health and fitness
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DESCRIPTION48 Do not Do shoulDerstanD if: l You are menstruating. l You have high blood pressure. l You have a migraine or tension headache (your neck will be too stiff). l You have neck or shoulder problems (for the same reason). l You have any back issues. l You have any cardio vascular disease. Never turn your neck while you are in a shoulderstand. Practice shoulderstand under the guidance of a teacher and use modification to suit your body type. August 2010
health & fitness
I n yoga we say that the mother and queen of all poses is the shoulderstand. Like with our mothers there are many reasons to appre-ciate it. Done correctly, the shoulderstand stimulates and rejuvenates your entire body. As an inversion it increases the blood circulation in the neck, chest, and back and due to the positioning of the neck against the chest it also stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands which in turn helps to regulate the hormones and weight glands. We call it the queen of poses (as opposed to the King which we reserve for Headstand) because shoulderstand helps to develop the feminine qualities of patience and emotional sta-bility. It cools or neutralises the body and sedates the nervous system while releasing the muscles of the neck and shoulders. The importance of this pose for someone with an advanced or intermediate yogi practice cannot be overstated but for the beginner we must take extreme care. Like any matriarch, the pose can be extremely dangerous.
Evidence of the care we need to take can be seen in popular yoga sequences such as the hot yoga se-quence. This sequence was designed by a master yogi for western beginners and does not include either the headstand or the shoulderstand. In other traditions we are given poses when deemed ready or we are made to wait for years before inversions become part of our practice. Alternatively we begin the pose with many props. The shoulderstand can be particu-larly dangerous for the westernised yoga beginner be-cause we tend to hold all of our tension in the neck and shoulders and this is just where we need to be open and relaxed in order to practice the pose effectively. Another reason shoulderstand is especially dangerous for us is because more often than not we approach yoga as another performance sport and the desire to do a difficult and dangerous pose like shoulderstand will override every word of caution offered by your teacher.
But for those of you who are eager to practice the shoulderstand regardless, here are some pointers to think about.
There are two ways to do shoulderstand. The proper way is to create a vertical inverted line. This is a very beautiful pose but depends on a couple of things. First in this approach, we depend on the skeleton to help us support the weight of the body so
that it is not thrust into the neck. If you do not get into this totally straight line you are putting yourself at risk.To get there, you need neck flexibility, open shoulders, an open chest and a strong core. The second way to do shoulderstand is more properly called viparita karini. In this version, the weight is on the back of the shoulders and on the hands so your neck and lower back is protected. You look more like a sideways V rather than a candle. This pose can also be practiced at the wall. To determine which of these poses you should begin with first assess how flexible your neck is. Can you press your chin to your chest without curl-ing your upper back? Also look at the openness of your shoulders can you clasp your hands behind you and bring them halfway up your back? If these are avail-able to you and you have a strong core then you can begin to slowly work on this inversion. If not, I recom-mend that you focus on a standing yoga practice and on opening and releasing your shoulders. A slow and steady approach will open all doors and eventually you will practice the queen of yoga in such a way that she bestows intense pleasure
ShoulderStandthe queen of poSeS
Do not Do shoulDerstanD if:
l You are menstruating. l You have high blood pressure. l You have a migraine or tension headache
(your neck will be too stiff). l You have neck or shoulder problems (for the
same reason).l You have any back issues.l You have any cardio vascular disease.
Never turn your neck while you are in a shoulderstand. Practice shoulderstand under the guidance of a teacher and use modification to suit your body type.
Valerie Jeremijenko is the director of the Doha- based Yama Yoga Studios which offers over 25 yoga classes a week. For more information see
2010 August 49
star Jumps From a squatted down position, jump up taking your hands and legs out to the side, trying to resemble the shape of a star. On landing, make sure you land on both feet together, lowering down back into the squat po-sition, remembering not to allow your knees to pass over your toes. Use your arms to help lift yourself upwards. Try to complete as many star jumps as you can in 60 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds and try to beat your record!
