Tell us about yourself and how your interest in yoga was first sparked.
My name’s Ali El Alfy. I’m 32 years old, I was born in Egypt and I grew up in Bahrain. I studied management at McGill University and before teaching yoga, I worked a number of different jobs including sales, marketing and communications. I even pretended to be a banker for a little while and was so turned off by my desk job that I quit and bused tables at a bar.
I have a younger sister I adore, and it was around the time I graduated when she took me to my first yoga class at the YMCA in downtown Montreal. I was over-weight, a mouth-breather and very impatient; needless to say, the experience was very uncomfortable. But I recognized, right away, that there was something special about yoga. It was a few years before I re-visited the mat, but when I finally did, I was hooked!
Are there different types of yoga? What type do you teach?
Yoga’s an ancient practice so yes, there are many different types. As far as traditional schools go, there’s Raja Yoga, the ‘exalted way’ of meditation; Jnana Yoga, which is the intellectual path paved with knowledge; Bhakti is the yogic equivalent of Sufism concerned with love and devotion; and Karma Yoga entails selfless action (think Gandhi or Mother Theresa). Now, the practice done on the mat is called Hatha Yoga, and that’s what I teach. All these different names you see on a yoga studio’s schedule, be it Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar or whatever else, denote different styles or approaches, but they’re all derivatives of Hatha Yoga. With the exception of Kundalini, which is a Tantric approach, there is only Hatha Yoga!
How has yoga transformed your life?
Yoga helped bring me home. I used to live outside of myself, you see, always seeking an external source of satisfaction; something that was going to make my day worthwhile or a person who was going to save me from the unbearable void I felt inside. I was always looking ahead and rarely satisfied with what I had, rarely present. Yoga taught me to appreciate my own company, to get to know myself, to understand and embrace my darkness. To put it simply, yoga’s taught me to love myself.
Do you consider yoga more mental or physical?
Yoga is neither mental nor physical, but a holistic practice that encompasses both body and mind; it’s about presence. In that state of all-pervading awareness, the body and mind become aligned and one begins to connect with what’s beyond –the heart, soul or spirit.
As a teacher, you seem to prefer the beach as your usual spot. Why is that?
I absolutely love the sea and I look forward to summertime so I can come back to the coast. Yoga is meant to help us peel back the layers of conditioning so we can be our natural selves. For most people, that happens as soon as they step into the sea. We become childish, carefree and even our smiles radiate differently. I like to teach on the beach because the sea inspires me. Not only that, but the sound of water is calming; the iodine in the air is cleansing, and all those shades of blue go a long way towards washing our soul of our worldly troubles. Also, teaching on the beach means I sport nothing but a swimsuit and that in itself is a joy!
What made you choose this career path?
I like to think that yoga saved me from a career. There are so many negative connotations associated with the term, at least in my mind. Yoga’s not a job for me, but something I practice and share – it’s a lifestyle and a way of being. I teach because I believe in its capacity to change lives and bring out the very best of people. I feel blessed to have come across this incredible tool and my mission is to share it with anyone open to receive.
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