Nottingham-based teacher Mumtaz Haque continues to break down barriers, encouraging all to the yoga mat. Here, she talks to OM about her yoga journey and her experiences as a British Muslim woman growing up in the UK
This month’s cover star is Mumtaz Haque, who co-runs the a1.SPACE studio in Nottingham. She has dedicated herself to the practice, study and teaching of yoga since discovering its benefits in 1996 whilst studying for an economics degree at university.
She completed her international teacher training with Yoga Alliance in 2011 (RYT 200) before travelling to India to complete her Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 500) multi-style accreditation in the Himalayas, with a specialisation in Ayurveda and Therapeutic Yoga in 2017.
These qualifications enabled her to facilitate teacher training programmes, leading more people to teach, share and benefit from yoga. Alongside her yoga classes and preparing to deliver her first teacher training programme, she mentors other teachers and facilitates continuous professional development (CPD) courses to better enhance their teaching skills in specific areas. Being a life-long learner, she continues to study and practice with world-renowned instructors from around the world.
It’s clear that Haque has a drive for continuous self-development, which fuels her passion to connect with as many people as she possibly can to help them reap the benefits of yoga. Her focus is about bringing positivity to her classes. She found that yoga enabled her to find acceptance in her own identity and helped her to stop comparing herself to others. Through teaching and training others, she aims to encourage more people to discover their own uniqueness and remove the competitive aspect of yoga.
At the same time, she has been breaking down barriers for women in the mainstream fitness industry in the UK for years and is passionate about bringing empowerment, diversity and a challenge to the status quo.
Yoga, race and faith
As a British Muslim woman, who is also a yoga teacher and lifelong yoga student, Mumtaz Haque is an inspiration and a role model to many.
OM asked her for an account of her yoga journey, written against the backdrop of the recent Black Lives Matter movement and her own battle against racism. Here’s what she had to say:
“Twenty-three years ago, I started to practice yoga. Back then, this was not an easy step to take. At that time, yoga was not the mainstream global lifestyle choice that it is today and something that certainly did not take place in my social circles. As a 20-something British Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, yoga was very alien to me.
Back then, yoga classes in the UK were few and far between and solely targeted at a white, female, middle-class audience. There were hardly any people of colour, classes had limited ethnic diversity and certainly no women who did yoga also identified as a practicing Muslim. It was no surprise to me that I would get stared at by both other students and teachers of the class, I did stand out! I didn’t feel particularly welcome at these classes. I did feel especially uneasy being both a beginner yogi and a Hijabi, someone who wears a headscarf in line with Islamic guidelines. I had an extra level of self-consciousness to overcome!
All I knew at the time, was that practicing yoga was helping me and I needed to learn more about this discipline — yoga, having originated in my homeland in India thousands of years ago but was now something that the Asian community in the UK did not have much to do with. I still find this ironic to this day.
As I continued with my local classes, I got to know other students and I got to talk about the usual stuff that you talk about in classes. But, in time, these conversations also turned to my hijab, my religion and the way that I manage to learn to harmonise my yoga practice with my Islamic belief and incorporate them both into my day. With my fellow yogis I started to dispel the common stereotypes around Muslim women (the usual nonsense about being oppressed, having arranged marriages, which I did not, and having no freedoms in society). To be honest, I couldn’t blame them for their ignorance as the media is full of negativity when it comes to portraying images of women from my faith.
As I grew in my yoga ability so did my comfort in being the only brown person in the room, the only Hijabi in the class, or the only Bengali in the class. I never really took offence to questions being asked, no matter how simple or silly they may have sounded. I came to realise that the truth of the matter was that for many of these women I was the first person of colour or the only Muslim women that they had had the opportunity to connect with. It was at this point that I realised I could use this difference as an opportunity: an opportunity to break down social barriers, challenge stereotypes and forge new friendships.
On my yoga journey, I have always been the only hijab-wearing yogi no matter where I go in the world. On my first yoga teacher training programme, I was part of a small group of five students, but we were a diverse set of yogis from all parts of the world. Yet one particular student who was from Europe, who previously had had negative encounters with people from my faith, automatically decided not to like me on first impressions. And yet after an intensive three months of studying and learning together all of those negative feelings went away, to the point she openly confessed her initial feelings towards me were wrong. This particular yogi is now one of my most favourite people in the world. Yoga truly unites!
When I travelled to the Himalayas in 2017 to further enhance my teaching and qualify as a 500 hours experienced yoga teacher in multi-style training, it was a similar story. I was met by a surprised set of yogis as they had never met a female Muslim yogini. And one that travelled on her own to India was pretty risky, considering the climate in India towards Muslims!
Again, I was able to use my love for yoga, both as a teacher and a student, to help others on a global platform to rethink what their preconceived ideas of what women (from any background) can achieve with the right positive mindset and determination. I now co-run a yoga studio with my business partner Yasmin, a blonde, white, middle-class yogi, who I connect with on many different levels, irrespective of our race, religious outlooks and different social upbringings. We consider ourselves ‘soul sisters’.
Together, we have built a studio and a community that is a modern, vibrant and inclusive environment for anyone to learn yoga. We do not see race, ethnicity, physical ability, gender or sexual orientation.
We love and embrace the diversity for all it’s worth.
That brings my yoga journey to today. In June, we ran a campaign against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, called Black Girls Do Yoga, a free online course encouraging women from the black community to take up yoga, in an easy-to-access and welcoming way.
I believe that having an inclusive and safe yoga-centric community feels very relevant in these Covid-19 times. We are all here for each other and, as yogis, we welcome and must learn to embrace all the things that make us different. Something that I learned, nearly 23 years ago.”
FAVOURITE YOGA BOOK
The Heart of Yoga by Desikachar
“I am perfectly imperfect”
BEST YOGA QUOTE
“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms”
GO-TO HEALTH FOOD
Smashed avocado with chilli flakes on sourdough bread with a cup of root ginger tea.