By Yasmeen Smadi, originally published on ‘Women to Watch‘
“I was sitting at my desk, I realized that I don’t belong here; this is not for me, and I’m not supposed to spend eight hours a day bound to a chair in an office.”
That was the moment Aia Faham, 26, decided to take steps to found “The LaLa Land”, a project aiming to inspire people to break free from energy draining habits, relationships, and activities through yoga, wellness retreats and workshops.
“I don’t want to be a person who’s not enjoying her life; I want to pursue my passion and uncover my true calling in life. I want my life to be meaningful and I want to add value to myself and to others as well. I had an inner voice that was telling me I don’t belong here so I just quit,” says Faham, an Egyptian certified yoga and mindfulness instructor who graduated from the German University in Cairo where she majored in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management.
In August 2017, Aia launched the “Egypt Yoga Tour”, a big promotional campaign to raise awareness about yoga and to promote tourism in Egypt.
The project includes free yoga events and sessions, held in different cities in Egypt, all year round. The interest in these events is quite impressive.
“We received more than 650 registrations for one event but unfortunately we could only accommodate 120 participants because of the size of the venue” Faham says.
“I want people to experience yoga, I want them to know that yoga is not only limited to the elite class or the girls with the perfect body and the most flexibility; no, yoga is for everyone, regardless of gender, age or societal background,” she adds.
Prior to starting up The LaLa Land, Aia traveled to different countries to get all the knowledge, training and certification in yoga. She traveled to the U.S., Thailand, India, and Malaysia to name a few.
Aia didn’t start with yoga at an early age, nor was she flexible or strong but on the contrary. “I couldn’t even sit cross-legged on the floor for more than two or three minutes,” she says. But along her journey of self-discovery, she found her passion for yoga and the path that lead to The LaLa Land.
“Yoga changed my life; it changed me physically, mentally and emotionally, and in every possible way. That’s why I wanted to transfer my experience with yoga to everyone hoping to change lives, one yoga pose at a time!” Aia adds.
Q&A with Aia
How did you find your passion for Yoga?
Well, the first ever yoga class that I attended was in 2012, in The United States. There was something about that class that made me want more. So, I decided to do some online research to look for a course or a program related to peace and meditation. An organization called Peace Revolution, which is an online meditation platform, caught my attention.
I started by joining a 45 days free self-development program that they offer. I didn’t stop there; I took more courses and attended lots of events and sessions, and later applied to this organization’s fellowship program in Thailand and got accepted. I was the only participant from the MENA region. It was a mind-blowing experience; I came back as a completely new person, I felt like I was reborn. This is when I decided yoga is the path I’m going to follow. So, I continued learning and training until I became a Peace Coach and started to coach other people on the platform.
I also became part of the Peace Revolution team organizing their first fellowship program in MENA, which took place in Morocco. This was just the beginning of many other fellowship programs that I helped organize later on. I continued with taking more advanced courses to become the first certified meditation instructor in the Middle East. Then I started traveling to different parts of the world to learn the different yoga and meditation teachings.
Name something that guides both your personal and professional development and helps you regain focus during challenging times.
I would say Yoga, meditation, and breathing. Being a very active person and all over the place most of the time, I need yoga to keep me grounded. I feel scattered when I’m not doing yoga and whole again when I do!
Running a business comes with a lot of uncertainties, stress, and risks that need to be taken but I have this belief that helps me through tough times. I believe that if something is meant to happen, it will happen and that we should accept things that are not under our control. I just do the best that I can right now, give it all I have and hope for the best. I am also a laid-back person and I always look at the positive side, so if something doesn’t go as planned, I just think this is probably for the best, and something better is coming my way.