Jump squats Stand with your feet at least hip-width apart and place your weight on your heels with your toes pointed forward. Bend your knees and lean forward slightly to keep your knees over your ankles. Lift up hard with an explosive movement, and as your weight comes onto your toes, use your calf muscles to push your feet off the floor and get as much height as pos-sible. Land on your toes before coming back down on your heels. Repeat this exercise 15 times, take a 60 second rest and repeat a further two sets.
Jump lunges Stand straight up, with your feet shoulder-width apart, but with one stationed about a foot and a half in front of the other. Your back leg should stand directly under your body, and your forward knee should sit at a 90-degree angle. Place your hands on your hips for balance. Jump up off the ground slightly, and quickly switch the position of your feet in mid-air. Keep your torso straight, now and throughout the exercise. Land in the mirror-image of your original position, Now jump back off the ground, switch-ing your feet to your original position. Continue to alternate for 60 seconds. Take a 30-second break and repeat two more sets.
hula hoop stretch Place your hands on your hips and your feet at hip-width. Using a slow, controlled motion, swivel the hips around in a clockwise direction, as if you were using a hula hoop! Keep your upper body centred, and follow the motion while contract-ing your abdominals. Maintain the hula hoop stretch for 60 seconds, then re-verse to anti-clockwise for a further 60 seconds. Grass-skirt and flower lei are optional!
CardiokickIt has been a hot month In Doha, so you mIght be startIng to feel a lIttle sluggIsh. the staff at sIx senses spa, Doha offer up the perfect recIpe to boost your energy levels: a range of sImple exercIses you can Do at home to lImber you up, raIse your heart rate anD gIve you the resolve to get through a scorchIng summer!
At the tender age of six, my first amateur elbow strike landed on my then three-year-old brothers back explaining my mothers im-
mediate decision to pull me out of karate classes and place me among a de rigueur and sophisticated flock of prancing balle-rinas. Needless to say that with my rapid arm movements and leaps a frog could perform more gracefully, I stuck out like a sore thumb. However, my mother was convinced that as a result of her decision, I would evolve into a socially acceptable, aes-thetically pleasing ladylike specimen with a strong and shining knight in armour by my side to protect me from any harm that came my way.
Today, I am a trained runner with very basic rape defence skills (theory, really) and no knight in shining armour by my side to come to my rescue if some loony were to knee me down. All I can do is scream and sprint. Hence, I have always envied women who sported black belts and strode across the city with the mental and physical con-fidence of a bull. Unlike me, with one of my two lethal weapons: a can of pepper spray or simply, a brick. (Vocal chords and limbs are a plus when youre not in a state of utter shock).
In my humble efforts to guard myself from attack, I came to one conclusion: Whether you are a woman of the brick or the belt, a sense of physical strength
stimulates a sense of mental strength and stability.
With this conviction, I decided to explore the importance of self-defence in a relatively safe and quiet city like Doha. Some women shared my belief, some didnt but it was fascinating to gauge the value to my fellow women, of being armed with the right skills to protect the body and mind.
a local perspectiveFrom my research in Doha, I gathered that the whole idea of self-defence activity, for most individuals, was triggered either of the two needs: protecting oneself from an attack on the street or physical fitness. Despite the largely safe neighbourhoods of
MyriaM Chandna scouts the city for women who dont leave their safety to chance or knights in shining armour.
health & fitness
2010 August 51
Doha, Kickboxing World Champion Rami Al-Banna, who teaches professional kick-boxing to several women at the Qatar Foun-dations Recreation Centre, sees a rise in the number of female students in his class. Initially, out of the average 15-25 students, not more than two or three were women, says Rami, who hails from Lebanon. But I am glad to see that the number of women has been increasing lately, he says. Accord-ing to him, self-defence is important for ev-eryone. Doesnt matter who you are, what your job is or where you live, he says. It is the idea of being strong and able to protect yourself from anything or anyone.
His intense one-hour session is a com-bination of semi-contact, light contact, full contact, street-fight, and musical form kickboxing. Kickboxing serves as a full body workout and a defence strategy, giv-ing you the best of both worlds, he says.
