The beauty of the mind

By Nida Mohsin
Tue, 11, 20

They say yoga makes you beautiful inside and out. This week in our beauty section meet Lahore-based yoga and wellness expert Aliya Agha…

yoga & beauty

Aliya Agha come from a very structured family where everyone has to have a professional degree. Although in early years of her life she was more inclined towards arts and creative disciplines, there was no compromise. So, she graduated with a Law degree, received Chevening Scholarship and pursued Masters in Law in England. She invested 17 years in the legal and development field and received many professional acknowledgements and awards. However, she started studying, teaching and practicing yoga some eight years back. Since there were no schools in Pakistan for formal training, she travelled abroad to Thailand and Cambodia and other places to receive internationally recognised courses.

A basic course of yoga teacher is completed in 200 hours. She went on the study and complete 1000 hours which also included yoga therapy certifications as well. She is the only yogi in Pakistan with that many hours of international certifications. She is registered as Experienced Yoga Teacher and YACEP with Yoga Alliance. She is the founder of Aliya Agha Academy of Internal Arts which is the only school internationally accredited with Yoga Alliance International. “The Academy runs successful international level trainings for yoga teachers in Pakistan, in Islamabad and Lahore and soon we are launching it in Karachi,” says Aliya. In a candid interview with You! Aliya shares her experiences and sheds light on benefits of yoga…

You! What is yoga?

Aliya Agha: I am often asked as to what is yoga, exactly? Is it just an exercise form? Is it a religion, a philosophy, an ideology? Or is it only for relaxation? Is it an art or science? The word ‘Yoga’ literally means ‘union’. We humans have layers and most of us only identify ourselves with the outer most layer, the physical body and the roles it has. I am Aliya; I am 5’7” tall; I am a mother; I am a Pakistani; all this and more is my identity. But I have many other layers which Sufis have also talked about. Famous Sufi poet Rumi said, “Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you are already that”. Yoga is the means to know the true identity – Buddha called it the ‘truth’. It’s a discipline that seeks to control the wondering mind. It gives simple and practical tools to attain familiarity of the higher self.

You! What are the benefits of yoga?

AA: Immense. It can lead to a range of health benefits, higher mental focus and stronger determination. If you want to reap the most benefits of yoga, then learn it and then practice it whether in a class or individually.

Another important issue is that yoga, if done incorrectly, can be harmful. For example, incorrect breathing exercise disturbs the energy channels in the body and the practitioner can slowly develop headaches or builds up toxins in the body. Thus, it is most important that yoga must be practiced with certified teachers.;

You! For busy working women, do you think yoga helps when it comes to lose weight?

AA: Classic example is of Kareena Kapoor who transformed her body for a movie role in ‘Tashan’ in 2008. She lost 20kg with only yoga and showed her ripped body in tank top and low cut jeans. Payal Tiwari, the fitness guru, inked the entire journey with Kareena and Saif Ali Khan in her best seller ‘From XL to XS’. However, the key is consistency and patience.

You! Do you recommend yoga for pregnant women?

AA: Yes, and no. I am trained for prenatal yoga, however, it can only be practiced by those pregnant women who have been practicing yoga before their pregnancy. Each trimester is different; thus women need to be aware of such pre-requisite prior to registering. In my experience women as soon as they get pregnant want to try out yoga in order to look good or to open bones for easy delivery. That’s not a realistic approach. A woman’s body goes through natural changes including special hormones that relaxes the joints. A good balance can be maintained with healthy and clean diet and lots of walking for non-yoga practitioners.

You! Till what age one can do yoga?

AA: Until you breathe.

You! Can anyone become a yogi or you need years to master this art?

AA: Anyone can study yoga and enhance their knowledge. I am offering such courses. For example, ‘New Me’ is 2-4-day basic training on yoga and its tools for better and improved living. There are next levels also available.

You! Are there enough yogis in our country or we need more professional yogis?

AA: We need more certified yoga teachers in our country.