Sometimes, especially when we are going through a lot of bad experiences and struggles, we start having all sorts of thoughts and questions going through our heads; ‘Why me?’ or ‘Why am I being punished?’, but the truth is there is something very beautiful behind every struggle and a lesson that we need to learn at a specific time. So, the universe is sending us somebody or something to teach us a lesson, but if we don’t learn then the lesson will keep repeating itself. It can be in the form of a person who hurt us, a friend who leaves us or a failure that hits us hard. Whichever form it is, you need to keep in mind that the lesson will repeat itself until it’s learned. So, I suggest that you save yourself all the trouble and learn the first time around.
What do you believe is at the core of women’s hesitation to step out and pursue leadership roles where they are?
I will speak from my own experience and the culture I come from. Women are under the impression that they should give up something to gain another; so, for example, they can either have a family or a career, they can’t have both. They also fear that if they get married then their husband will not allow them to follow their dreams and pursue their career. So, I think maybe the most challenging thing for women in Egypt to pursue leadership roles is that we’ve been told, which doesn’t mean it’s true, we have to trade career for family or vice versa.
Also, women bear all the responsibilities at home; they cook, clean, take care of the kids and everything else. Men usually don’t help their wives at home which leaves women with little time and energy to pursue leadership positions or even have a job sometimes. I think this is one of the main things that are holding women back.
But I personally believe that women can manage to do both or choose to do one or the other, whichever makes them happy, but they should have a saying and a choice. I also believe that things are getting better in Egypt and we are moving more towards feminism and women empowerment.
Tell us one of your greatest professional accomplishments, and why it meant so much to you?
I have a lot of achievements that I’m proud of and grateful for. My biggest accomplishment would be the “Egypt Yoga Tour” which is a big campaign for which I managed to find media coverage and sponsors to join in. I’ve always had a huge number of people interested to join the events and sessions that we organize. We even had more participants than the venue could accommodate in many occasions. Also, the media coverage through promotional clips and videos was huge which is very important as I want to raise awareness about yoga. This makes me happy and pushes me to do and give more. I am planning to organize the biggest yoga session to be held at the Pyramids of Giza soon.
As for my greatest achievement, this would be the feedback that I get from people after attending a yoga class or a retreat, saying that the experience changed their lives, or helped them take that decision of leaving a toxic relationship or an energy draining job. Or it helped them take that risk of starting their own business or start playing music for instance. This might sound trivial to you, but it means the world to me. Just leaving a mark or contributing to this positive change in a way or another. I believe that these small changes eventually lead to enormous changes in the world around us. I believe that we make the world a happier place by being happy ourselves and putting smiles on people’s faces.
Yoga is all about energy cleansing and detoxifying the body and mind. Toxic people and thoughts will always be there but once you decide that you’re not letting anything or anyone steal your energy and disturb your peace of mind, you will be doing yourself a huge favor. You shouldn’t allow anyone to manipulate you or tell you what’s good or bad for you because we all have an inner compass and voice that already knows what’s best for us. We should always remember that we were given the precious gift of life to contribute and add value and not to waste our time on earth and throw it all away.
The world is a scary place – how do you manage fear and anxiety in both your work and personal life?
Again, I would say being a chill person and facing fear and anxiety with calmness helps a lot. I’m also very tolerant of my own mistakes; I learned not to be hard on myself. We need to be gentle with ourselves.
I’ve always been a perfectionist; wanting everything to be perfect all the time but I learned to let go of the things that I can’t control and accept the fact that thing will not always go as planned. Also, being very adventurous, sometimes I take the risk and jump into things without preparation or putting too much thought into it, but my faith that everything will be fine and things will fall into place, kept me going and gave me the best experiences and memories in my life.
I believe that when you want something really bad, the whole universe conspires to make it happen. You find people and things coming your way and opportunities just presenting themselves. It’s amazing how the universe works. Miracles only happen to those who believe in them!
What do you believe will be the greatest benefit to having more women as leaders in the world?