Keghani Kouzoujian, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and a student of Ramis, has been practising with him for two months. A swimmer and yogi since childhood, first-timer, she believes that kickboxing enabled her to step out of her comfort zone. Since childhood, I have been swimming and practicing yoga, so kickboxing was something new and chal-lenging. And of course, it is certainly an advantage to know how to defend myself, Keghani says.
In the blinding glitz and glamour of it all, Qatars regional leadership in sports in terms of the variety of sports offered here is easy to miss. While it is true that Doha does not offer simple opportunities to remain fit, such as pedestrian-friendly streets or
weather suitable enough for ditching the car, there isnt a shortage of physical activi-ties one can take up to learn a new skill or keep in shape. Nor is there a shortage of highly trained professionals, coaching a va-riety of sports at recognised institutions.
Some, like Aspire Academy, (which offers several self-defence classes for both women and men), have earned a name due to their sheer magnitude, prestige, and place in the countrys rich sports history. Others just have to be hunted out.
In my search of martial arts enthusi-asts, I happened to come across Falcon Taekwondo Academy, and eventually its Thai boxing wing, The Champions. Tucked away in the backyard of the citys prime landmark, Ramada Hotel in Al Sadd, The Champions offers professional Thai box-ing classes to women thrice a week. Young girls and women gain a lot from this kind
of training, says Khalil Al-Ahmad, Execu-tive Manager of Falcon Taekwondo Acad-emy. An international Olympic instructor and referee, Khalil believes that offering womens only classes is an ideal way to get women involved and provide them with a sisterhood that shares common interests. In our culture, women prefer to be private, especially Qatari women. And we want to cater to this group of women, so they dont miss out on any opportunity to learn self-defence, says Khalil, who is a Yemeni national.
The trainers here are so respectable to women, and they really help you learn de-fence tactics step by step, says Natasha Wood, an elementary school teacher at Ris-ing Stars kindergarten. I have been learn-ing Thai boxing for the past two months, and it feels great to know that if I am placed in a situation where I have to protect my-
Natasha Wood practices Thai boxing with her partner at Falcon Taekwondo Academy.
Thai boxing students warm up before an intense training session.
while it is true that doha does not offer simple opportunities to remain fit, there
isnt a shortage of physical activities one can take up to learn a new skill or
keep in shape.
self, I can do it. It is also a great chance to meet other women who want to do the same thing, she says.
Dainty Dolls to crouching tigers?Not our societys ideal metamorphosis for its female species. All over the world, wom-en make this rather unfair deal with societ-ies. They are compelled to trade any visible signs of power (physical or economical) for being classified as delicate, obedient, and, more importantly, desirable. Therefore, societal expectations and stereotypes play a huge role in the sports women choose to pursue and specialise in. Perhaps, this is why many women shy away from activities which are considered mens sports, mar-tial arts being a classic example. Opting for yoga or aerobics seem to enjoy more of a feminine note.
A Qatari national, whom I will refer to as Amna, as she requested to have her name changed to protect her identity, says that she finds her martial arts practice men-tally strengthening. Amna has been train-ing in a combination of martial arts for the past six months. I wanted to do something different, something which was more than a workout, she says. Its really intensive and it has improved my reflexes. We focus a lot on individual moves, so if someone tries to attack me, I dont need to have someone else by my side. I know where to hit, she says.
Like a vicious cycle, this perception of a woman as vulnerable and someone who needs to be protected instead of being able to protect herself, injects the mind of women and society alike. Society prefers to view women as delicate and defenceless, women cater to that perception to feel ac-cepted, and that acceptance reinforces a womans characteristics as delicate and
defenceless.For example, sitting in on one of Ramis
kickboxing lesson, I noticed that he was particularly easy on his female students. If I wont be gentle with them, theyll stop coming, responded Rami. Its different with the ladies, they are still beginners. I want them to learn everything step by step, depending on their needs and how well they do, he says.
