yoga on the west bank

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Photo by Tanya Habjouqa for The Wall Street Journal

Yoga is largely unknown among the Palestinians. Over the past year, however, more women have embraced the regimen as a way of coping with the stress of economic crises, political deadlock and conflict with Israel for control of the West Bank.

“One of the reasons we started it is to create space that is not easy to find here,” said Maha Shawreb, the founder of the Farashe Yoga studio, which has trained some 16 instructors from around the West Bank to start women’s classes and introduce yoga clinics in schools. “You are closed off physically and have a lot of demands and restrictions.”

Palestinian students and instructors describe the benefits of the classes as part exercise and physical therapy, part spiritual meditation and part women’s empowerment.

“It wasn’t easy to have a women’s gathering in a conservative town, but we did it without provoking anyone,” said Shamiyeh Suruh, an instructor in Ni’lin, wearing a black hijab. “We said that women need to get out of their homes…. Many men thought this was Buddhist worship. At the beginning, they were annoyed,” she said, but now they don’t see it as a threat.

Still, the Muslim world has given yoga a mixed reception. In Malaysia and Indonesia, religious councils have passed fatwas outlawing participation. In Iran and Lebanon, by contrast, the Indian practice has attracted a loyal following.

It took Hayat Abu R’maes, an instructor from the West Bank village of Zatara, near Bethlehem, several months to recruit a steady class. Women’s sports are virtually nonexistent there, and would-be participants were challenged by their families. “They were asked, ‘Why do you need this sport? And what is this sport about?’ ” said Ms. Abu R’maes.

Excerpt fron Wall Street Journal Article Yoga’s Repose on the West Bank by Joshua Mitnick

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