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ISSUE 07WANDERER

The Key to CAIRO

Heeding the advice of her yoga guru,  Azmat Alibhai discovers how a simple change in attitude made a trip to Egypt, the ancient land of the pyramids, more fulfilling.

It started off like any other flight. But right after take-off, I switched on my laptop and got the message that changed my life:

“Your password has expired, please select a new password.”

Changing passwords may not sound like a big deal but on that particular morning, I felt like the computer, my work and the entire world were conspiring against me.

You see, we had got caught in traffic, making us super late to catch our flight. I was harassed and the kids and husband were not cooperating. To top it all, we were flying to Egypt to attend a family reunion. We were to meet the “in-laws” I had never seen in my 15 years of marriage. These in-laws were my mother-in-law’s family and quite a colourful bunch, ranging from African, American and South American to European and South East Asian.

For some unknown reason the mother-in-law relationship, for many, is amongst the most complicated and precarious relationships ever experienced. Some of the contributing factors may be jealousy, or perhaps it’s the uncomfortable feeling on part of the mother of no longer being needed. Or perhaps it’s just the imagination of the son/daughter in-law who constantly fear that the parents think they are not good enough.

I sat there for quite a while and stared at the screen. I thought of a bunch of silly passwords that I was likely to forget the next day and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Why couldn’t life be simple?

Suddenly I remembered the advice of my yoga guru: “Choose a password that will change your life.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about then. But just like that – it all became clear.

My new password would be my new mantra. With a decisiveness that had escaped me for several weeks I typed in: “flashasmile.” Now whenever I logged on to my computer, I could remind myself to smile.

The good thing about smiling is that it is contagious. There was a woman sitting beside me who seemed agitated. She returned my smile and we exchanged a few words, with her commenting that I exuded positive vibes. It turned out she was on her way to an important board meeting and couldn’t get any sleep because of the turbulence. I taught her an alternate breathing technique and a few yoga poses.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This simple, yet ancient alternate nostril breathing exercise is designed to calm your mind, no matter what state it’s in. So take a seat or ideally, get into Lotus position (Padmasana) or sit cross-legged.

  1. Place a fingertip lightly on your right nostril and inhale through the left.
  1. Hold for as long as possible.
  1. Release fingertip and place on left nostril while you exhale through the right nostril.
  1. Inhale slowly through the right nostril.
  1. Hold for as long as possible.
  1. Release fingertip and place on right nostril while you exhale through the left.

Repeat this process for at least four to five times. Never rush yourself on the inhale or exhale. Always remember to switch nostrils from the one you inhaled with, to the one you exhale from. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll clear out your nasal passages.

 

In this method, you should find your mind steadily grounding itself. It’s quite a simple exercise, really, but has an immense effect on your physiology. You breathe much easier through your nose than you do with your mouth, and forcing air in and out in the manner will rhythmically ensure that your body has well-regulated oxygen flow.

I looked around the cabin and everybody seemed to be agitated and restless, just not smiling. Why don’t people smile more often? I got talking again to my neighbour and this time she asked me how I managed to remain so calm. I suppose she had not spoken to my husband or kids who would definitely disagree! I pondered and then immediately realised the power of a smile.

She looked sceptically at me as I explained. I listed a few benefits of a smile that popped into my head. Firstly neurotransmitters called endorphins are released when you smile. Endorphins make us feel happier and less stressed. When the release of endorphins is increased, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. Laughing expands the lungs, stretches the muscles in the body and stimulates homeostasis. A good laugh can be an effective way to release emotions. Smiling is an attractive expression. We were going to Egypt and that in itself was reason enough to smile!

Exploring Cairo reminded me of being back in Karachi. It’s shocking similar in many ways. The prices are generally the same, the streets are just as hectic and dirty, and the chaos is unbearable in both places. Little kids will try to sell you things and beg you for money, pedestrians are seen weaving in and out of passing cars, and the hot sun will make you sweat through all layers of clothing. The only major differences between Karachi and Cairo are that Karachi has a higher population, a higher level of poverty and the people are much friendlier. Sadly, the fascinating history of Cairo and the people of Cairo didn’t seem to correlate with each other. I didn’t feel comfortable walking around this city. Not one bit.

That’s why my password became my greatest blessing, an important tool that helped me stick to my goals every single day… SMILE!

 

TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN CAIRO

  1. Pyramids of Giza

    You simply cannot visit Cairo without seeing one of the 7 wonders of the world (the best one in my opinion). Seeing these pyramids with your eyes is something that I just can’t explain. You just need to do it. And take the 2-hour camel tour around the desert, it’s worth it.

 

  1. Cairo Citadel

    This is a medieval Islamic fortress that’s located on a hill in the heart of the city. It’s famous for its landmarks (the Mohammad Ali Mosque) and it has really nice views of the city. It’s now a preserved historic site with museums and mosques.

  1. Hussein District

    This was my favourite place to hang out in Cairo! It’s also the location of the Khan el-Khalili market – a great place to buy souvenirs and handmade goods. The streets here are lined with shops, restaurants and shisha cafes and have the best vibe in the city.

  1. Egypt Museum

    Also known as the Museum of Cairo, this place has an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian antiques. I love museums and this was one of the most fascinating ones that I’ve ever been to. It has over 120,000 items dating back to ancient times. It’s the big pink building located in the main square so you can’t miss iT.

  1. Shisha Bars

    Cairo is home to some of the world’s finest shisha (hookah). It seems like people are doing it all day, every day and it’s very cheap ($1-$3 depending on the place). Head over to Hussein District and sit down at a shisha place for the best experience.

Azmat Abbas Alibhai
Azmat Abbas Alibhai is a yogi who conducts wellness workshops and teaches the ancient art of yoga, meditation and breathing to neurological patients at Ziauddin Hospital, Karachi and Special Olympics, Pakistan. Having set up one of the country’s foremost stroke support groups, she is also a researcher and writer for the Holistic Health Association of the Princeton Area (HHAPA). Proficient in five languages, she also holds a Masters degree in Fine Arts.

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