Last November, the Saudi government approved teaching and practising of yoga as a sport.
Saudi Arabia prepares to celebrate its 88th National Day, but this year carries a special flavour for Saudi female athletes who are determined to show their power to the world.
Besides the ground-breaking royal decree that put an end of a decades-long ban on women driving last year, restrictions are slowly being lifted off Saudi women, empowering even the young generation of females living abroad.
Last November, the Saudi government approved teaching and practising of yoga as a sport, nine months after it started granting licences for women-only gyms.
“The National Day is a big day for our country, but this year is different for Saudi women because we are finally seeing our achievements come to life,” said Amani Al Andejani, a certified Saudi yoga instructor currently in Canada to finish her master’s degree in dentistry.
“Although I didn’t receive my driving licence yet, having the option to drive and start up my own yoga studio in the country is a big thing.”
For decades, Saudi Arabia had effectively banned women’s sports and even physical education for girls in state-run schools. The new decrees are allowing women to take an active part in promoting healthy lifestyles in their communities.
Al Andejani, who started practising yoga 10 years ago, noticed the its benefits in relieving stress and building muscles during her stressful dentistry studies in Canada. Slowly, she moved into giving pre-natal yoga classes when she noticed how yoga helped her in the birth of her two children.
“There was no knowledge about yoga in Saudi Arabia. People had always associated the sport with Buddhism without knowing its types and benefits,” said Al Andejani, who received her yoga training in Canada and spent her time traveling to Nepal, Dubai and Italy to attend courses and workshops. Al Andejani, who has a home-based studio back home in Jeddah, is noticing the awareness of yoga, and sports in general, is growing in Saudi.
“The difference we see over the past two years is incredible. Awareness is growing, and my true wish now is to have a healthier community now that everything is open for us now,” said Al Andejani. “We need more awareness about sports, starting from schools to adults, to combat the high percentage of diabetes and hypertension in our country and improve our quality of life.”
UAE’s multicultural environment helps female athletes thrive
Dubai has given Saudi female athletes like Al Andejani the chance to meet with an international community of sports enthusiasts. “It isn’t easy for foreign trainers to visit Saudi Arabia. The open environment of the UAE allows us to meet people of over 200 nationalities and learn new experiences,” she said.
Dubai’s multicultural environment pushed Noura Khaled, Saudi fitness coach and influencer, to improve her skills and meet coaches from across the world.
The Dubai-based coach said the social progress happening back home is pushing Saudi women abroad to shine and speak out. “I feel more empowered to go out to the world and show them what Saudi women are capable of,” said Khaled.
“No one knows the Saudi girl. They think we are repressed, but they don’t see the girls who go hiking, diving and desert camping on weekends. This was all on a low profile. But now I see a brighter future for passionate and creative young women who are given the chance to pursue their dreams.”
With bachelor’s degree in nutrition, Khaled aims to continue her master’s and start her own gym in Dubai. With the empowerment happening back home, she’s certain she has the full power to reach her goals.
On National Day, she said she will celebrate achievement with her Emirati friends. “The pride alone is enough to remember our history and what we have been through to reach where we are now.”