nowadays, it’s no secret that the mind can control the entire body. Many experiments have shown how far the quality of thought can influence the body positively or negatively, such as the case with placebo effect. “Through yoga, you do the same thing but you start with the body to heal or to bring oneness to the mind and the soul.”
Unlike how meditation is generally perceived, it can be quite dynamic. While most people would think meditation is just sitting and thinking of nothing, it is actually a regulatory process of thought that gives the mind very specific things to think about. “It’s about being present, about being in the here and now,” says Ohoud. “You can meditate while you’re gardening, you can meditate while you’re cooking, you can literally meditate while doing anything so long as you live fully through whatever it is that you’re doing right now.”
Despite meditation being fit for practice along with any given task we undertake, the hassle of maneuvering through daily demands tends to direct our focus outwardly most of the time, with little to no time for understanding how we think and feel, and whether such thoughts and feelings are aligned with our actions. “We don’t like to put ourselves under the spotlight because more often than not we’re actually scared of what we’re going to find. A lot of us just kind of escape, and this is how we do it; we project everything outwardly,” says Ohoud.
What yoga does is that it redirects your awareness inside. “When you start focusing on your breathing and you start being good to your body, this affects your mind positively,” she adds. “Through increasing your physical wellness, your mental wellness increases as well.”
While problems and challenges may be unique in nature, Ohoud believes that being aware of their roots sits at the heart of coming up with sound solutions – even if it means being aware of how we breathe.
Since her early childhood, Ohoud has suffered from asthma which meant she was constantly on medications and vaccines in order to barely breathe properly. However, yoga helped her achieve what modern medicine couldn’t.
“With a lot of work on the breath through pranayama and through Ashtanga, the regular yoga practice, I’ve really been able to control my breathing in ways I never could have imagined,” says Ohoud who owes her successful mountain ascents to yoga.
According to Ohoud, proper breathing, which is focal to Ashtanga yoga, can influence us in many more ways. “Whenever your status changes, your breathing changes as well. When you’re angry, your breaths are short and rapid, but that may change if you’re scared, happy, or calm,” she notes. “My yoga teacher always used to say, 'What if we can reverse the process? If our state of mind can alter our breath, can we through breath and through control of the breath control our state of mind?' And the answer is ‘yes,’ because when you learn how to breathe, when you learn how to prolong the breath and bring the heart rate down to calm yourself down, you can adapt to any situation that arises in life.”
The Practice of Stretching the Mind
If you’ve ever seen someone practice advanced yoga postures, you would probably be amazed by the amount of physical flexibility they display. However, the gateway to physical flexibility lies in mental flexibility as Ohoud puts it.
“‘I’m not flexible enough for yoga’ is an excuse I often hear for people not practicing yoga,” says Ohoud. “To me, it sounds like they’re saying ‘I’m too dirty to take a shower.’ If you shower, you’ll be clean. Similarly, if you practice yoga, you’ll be flexible.”
As a teacher, Ohoud often finds herself addressing people’s mental rather than physical concerns. “In practice, what often stops people isn’t their bodies, but in fact their fear. Sometimes they’re afraid of falling, that’s why I like to tell my students to consciously fall first to understand that it’s okay to fall,” says Ohoud. “Once you lose that fear, you’ll see that you can actually push yourself farther than you thought you could.”
Like many other yoga teachings, flexibility extends beyond the yoga mat, bringing change to almost every aspect of one’s life – a practice Ohoud has become all too familiar with.
“Sometimes you may have the left leg in half lotus, the right leg is crossing over, you’re twisting your spine, and everything is just really compact, and the teacher still tells you to focus on your breath, and just keep breathing,” she says. “This can very easily simulate a situation in your day-to-day life where you’re feeling clobbered one way or the other, or you’re angry with all the traffic, but then you breathe your way out of it. You relax the mind, and you relax the body.
“So a lot of the times, the flexibility that we work on physically is reflected in the flexibility of the mind, being open to what you can potentially do and being open to how you can behave in worldly situations.”
Seeing as how yoga impacted her life in so many ways, Ohoud became a certified teacher in March 2015, a means through which she continues to keep the yoga teachings alive, bringing positive change to as many lives as they touch. If you want to learn more about yoga, its philosophy and basically everything yoga related, make sure you follow Bindu by Ohoud on Facebook and Instagram.