Today was the first time I actually went to a mixed (men and women) yoga class since I’ve been in KAUST. In prenatal yoga of course all the students were women. Afterwards I just kept going to Suganya’s (the teacher) class. I would see some women enter the room wearing their abayas and hijabs and remove them quickly, revealing their workout clothes underneath. So one advantage of wearing an abaya is that you don’t need to change when you go to the gym. Our yoga teacher always kept door closed/locked to make sure the men outside couldn’t see the women inside.
Well today Suganya’s class was full so I had to take her husband Rajiv’s mixed class. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there weren’t a lot of people and we didn’t have to complete for floor space. It felt weird though to be in yoga with men. Then I thought I was weird for feeling weird. I mean, I’ve been to all sorts of yoga classes with all sorts of people before. I guess Saudi really changes you.
Just to give you an idea of how it is here: there are separate male and female gyms. The pools are for everyone but there are days/times when only male or only females are allowed. The beaches are for everyone as well except on Mondays (I think) when it’s only for females. This is to give more conservative (or shy) women a chance to use the facilities.
Classes are mixed and generally everyone walks around freely on campus. Women are allowed to drive cars inside KAUST. This is quite a controversial issue in this ultra conservative country. Many hardliners (outside KAUST) oppose this kind of set up so we have to be careful about talking/publishing about our activities. However, many, if not all, the Muslims and Saudis in KAUST are more open-minded, which is why they even agreed to come in the first place.