Our Yoga Guru
Yoga postures are incontestably known for increasing one’s proprioception and peace of mind. Practitioners swear by having Zen permeate their senses and sharpen their perception of their surroundings. But behind every talented practitioner is an ingenious yoga teacher; Mariam Azmi, who’s more popularly known as Yogini Maz, has guided us through her journey with yoga and how its practice could help people of all ages.
By: Mayar El-Shamy
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m an Ashtanga Vinyasa and Vinyasa flow yoga teacher, economist and body positive encourager. Vinyasa is a fast-paced style of yoga characterized by stringing postures together so that you move from one to another, seamlessly, using your breath. In other words, breath-synchronized movement.
When and how did you first get interested in yoga and fitness?
I have always been an athlete ever since I was a kid. I have trekked on numerous athletic journeys; from handball playing for more than 13 years to group fitness, spinning and Zumba instructing. At the age of 19, while doing my studies abroad in the US, my cousins who are disciplined yogis introduced me to my first yoga class, and ever since then I got hooked. When I came back to Egypt, there were only a couple of studios offering yoga classes; I devoted a lot of my free time to develop a solid practice that is not just physical, but spiritual as well.
At what point did you decide to dedicate yourself to yoga personally and professionally?
I used to be a typical cosmopolitan girl who has a 9-to-5 job and struggled a lot making peace with the idea of being stuck in an office for more than eight hours daily. Last year, I visited India for a friend’s wedding, and ever since then, all I could think about was the idea of quitting my job to travel around the world capital of yoga to do my teacher training and pursue my career as a yoga teacher. Surprisingly enough, one month followed, and I lost my job! It was like a sign from the universe; I knew I had to do this. My parents thought that I had lost my mind; they have always supported me doing it as a hobby or part-time, but to give up everything and just start all over again with something that they see as “vague” was complete nonsense in their eyes. I, however, travelled and completed my training. I have been a full-time yoga teacher since September of last year.
Would you say yoga has changed your life?
Certainly, it did. Everyone who practices yoga has been touched in some way by its transformative power. Maybe because they simply feel better in their own bodies; however, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about yoga that helps you live a better life. In order to understand yoga, you first have to understand the concept of transformation. If I can put it into words, yoga does not transform me into something I aspire to be, rather, to the very thing that I am innately; my best self. Yoga has helped me shift patterns which I have developed over time – unhealthy ones. When I put my body into an asana (pose) that is new and I stick with it, I learn how to take a new shape. As it reshapes my body, it reshapes my mind. If practiced regularly and correctly, yoga asana breaks down the psychological, emotional, physical and psychic obstacles that inhibit us from thriving. Everything about practicing yoga involves intention and discipline. You devote a certain time of your day to practice, you move in a certain manner and you breathe in a certain way. This deliberation in my yoga practice allows me to be more mindful and deliberate in my life.
What do you find rewarding as a yoga teacher?
It’s so rewarding to inspire and support others through their journeys; nothing beats the feeling of seeing others begin their path to spiritual and physical healing. Everyone of us has a story to tell which spurs on others to begin their own journey and develop their own stories to share. Seeing my students grow, heal and transform is amazing. I watch them grow from misguided and clumsy fawns into majestic and graceful bucks. Teaching not only validates, but also enhances my understanding of yoga; the more I teach, the more I get innovative in helping my students practice the right postures and asanas. I grow as a yoga practitioner the same time I evolve into a better teacher effectively promoting the values of yoga. Finally, teaching pulls me out of my comfort zone. It stretches me to become more creative and explorative. Every student brings with them unique limitations and abilities; this requires me to custom-tailor my class to the students I have. I learn to explore teaching methods and practices, evolving myself as a yoga teacher at the same time that I am expanding my own knowledge and understanding of yoga.
Do your students inspire you?
My students are my teachers; they inspire me on daily basis through out my yoga journey. As I help them increase their knowledge about yoga, my own understanding of the yogic practice expands and deepens. I find myself learning so much from them as I hear their stories and watch the way yoga allows them to achieve oneness between their minds, bodies and souls. This inspires me to grow my own personal practice deeper.
How can yoga help sharpen the mind as well as your body’s activity?
Yoga sharpens the mind-body connection. The autonomic nervous system is divided into: the sympathetic nervous system, which produces the ‘fight or flight’ response when your back is against the wall; and the parasympathetic nervous system that relaxes you. Yoga stimulates this latter part of the brain, calming you down and restoring the overall balance in your life. Also, your brain gets flooded with dopamine and serotonin by doing yoga, these are chemicals that help you feel more relaxed and ready to handle whatever stressful situation you’re thrown into. Moreover, most of the yoga asanas enhance the activity of the brain by increasing the blood supply to it, thus boosting its power and memory.
How can you help beginners overcome their intimidation with yoga?
There is nothing to get intimidated by or worried about. It may seem like some yogis are born naturally flexible, but always remember; everyone was once a beginner! My favorite saying is, “As long as you breathe, you can do yoga”. In any beginners’ class, we focus on proper breathing techniques and body alignment and how to synchronize the body movement with every breath until the student has built a solid foundation of the practice.
What change will consistent yoga practitioners notice in their bodies and minds?
Yoga comes from “yoj”, a Sanskrit word which translates to “yoke” or “union”. The regular practice of yoga transforms our relationship with our bodies, hence, with ourselves. We become more conscious of our bodies; whatever the struggles, whatever the issues we have about our self-image, yoga shows us how to trust our own body and its ability to teach us what’s best for us.
Any advice for beginners who want to take up yoga?
My advice for anyone who wants to start yoga is to focus on the journey rather than the destination; take it one breath at a time. You are in competition with no one, so take all the time you need. Always ask your teacher for help, begin with the basics and attend as many workshops as possible to build a strong foundation.
Where can people find your classes?
You can find me at ‘Hers Gym’, ‘CrossFit Stars’,’Groovy’,’Flow Wellness Center’, ‘Pole Fit Egypt’ and ‘Osana Family Wellness’.