Interview with Danielle Abi Saab

"My wildest dream and hope is for every human on this planet to discover the magic of yoga one day."

For our readers, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do here in Beirut?

I am a 500 hours Registered Yoga Teacher and the founder of Union Square Yoga in Beirut Lebanon. My many wonderful and enriching years lived in NY have informed my personal life and yoga practice with depth and tremendous amounts of yoga knowledge. I have been blessed (and continue to) with opportunities to study with some of the hottest teachers in the US as a way to refine my skills as a teacher, but mostly because I will never stop wanting to be a student.

Living in a challenging part of the world, I try to draw teachings from my everyday life as a way to grow spiritually and expand my spirit, so I can continue giving back to my community and plant seeds of yoga in every person I encounter.

From Vinyasa Pop and Rock to Aerial Yoga, I teach different types of classes and workshops and I try my best to infuse them with spirituality, laughter, fun and music, making it a holistic experience for the soul.

My wildest dream and hope is for every human on this planet to discover the magic of yoga one day.

How did you first get into yoga and what drove you to become an instructor?

When I set out to become a yoga teacher, my main incentive was to quench the thirst I had for some deeper knowledge of yoga. In other words I had no desire to teach really, it was all going to be for me. Little did I know things were about to change drastically.

When I placed a sticker that read: “We’re all in this together” on the front cover of the binder compiling my courses and assignments during my yoga teacher training in NY, I was far from realizing how true it was until the very first time I informally downdogged my fellow peers at work. They had ganged up and begged me to teach them a class. The demands of being an architect is taking a toll on our bodies, and you can help fix it they said. So naturally, after gently denying their requests a few times, I gave in and taught them some of the things I knew. To this day, I remember the powerful feeling that washed over me right after we concluded our first class. I literally felt the calling and knew there and then that teaching was going to be my new life. Changing people’s lives was suddenly a real possibility and it brought me a sense of deeper purpose along with buckets of happiness. 

What made you decide to come back to Lebanon in 2005?

I needed a tiny break from my hectic life in NY and wanted to explore the yoga world in Lebanon for a couple of months before going back to my most beloved city in the world. Never would I have imagined leaving NY but seeing that people were responding really well to the teachings and I felt I could make a difference by being here, here I am still 10 years later.

How would you describe the state of the yoga movement in Lebanon?

When I first came to Beirut in 2005, we were no more than 15 or 20 teachers at the most throughout the country. People had a lot of preconceived ideas about yoga or didn’t know much about it. 10 years later, studios have sprung left right and center, and people’s curiosity for yoga has grown tremendously. Yoga will always grow exponentially because it is a system that lies within us, times are changing and people are more in touch with their inner world than ever before. Lebanon is no exception to that rule.

Why do you think yoga is important for Lebanon? What does it offer?

Lebanon has loads of socio-political issues that create a lot of anger and frustration in people, not to mention the psychological after effects of war that are starting to show now in the older generations who were subject to the trauma of loss and fear. Rather than popping anxiety pills and indulging in drugs to ease the pain, I would say Yoga is the perfect remedy to deal with our negative emotions and stickiness in the most effective and healthy way.

Are there any ways in which you feel practicing yoga has changed your daily life?

I am formatted as an architect so I’ll answer this question from that perspective. Yoga taught me balance and the appreciation of my inner space, it taught me a great deal about the most beautiful architectures in the world: the human body, the human brain, as well as the human heart, it turned my vision inward and helped refurbish the foundations of my life into becoming more solid and sound. Everyday, yoga aligns my small consciousness with the more cosmic one and just like architecture, it brings me strength, endurance and humility in the face of big challenges.

Do you feel that there are any misconceptions that challenge yoga in Lebanon?

A tiny bit, but not really worth mentioning. I would rather talk about how yoga is super well received in Lebanon and arouses a lot of curiosity. People from different walks of life (including an old couple in a remote village) are genuinely interested in the practice and will almost systematically say when finding out I am a yoga teacher: “Aaaaah! You teach yoga, that’s fantastic, tell us more about yoga”

What would you say to someone considering trying yoga for the first time?

You are the one you have been waiting for.

Where are some of your favorite places to spend your free time in Beirut?

Ideally, anywhere I can see the horizon, be in open air or meet awesome people. I absolutely love Mezyane in Hamra, the most interesting and vibrant place I have been to in Beirut. My favorite restaurant is Mayrig. I have a soft spot for Junkyard and Falamanki. Coop d’Etat, the rooftop terrace of Hotel Monot, Kaman. For good coffee and a quiet chilled vibe, my favorite is Papercup Bookstore in Mar Mikhael.

What is the next thing on your agenda that has you excited?

There is no room on this page to fit all of it, but I guess to keep teaching the Syrian refugee kids deserves the mention as top priority.


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