In my opinion, that would be inspiration; it is very inspiring to see other women in leadership roles, it gives power and hope to all the women who witness that it can be done and it’s possible. One of the images that got stuck in my mind is the picture of Licia Ronzulli an Italian member of Parliament who used to take her daughter to the Parliament sessions. Seeing that a woman in such position chose to have both a family and a career, gave me the affirmation that we don’t have to trade one thing for the other. It’s not an either-or equation; we can have it all.
It’s very inspiring for me to see other women pursuing their goals and careers, especially that women in Egypt are often physically and mentally abused, the latter being even more dangerous. We are told that we are weak, that we need protection and that we should be polite and obedient always. Well this can be fine for some women who want to stay home and take care of their children, which I believe is a great cause, but if a woman has a different kind of ambition and wants to show the world what she’s capable of, then she should have the right and freedom to choose to do so.
What is it that women bring into the workplace that men don’t?
In yoga terminology, we say Yin and Yang; The Yang is the masculine energy while the Yin is the feminine energy. They both complement each other; we need both in order to feel the union and to reach the highest level of spiritual enlightenment. We should have the Yin and Yang at the same time to keep the balance. So, I think it’s very complementing to have the balance between men and women at the workplace; it brings the best out of everything. They both think in different ways and have different ways of dealing with things, which increases productivity and enhances the quality of thoughts and ideas.
What role should men play in supporting more gender diversity?
I think that men should encourage women to pursue their dreams and follow their passion; they should be very supportive and understanding. Women feel empowered when they get support, not only from women but also from men. Men also need to understand the importance of diversity and learn to be more inclusive.
If you could know the answer to only one of the following, which one would you choose, and why?
What happens after death
What is the meaning of life
I think that no one can give a general explanation about the meaning of life; because I believe that its meaning differs from one person to another and it changes over the course of our lives. I believe it takes a lifetime to figure out the answer to this question, and the moment we know will be the happiest moment in our life. Knowing why we are on this planet, what’s our purpose in life and what’s our true calling can be one of the most liberating feelings someone can ever have. I believe that each one of us is unique and is meant to do great things in life
Did you find your purpose in life?
Not completely but I have a glimpse of what I’m meant to do in life. On the other hand, I am sure about the things I don’t want in life and the things I don’t want to do. This helps shape my path towards my purpose in life and allows me to prioritize and focus on the things that really matter.
It takes a lot of experience and exposure to people from different culture and backgrounds, and trying different kinds of sports, activities, and hobbies, and being curious to learn, to lead you back to your true self and make you realize your purpose in life.
In my journey to self-discovery, I traveled a lot and read all kinds of books in order to broaden my understanding of things and expand my knowledge. I studied all religions and came to a conclusion that we are all the same, we are all human beings at the end of the day, and we all received the same message but we’re following different paths to reach the divine.
As for what happens after death, it would be interesting to know but not really important. I believe that no matter what happens after death, it is essential to live a fulfilling and meaningful life; to live for something bigger than ourselves. There’s one quote that I love which says,” if you’re not busy living you’re busy dying”. So, I would say start being busy living!
What advice would you give to young women out there?
Everything that we go through, every struggle and all the hard times we encounter will eventually pass. It’s alright to feel sad, it’s okay to cry and it’s even totally fine to fall apart sometimes. We’re not supposed to be strong independent women all the time, we are human beings after all and there’s no shame in asking for help when needed. The most important thing is that no matter how many times we fall, we must stand up again. Mistakes are only proof that we tried and lessons that we should learn from.
You also need to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve done; don’t be too hard on yourself. Leave whatever happened in the past, in the past because that’s where it belongs. Also, remember that your passion is the compass that will guide you in the right direction. Everything that happens in our life, happens for a reason and all the messages that we receive are not random. I advise you to fulfill your calling in life and not to worry about money, it won’t matter at the very end. What will matter is the memories that you made and all the experiences that you’ve been through, including the ones that hit you hard. You will be proud of yourself for living through the good and the bad times and you’ll be grateful for living for a purpose bigger than yourself. You will be happy that your life was worth living!