Israa Shafi, a former fashion model, is an emerging yoga expert and instructor who completed her 200 hour certification in Hatha from Nepal. Shafi runs her own social media account @yogawithisraa, where she provides her followers with tailor-made yoga tips. Her goal as a yoga teacher is to make meaningful connections with her students in order to help them improve their physical and mental wellbeing. In conversation with MAG, she shared some very helpful yoga fitness tips for our readers. Tag along as we connect with Israa Shafi.
Why did you devote your life to this practice, and how has it changed you?
Sometimes the journey to something wonderful may start from a place of pain. For a long time, I had uneasiness in my heart and inner peace seemed like a myth that I would never experience while working at a desk job in the corporate world or as a model in the fashion industry. I had always felt more complete and better while helping other people and making meaningful connections. As this realisation swam in my heart and grew bigger, I decided to take a leap of faith and let my heart lead. So, I quit my job and let it lead me into the Himalayan Mountains where I met myself through yoga, my true self. I mindfully learned how to discipline myself and build my strength and stamina through focus and my own life-giving breath. I wanted to continue to grow and spread what I learned and help more people heal in the ways I did and do so every single day.
What’s your favourite yoga pose?
My favourite yoga pose keeps changing with time as to how I feel, what I’m going through and what I need in that moment. So, one day I might feel that holding a plank or a warrior II pose feels amazing. But then there are times when I just feel like sitting on the floor, cross legged and just breathe.
What are the benefits of practicing yoga?
The benefits of yoga are endless. It makes you feel better physically, it helps you mentally, it also helps you spiritually speaking because it is what connects you to yourself and your existence which is why yoga means union and that union is to your entire existence. It helps you control your anxiety, it’s great for arthritis, asthma, back pain, blood pressure and chronic fatigue. It also helps you feel better if you’re depressed. It also improves your concentration and focus because of the mind and body connection.
Does a person need to lose weight before they can start practicing yoga?
You do not need to be thin in order to do yoga. That’s like saying you need to be thin in order to go to the gym. Yoga is an inclusive practice and yes, if you see people on social media with very thin waists doing yoga, don’t be fooled by it.
How is yoga different from stretching or other kinds of fitness?
Postures and yoga itself is more than just a stretching exercise because yoga does not only stretch your muscles but it also opens up your locked up joints and it also helps you open up your mind. So, along with your physical flexibility, it also helps your mental flexibility because yoga draws your attention inward and the postures actually become an extension of your mind. So, each posture can teach you something about yourself and it also makes you aware of the subtleties in your body and mind that you weren’t aware of.
What should be the ideal diet for an aspiring yogi?
You don’t need to be a vegetarian in order to practice yoga. I think it’s more important to understand your relationship with food. You should have an understanding of how you should eat your food and what to eat and how does certain food make you feel mentally and physically.
What can a person do if they can’t get their mind to shut off during meditations?
You do not need to shut off your mind in order to meditate. Meditation helps you acknowledge and accept your thoughts rather than pushing away your thoughts or hiding away from your thoughts.
Does greater flexibility lead to greater risk of injury?
Excessive flexibility can be as bad as not enough flexibility because both increase your risk of injury.
Could a person do yoga at home without a trainer? Are there any risks?
Yes, there is risk involved if you are practicing yoga by yourself at home by watching videos online because there is nobody to check your alignment, your posture and how you’re engaging the muscle. This is why there are certified teachers to help you.