“The reason I do what I do is to provide the tools that help people create inner space where outer space is limited,” says Shadan Nassar, founder, and CEO of Shadana Yoga.
As we function mostly in fight or flight mode, wellbeing has become an afterthought and something we see as a luxury. Shadana Yoga, one of the startups in Cycle 3 of Womentum by Womena and Standard Chartered’s Women in Tech, aims to change this by providing virtual tools to make holistic wellbeing more accessible.
Yoga came into Shadan’s life at the age of five as she watched her mother practice it in Ramallah where she grew up. As an adult, while she was living and working in Dubai, she was feeling extremely stressed out. In 2017, she decided to leave it all behind to backpack through Southeast Asia, discovering the many practices of yoga, Ayurveda, and the art of embracing wellbeing.
“There was one time, I remember very clearly, sitting in the Vipassana meditation retreat and it was the first time I ever felt this inner expansion in my chest and a thought came, ‘What if we can share this with people where outer space is limited?’”
Shadan followed this thought back to Palestine and began to teach in refugee camps, where she felt people needed to feel the freedom of space within themselves, if not on the outside. While teaching, she was awe-inspired by the way women in the camps dedicated their time to the practice.
“In the third session in one of the camps, the women were talking about how they want to continue practicing at home but they couldn’t find any material in Arabic. That was how Shadana Yoga was born,” she says.
She began her YouTube channel, wanting to reach people in their own homes. Initially, she faced some backlash as yoga strongly involves moving and flexing the body. She was told that showing her body online is taboo, and there was a lot of resistance from those around her when yoga started to take up more of her time.
However, this only grew the urge to normalize the practice as well asas prove that she could sustain herself through teaching yoga.
Making yoga accessible was her main goal with Shadana Yoga, and she ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to gather the resources she would need to create a comprehensive platform.
Today, Shadan has over 300,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel and offers curated courses covering yoga, stretching, breath work, wellness tips, workouts to increase flexibility, and more – all in Arabic.
Through yoga, they tackle the importance of taking care of oneself, and why it is a necessity to function well in all aspects of life. Mental health is also an issue she is passionate about bringing into more conversations, helping people see how yoga can help alleviate things like anxiety and depression.
While Shadana is accessible linguistically, she hopes to address it culturally, too. “Understanding who we are as Arabs and what works in our culture and what doesn’t and how it can just weave into what we are and how we do things very smoothly. There’s also the religious aspect that can be a little bit different which we always need to think about and get more accustomed to.”
Her biggest goal is to have every family in the middle east have a minimum of one member logging into Shadana Yoga daily. Over the next year, she is working to launch a mobile app that will take the platform and wellbeing in the region to the next level.