Journey during Yoga international day with Jennifer Hababag

International Day of Yoga, or commonly and unofficially referred to as 'Yoga Day', is celebrated annually on 21 June since its inception in 2015. An international day for yoga was declared unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The idea of International Day of Yoga was first proposed by the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi during his speech at the UNGA, on 27 September 2014.




Yoga Teacher Feature

We sat down with Cairo-based, yoga instructor, Jennifer Hababag, and talked about her passion for yoga. Her enthusiasm and positive vibes are highly contagious that we cannot help but feel inspired. Read on to learn more about yoga as well as her tips in overcoming challenges on and off the mat.

What is yoga and what does it mean to you?

Yoga directly translates to union or connection in sanskrit. On the surface, it is about the physical practice of pranayama or breath work, combined with the yoga poses or what we call asanas. If we want to dig a little bit deeper, then maybe we can find that yoga means the ability to unite our emotions and thoughts without judgment. If we want to go hyper philosophical, then yoga can mean the art of choosing now, living in the moment, in the present that ultimately leads to a better connection with yourself and to others. We can interpret yoga physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. It is a journey to understanding your inner self while at the same time discovering what the body can do and appreciating what the body cannot do.


Speaking of journey, how did you start practicing yoga?

I guess a lot of people would resonate when I say that I started yoga to lose weight and challenge my body. I have been attending yoga classes in Australia as a form of exercise because I really do not like being on the treadmill. My main motivation is the physical benefits of yoga. I found myself looking forward another class and realized that my flexibility, balance, and strength greatly improved, and my shoulders and back started getting toned with time. Then, during one class, and I remember this vividly, everything changed. My usual instructor could not make it to class, thus we had a substitute teacher. This class is the catalyst that made me become a yoga instructor. From the moment the substitute teacher opened her lips, I was in tears. I spent the entire hour crying on my mat, not because the poses were difficult or painful, but because I felt that something inside me has opened. I would risk sounding silly, but it was as if a magic door has opened and all the weight and troubles I was carrying on my shoulder were lifted. For the first time in a long time, I could see myself clearly--my flaws, my mistakes, my weaknesses, but at the same time, I felt happy and content and ready. Then I thought, wow! If yoga can make me feel all of these things, then this is something I would love to share to everyone. So, off I went and did my trainings in Sydney, Rishikesh, and Bali. It is still one of the best directions I have taken in my life so far.


What is the best lesson yoga has taught you?

Patience and acceptance. On the mat, it is so easy to say I want to do a handstand just as easy it is to give up when we cannot balance on our hands the first hundred times. Yoga teaches us that everything takes time. All the surya namaskars that we do repeatedly exist to strengthen our stamina and prepare us for the challenging poses. Off the mat, there had been many times when I was always waiting for something to happen. I have wasted a lot of time being worried about the future and second guessing my choices. Yoga has taught me that there is more happiness that comes with accepting how things just are. This goes back to the point of living in the present and choosing now. If we keep obsessing about outcomes, maybe we are missing and taking for granted what is right in front of us. Yoga has taught me that it is okay to slow down because, eventually, we will get to wherever we want to be. What matters more is who we are when we do get there. This is something I would love for my students to learn and understand.


What makes a great yoga class?

Definitely, the students! There is nothing better than seeing their faces looking calm and at peace during savasana. With my students who attended their first yoga class with me, I see their progress week by week. The total transformation from someone who has self-doubts to someone confident and sure about themselves is what makes all the difference.


What can we expect in your yoga classes?

I teach vinyasa which is all about linking and synchronising the movement with the breath, allowing it to flow from one yoga posture to another. It can sound a bit technical, but what I love most about vinyasa is that it allows and gives room for creative freedom. I have classes where I structure the sequences based on the muscle group we would target. For example, it can be a class that focuses on opening the hips, or strengthening the core. It can be a class that centers on back bends or aligning the spine, to the more challenging arm balances. There are times when I would structure my classes depending on the transitions of the seasons. Summer always gives that energetic feeling, so you can expect to sweat and really have the body feeling awake and alive. If it is a full moon, then you can be sure you will be moving on the mat until you reach a full circle. I may also choose a word that serves as a focal point in my classes such as gratitude, peace, longing, vulnerability. Then there are days when a class would revolve on the elements of wind, fire, earth, and water. Whatever the theme is, you can always expect harmonious sequences that is playful and fun, and also challenging and powerful. You will leave the class, hopefully, with a better appreciation and understanding of who you are inside and out.


What advice can you give to those who want to start practicing yoga?

I get messages all the time saying that they want to take a yoga class but they are not flexible enough, not strong enough, not fit enough. Yoga is for everyone regardless of age and shape, so, I say leave everything behind and just come to class. Drop your worries and show up. Do not lose heart or get discouraged when you cannot do a pose today, because, eventually, you will. Never compare yourself with anyone else. Once you are on the mat, you are there to do you--to give yourself the much needed time and attention. Be open, listen to your body. Work with your limits, not against it. Trust your intuition, you will know when it feels right and when it feels wrong. Ask questions and be curious! If there is anything you did not understand in class, ask your teacher after. As an instructor, I like to think that I am just one inhale or exhale away. So, please do not hesitate to ask. I will be happy to answer any queries.


Where can we find you?

I am teaching at Groovy in Heliopolis and at Tree Trunk in Korba. On a seasonal basis, I teach at The Platform in Maadi organized by Mandala Yoga Retreats. On a lovely Friday morning, I can sometimes be spotted practicing on the grounds of Al Horeya Park in Zamalek. If you like to follow my yoga journey and schedule, you can check my Instagram at @cairogypsy and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/yogabeancairo.

Rapid fire questions:
1. Where are you from?
Philippines

2. What is your favourite yoga pose?
Wild thing and cobra

3. What is your favourite yoga song?
Apparently by Random Rab

4. Do you have any favourite quotes?
I am enough.”

5. Where is your favourite yoga spot in Egypt?
I tend to take my practice wherever I go, I have done a yoga retreat in Nuweiba, a few classes in Dahab, but my favourite is on the boardwalk in Soma Bay.

6. Are you a morning or evening yoga person?

I love morning classes. It just sets the tone and mood of the day.

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