However, Ramis student, Keghani, sees herself in a different light. Women are grown to see themselves as having to look delicate, look pretty, not do the dirty stuff, go fighting, and consequently over the years, you think of yourself as less strong, and it affects your self confidence, she says. When she first joined kickboxing lessons, Keghani found her decision being of curios-ity among people close to her.
I got a lot of, like, why kickboxing? What are you trying to prove? Well, I had the op-portunity, so why not? I may not necessar-ily feel stronger, but it sure is good to know what I am capable of, she says.
Instilling the importance of self-defence and independence in a females mind from an early age strongly shapes the woman she grows into. Not only can it do wonders for her self confidence, it also endows her with a broad outlook towards life, which becomes her legacy for her generations to come.
World kickboxing champion Rami Al-Banna guides student Barbara Berro, as she locates her target on a potential at-tackers body. From left to right: Keghani Kouzoujian, Barbara Berro, and Rami Al-Banna.
Female students practise front kick.
Keghani Kouzoujian practises her kickboxing moves with Rami Al-Banna.
dainty dolls to crouching
tigers? not our societys
ideal metamor-phosis for its
health & fitness
2010 August 53
As the famous saying goes, Motivation will always beat mere talent. Khalil en-courages his female students to empower themselves with knowledge and fighting skills that will factor into their standing as independent women. I have been training some of my female students since they were little girls, says Khalil, introducing me to one such student of his, Hala Maher, a 7th grade student at Al Jazeera Academy. I challenge them, even though I know its hard. And I tell them that they must keep going, because they are no less than any-one, he says.
Hala holds a black belt in Taekwondo, a Korean martial art which she has been practicing for the past seven years. It was very tough, I hated it in the beginning, says Hala, who has won an international certifi-cate in Taekwondo and only recently took up Thai boxing. But I was really encour-aged by my instructor and my parents. My parents always told me that I must do this so I can defend myself alone, she says.
practical use vs fitnessWhile womens self-defence is of immense value to some, others participate in self-defence classes with the aim of achieving fitness goals. At least in Qatar, a glimpse at the bigger picture shows that most women
engage in martial arts to try out an alter-native form of exercise and keep fit, rather than implement the skills they learn to defend themselves. Many of my female students take it as a form of exercise, not self-defence, says Rami.
I have lived in the US and in other parts of the world, and I seriously considered tak-ing self-defence classes there, says Dana Haidan, Social Investments Coordinator at QatarGas and a regular at various aero-bic classes across the city. But here, you dont really need it. I only take aerobic style self-defence classes, just for the immediate power rush they give me, she says.
Barbara Berro, one of Ramis students, cannot imagine herself in need of any kind of self-defence in Doha. I feel too safe in this environment. But I never did anything action-oriented, and now I can threaten my husband with my kickboxing skills! says a smiling Barbara.
the right to self-DefenceWhen a man punches the life out of an as-sailant, he reinforces his identity as a man. Regardless of the necessity or brutality of that punch, he becomes a manly man.
When a woman hurls a fist, shes either nat-urally violent or caught between a battle of hormones. Similarly, a man defending his stance verbally is a debater; a woman do-ing the same is often just defensive, emo-tional, or ironically, as I mentioned earlier, a feminist lacking femininity by trying to act tough. These double standards dont pertain to a certain day and age or society they are universal. And in my humble opinion, universally ill founded. A wom-ans safety does not necessarily have to be threatened by a masked stranger prowl-ing a deserted street. Her safety can be compromised within the walls of her own home; domestic abuse and marital rape are some of the most underestimated threats to a womans safety in our society. Every individual has a right to self-defence, both physical and mental, considering they are faced with an attack of either kind. Each time a woman, or for that matter anyone, is unjustly restricted from taking up a form of self-defence, she is stripped off her very basic right to defend her body. Imagine be-ing prevented from being vaccinated the consequence is the same: vulnerability to attack
instilling the importance of
self-defence and independence in a females mind
from an early age strongly shapes
the woman she grows into.
A female student captures her opponent with a wrist-lock when he tries to attack her from behind.