PERSISTENT buzz of her mobile phone with unknown numbers from India had renowned Saudi yoga trainer Dr. Nouf Marwaai in a bit of a tizzy Friday morning, but her trepidation gave way to exultation once she willed herself to respond.

Not knowing why or who was calling, Nouf, on getting connect, heard the good news of being awarded Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, after Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan. The list of awardees is revealed every year on India’s Republic Day, Jan. 26. “People were calling from India and I was not sure why… I was a bit afraid to answer unknown Indian numbers… Once the news got out, friends from India and here, began texting and congratulating me on receiving this award,” Nouf said.

“I was really surprised. I feel really honored but am also scared of the responsibility this award brings with it,” Nouf, the first certified yoga instructor in Saudi Arabia and founder of Arab Yoga Foundation, added. “This will definitely be a very big fillip for yoga, and it’s a great recognition for a lifetime achievement.”

On being a cultural ambassador for both India and Saudi Arabia, Nouf said, “For years now I’ve been promoting the Indian culture, especially yoga, and I’ve always spoken to people about this meditating practice, and how beautiful is Indian culture. My propagation of yoga among friends, made them more involved in the Indian culture, adopting some of it, while having the best of both cultures. They made Indian friends, and now we have a lot of Indian friends and this is very important for the youths in both the countries to collaborate together, for both countries have a lot to offer.

Stressing that yoga changed her life, Nouf stressed, “I’ve seen lots of people coming to yoga with so many issues. Even if I did not target these issues through yoga, it was taken care through lifestyle measures. But yoga can really help your body, for in yoga, unlike other sports, you are very aware of what you feel. So this creates awareness within body and mind as well, and I’ve seen people improving, coming out of a lot of health issues, and that’s why yoga is expanding all over the world with 300 million yoga practitioners. And that’s a huge number.”

Both the Indian Ambassador Ahmad Javed and Consul General Md. Noor Rahman Sheikh expressed their happiness at Nouf’s award.

“In recognition of her remarkable services in popularizing yoga in Saudi Arabia and the Arab World, Nouf has been recognized. It is a matter of privilege for all of us that for the first time a Saudi woman has been chosen for this honor.

“Ms. Nouf has been associated with the Embassy of India, Riyadh and Consulate General of India, Jeddah, for past few years and participated in our programs on the occasion of International Day of Yoga. This recognition enhances the historical socio-cultural and people-to-people relationship between India and Saudi Arabia,” Javed said.

Sheikh said that when he was told about the award early Friday morning he felt immensely happy at the recognition. “Someone who is so closely associated with us and Nouf has received the fourth highest civil award of India, is surely a great honor for us. My heartiest congratulations to her, for truly she is the face of yoga revolution in the Kingdom,” he said.

“Of course as you know, the Kingdom has recognized yoga as a sports activity in November last year. And we would like to thank Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and the people of the Kingdom for the approval of propagating yoga and recognizing it. Of course most of the credit goes to Ms. Nouf for her active role in boosting yoga that got her this milestone achievement.

“Nouf is a known personality in India too. And fortunately for the consulate she has been cooperating with us, along with her yoga foundation, in propagating yoga as well as being part of our celebrations of the International Yoga Day here in our mission. For three years we have been organizing yoga demos and lectures and events.

“In our partnership with her, we have been very enriched with her insights. As you know there were lots of inhibitions in this part of the world with regard to yoga. She is the one who actually broke these inhibitions by practically explaining the benefits of yoga while also proving that it was not harmful to our body.

“What made it more vivid was how she related the benefits of yoga with personal experiences… so getting this award which we feel, is very natural for her. And we are very sure that this will only add to the movement that she has already started, with the Kingdom’s recognition of this sport activity. She has already trained and certified over 3,000 here and that’s a huge number,” Sheikh said.

On the award following the status of guest of honor for India in this year’s Janadriyah festival, Sheikh said it is another addition of the soft diplomacy. “Of course our embassy in Riyadh is dealing with this, but they have also planned demonstration of yoga in the Janadriyah, and I believe this will add to the growing momentum in our ties.”

He said that the consulate is planning to celebrate her achievement and as a practitioner of yoga, he added, “I too will demonstrate the sir shaasan (head stand) posture in the event.”

Dr. M. Karimuddin, veteran pediatrician, said, “I’m very glad and pleased to hear about the Padma Shri award given to Nouf, who I can easily say is the ‘guru’ of yoga here. I had a long association with her as a founding member of the Indo-Saudi Medical Forum, which was inaugurated by the then HRD Minister Arjun Singh. Her dedication in practicing yoga led to the recognition of the sports by the Saudi government and since it is being promoted as an international event she fully deserves this award.”

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