The presence of yoga classes, studios, and yoga teacher training programs are all part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's commitment to create an "open, moderate Islam". He has permitted yoga to be recognized as a sport and has sidelined religious critics.
Today Saudi Women are doing Sun Salutations, Warrior poses, headstands and handstands. Less than a year ago these activities would have created problems for them because Yoga was presented as an aspect of Hindu religion. Spearheading efforts to normalize yoga in the kingdom is Nouf Marwaai, a Saudi woman who has battled insults and threats from extremists to challenge the notion that yoga is incompatible with Islam.
"I have been harassed, (and) sent a lot of hate messages," said the 38-year-old head of the Arab Yoga Foundation, which has trained hundreds of yoga instructors in the kingdom. "Five years ago, this (teaching yoga) would have been impossible," added Marwaai, as she began training a cluster of women students at a private studio in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
Yoga has the support of the Prince who has vowed to modernize his country and limit the influence of the clergy who promote a puritanical version of Islam.