Bellysatva: An Interfaith Journey Discovering Yoga

Cross-posted from www.travelbbad.com!

One of the great things about living in Washington DC- as a home base for a traveler -are the vast amount of resources, people and events constantly happening and connecting diverse international communities. I’m lucky enough to be connected to a talented and inspiring young entrepreneur, Dahlia Shaaban, the founder and owner of Bellysatva Holistic Health. In this interview Dahlia describes her interfaith journey through India to learn more about the roots of yoga and what inspired her to start a business around health.

Q1: What inspired you to become a yoga instructor?

I started practicing yoga in 2004, in my senior year of college. I fell in love with yoga. I loved not only the physical benefits of yoga increased strength, balance, and flexibility, but the lasting effects of stress reduction, focus, and tranquility that came with it. I was hooked. Once I moved to DC in 2005, I became involved with the yoga community at Flow Yoga Center and became an avid practitioner. I was inspired by my yoga teachers and the more I learned from them, the more I was inspired to take control of my health and well-being. I become a yoga instructor in hopes that I could inspire and empower others as well.

Q2: Why did you decide to get trained in India compared to other countries?

I didn’t train in India actually. I completed my training at Flow and immediately apprenticed for two years with my teacher Gopi Kinnicutt. Her teaching was unlike anything I’d ever experienced a very spiritually charged, free-flowing Prana Flow practice in which she guided us to break through linear conceptions of space and move in mandalas or circles. It felt like a complete practice. Even though her spiritual orientation was very different from my own – she devoted her life to the worship of the Hindu deity Krishna and I am a Muslim (and a secular one at that), but I was magnetically drawn to how she very practically invited in the presence of the divine in her everyday life through a disciplined devotional practice. When Gopi announced she was guiding a pilgrimage retreat to India, I knew I needed to travel with her.side plank in vasisht

Q3: How long were you in India, and where did you travel to while you were in India?

It was a two-week trip, enough to feel immersed but not long enough to get annoyed perhaps. We traveled to Vrindavan, major pilgrimage site for devotees of Krishna, and a town made famous in the West by George Harrison. We also explored Delhi and Agra where the Taj Mahal is located. Later in the trip we traveled up to the mountains- to a town called Vasisth the foothills of the Himalayas where Gopi’s sister lives, which ended up being my favorite place.

Q4: What was your most favorite yoga experience while in India?

So much of our trip was an immersion in Krishnaism, as guided by Gopi’s devotional practice. We visited so many beautiful temples and sites of pilgrimage and while I was grateful to behold them, I couldn’t quite connect spiritually to the experiences. It wasn’t until we arrived in the Himalayas that I felt the presence of the divine or something larger than myself, struck by the sheer magnitude and power of the mountains, knowing that they continued to grow under our feet. It felt cosmic and in that space I truly felt connected to creation.

Upon arrival, Gopi led a yoga practice inspired by the mountains in devotion to the Hindu deity Shiva, the god of death and destruction, creation and rebirth. The idea of them being one and the same really resonated with me. In retrospect, after that trip, I truly began to realize the magnitude of that truth in my own life. That when something is taken away from you or destroyed it is truly broken open with possibility for rebirth. That moment of the trip was only the beginning of this larger journey and though there have been painful moments along the path, I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s all been a teacher.

Q5: What yoga poses do you recommend for women travelers always on the go?

Hip openers like in pigeon pose, especially because you’re always sitting during air travel. This pose will help ground you, reopen your muscles, and stimulate your lymphatic drainage, flushing toxins from the body.

Also, eagle poses are good for opening up stiff neck and shoulder muscles for travelers taking the train or while on a road trip.

Q6: What did you think of the food in India?

Lurrrrved it! I was so happy eating sumptuous, hearty vegetarian food. My favorite food of course was homemade dishes because it was made with love and care by folks grateful to host us. However, I will say that perhaps one of the most memorable meals I had was an indulgent soak-through-the-bag buttery paneer paratha (multi-layered whole wheat fry bread stuffed with cottage cheese) that came with a pickled chutney I found at a gas station on the way from Agra to the Delhi. It was all sorts of right.

Q7: Which other countries are on your travel bucket list?

I need to go back to India. Revisit my friend’s Uncle in Delhi who was such a gracious host and fellow dreamer. Would also love to go back to Vasisht. Also, I only visited the north, so next time I want to check out the south where so many of the famed ashrams are. I also want to go back to Thailand where I had great culinary excursions and continue education in the country’s famed bodywork. Japan would also be amazing.

Q8: You also blog about recipes you’ve learned from around the world, which recipe is your favorite?

My favorite recipe is penang curry, which I learned to make while taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand.dahlia

Q9: You’ve started a business, BellySatva- what inspired you to start your own yoga business as compared to working under someone?

I’ve always been interested in service, healing, and positive social transformation. It’s that work that led me into Middle East conflict resolution when I first came to D.C. When I left my Iraq work at the U.S. Institute of Peace back in 2010 to start this holistic health business, the intention was to empower others to cultivate peace and healing from within. Through my studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and my personal yoga practice, I was able to conquer my own digestive and body image issues, sustainably lose a significant amount of weight through a sound nutritional practice, and most importantly trust in my own power to create well-being. I wanted to share these tools and resources and inspire others to take an empowered approach to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

With that I created BellySatva Holistic Health, a wellness consulting business that serves individual and corporate clients through health coaching, Thai massage, and yoga. I chose the name, a play on the concept of the Bodhisatva or enlightened wisdom being in Buddhism, to refer to the power of the core in guiding the path to wellness. Not just in the physical sense that a strong core is the underpinning of strong health, but the energetic connection to the body’s gut intuition to guide the path to healing.

There is truly nothing more rewarding than bearing witness and facilitating meaningful shifts in my clients’ lives and empowering them to be the healthiest, most vibrant versions of themselves.

Q10: What health advice would you give to women traveling on a budget?

Be Mindful. Pick fruits and veggies which peel, to avoid getting sick. Be humble and grateful when someone offers you homemade food, it has greater energetic value than eating out. Let go of what you can and can’t eat, let go of your fears, and in some cases pickiness. Learn to embrace the traditions of culinary treats across the world. Drink lots of filtered hot water to keep your digestion regular.

Q11: What travel essentials would you recommend?

Grapefruit seed extract. If ever you eat anything questionable, the bitterness of this supplement will immediately kill bacteria and what not that can upset your system. Charcoal tablets to help with diarrhea. And baby wipes. Lots and lots of baby wipes. *gigglespigeon

Visit Dahlia’s blog to learn more about her advice on recipes and yoga! Remember to follow her on Twitter @BellySatva and ‘like’ her Facebook Page!

Have you tried yoga while abroad? What have your experiences been like? Share below…

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3 responses to “Bellysatva: An Interfaith Journey Discovering Yoga

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  3. As a mother of two children I have to admit yoga helped me a great deal during my pregnancy. It’s a wonderful way to clear the mind and stay fit. Now I feel twice as stronger as I used to be and I try to give all my energy to my children. I could hardly manage to do all the tasks properly had I not done prenatal yoga exercises.

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