Yoga is very popular in Syria; Riam Alshadaydeh

Story by  Aditi Bhaduri | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 25-02-2024
Riam Alshadaydeh conducting a yoga session in Damascus
Riam Alshadaydeh conducting a yoga session in Damascus


She is vivacious, joyful, bright, and smiling, and is also promoting yoga in none other than a place like Syria. Meet Riam Alshadaydeh. Born into a Christian family, she is a native of Damascus, the capital city, and also a city considered to be continuously inhabited for more than 2500 years. Married to musician Elias Zayat, Riam is a mother to two daughters and an unofficial yoga ambassador to Syria. 

In an interview with Aditi Bhaduri she narrates about her journey into yoga, her experiences in India, and the future of yoga in Syria. 

How did you get interested in yoga?

In fact, I discovered yoga by accident. I was doing sports practice in a sports club which is close to my house. I saw it was offering a yoga class. I was curious and wanted to try it. So I signed up for it. That was in 2008.

That’s how my long journey into yoga began. Incidentally, it turned out that I was quite good at it. The yoga instructor told me that the poses almost came naturally to me. He asked me if I would like to be a yoga instructor. The idea appealed to me and I went in for further intensive yoga training in Syria in 2010 for eight days. On completion, I received a "Yoga Instructor' certificate from the Sports Federation of Syria.

Riam being felicitated by then Indian ambassador to Syria Hifzur Rahman Azmi, Damascus, 2021

There were others with me but I immediately succeeded and achieved advancement in it. It somehow seemed to come naturally to me. I seemed to "feel" it. It seemed I had found something that I had been looking for a long time. 

What exactly did you find in yoga?

When I came to know about yoga and started practicing it, I felt that this was just what I needed in life. [Yoga] is not only about physical exercises, but a practice of a way of living and thinking. Yoga seemed so right for me; I began to be satisfied with life, I became stronger physically and mentally, find it much easier now to find solutions to my daily problems as the body becomes more energetic and my mind clearer with yoga,

So how long have you been teaching yoga?

When I began my journey as a yoga instructor I started as a volunteer yoga instructor. I taught yoga for free in different places and in the year 2016, I was offered a scholarship from the Indian Government to study Yoga at S_VYASA University of Yoga in Bangalore. I got a Certificate of 200h (hours) Yoga Instructor. Soon after, I again traveled to Rishikish to attend another yoga course in and received another yoga teacher training certificate. In 2022, I travelled to Hyderabad to attend the Advanced Yoga Instructor Course 300 h (hours), in Heartfulness Community. Besides, I travelled many times to Bali, Indonesia, and to Dubai to attend Yoga Courses as a yoga trainer.

Riam Alshadaydeh conducting a yoga session in Damascus

During this period I continued teaching yoga in different places in Syria for children and the elderly.

I established my yoga centre In Damascus the capital of Syria in 2014. Besides, I teach yoga in different sports clubs and recently I have begun teaching yoga for free at the Indian Embassy in Damascus and in the public gardens in Syria as a volunteer.

Is yoga popular in Syria? 

Yoga is really very popular in Syria, the number of people who practice yoga here increases by the day. I am confident that it has a future in Syria. I really want everyone to experience practicing yoga to have a better life, it's my prayer for my dearest ones.

Most Syrian people who practice yoga feel the benefit of it in their daily lives، They [who practice] have become more peaceful and loving, and deeply understanding and accepting of others. Some of my students have high blood pressure back pain or stress or insomnia, after they began practicing yoga they felt the difference and they could, in some cases, even stop taking their medicines because their health became better.

Riam with other Yoga practioners in Bali, Indonesia

You have been to India a number of times. Is it very different from Syria; How did you find India? 

I had a really wonderful experience in India. All the people whom I have met there are very kind-hearted loving and supportive. The places that I visited, especially the nature, are amazing and deeply refreshing, in India. I felt like I really belonged to this land and the people could make you feel at home, they were so welcoming. 

The generosity of the people in India is similar to that of the people in my country Syria. The manner of being good hosts and respect for the guests you can find in Syria also. I liked that no one there asked me about my religion, also this is the same in my country Syria,

ALSO READRukhshi Kadiri Elias weaves Taajira as network of women who empower each other

The difference between India and Syria is in the diversity. There are so many languages cultures and traditions and customs in India. In Syria, you can find something similar but not much variety, The colours and food in India touch the heart, which [is what] I liked the most.