You! How can we create awareness among women regarding this important mental and physical exercise i.e. yoga?

AA: With modernisation and urbanisation, the old living patterns are forgotten. Modernisation has fewer positive elements, and more negative ones. These have spread across all strata of Pakistani society with adverse and serious consequences on the social, health and economic aspects of life. Women tend to buy beyond one’s needs and flaunting designer lawn and accessories. There is little value given to joys of health and mental growth. Due to this our part of the world has become the capital of diabetes and heart disease. Thus media can play a very product and positive role. Just the way, dress designers and makeup artists are sort for interviews and tips, the same can be done with wellness gurus.

You! How do you start your day?

AA: I have simplified my life. I start with pleasant view in front of my eyes, it can be anything green or neutral in colour. I take a small amount of water, followed by tea with two biscuits or brown sugar. This prevents the stomach from getting irritated.

You! What do you normally eat to keep you in shape?

AA: I eat everything. Ayurveda teaches us to eat six tastes in a meal: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter and Astringent. If I can’t manage in one meal, then I try to manage during the day. Although October onwards, I try and stay away from sour.

You! How do you unwind after a stressful day?

AA: My favourite way is to take 15 minutes off from everyone and practice yogic sleep. Researchers have found that 20 minutes of yogic sleep is equal to three hours of deep sleep.

You! Have you thought of writing a book on yoga?

AA: I am a writer and will take every opportunity to write. Most of the times I am advised to keep content simple as this is the digital age and social media consumes shortest possible text. I am still old school and wrote a weekly column for a daily newspaper as Wellness Genie for a year. However, haven’t thought of writing a book on yoga yet.

You! Have you received any kind of recognition or awards on a national level?

AA: Wellness and yoga are still off the radar as a national goal. But with each teacher training, I feel that I have found my purpose to empower and enlighten others.

You! Do you go abroad for advance training or to get trained?

AA: I believe that self-growth, personal development as well as professional learning should never stop. I have been travelling for advanced trainings and will continue to do so.

You! Have you introduced any new techniques in yoga to Pakistani women?

AA: I am old school and believe that what is codified in ancient text as tried and tested methods, only those should be taught. New techniques or modifications that are not backed by scientific research and evidence can be dangerous. Students should not be guinea pigs.

You! What do you love most about being a yogi?

AA: Teilhard de Chardin was a French philosopher who said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Yoga has helped me accept the human experience. When you find confidence in such an experience, only then you are able to become an instrument for peace and compassion. I am a better listener and every conversation is meaningful, whether with house help, my son or a friend or student.

I acknowledge my weaknesses as human. I no longer burden myself with the past, as women need to turn their pain into strength.

You! Who is your favourite yogi (local or international)?

AA: Patanjali – the man who codified Yoga and Ayurveda 2500 years ago. The story goes that he wrote behind a curtain veil, so that people don’t start to worship him as he was a mere codifier not the architect of the sciences. I admire ethics and dedication of such level which make up a yogi. We all are mere students of his work.

You! What advice can you give women for how to make a healthy lifestyle a way of life as they get older?

AA: Cultivate freedom in their emotional self. Women are not open to change as they grow older. I have seen women becoming grandmothers at the age of 40 years, and due to the new role they stop taking care of themselves. It’s not just diet and exercise, it’s also indulging in nature, taking time out for themselves to energise, rediscover their beauty and restore vitality. For these reasons, twice a year I organise a women’s only wellness retreat in international exotic destinations. It’s about hearty laughers, undo habits, breath, eat well, meditate, indulge in spa treats and sharing excitement on adventurous excursions with other women travellers.

You! What are your future plans?

AA: A famous advice in yogic scriptures is, “Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.” So my work is set forth. In 2021 yoga teachers’ trainings are planned for Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi & Thailand in 2021. Also, women’s wellness retreats are coming up in Srilanka and Turkey in 2021. In short, embarking on a path of collaborations is something I am looking forward to in near future.