Farah Nofal has always been passionate about sports and fitness in one way or another whether it was playing basketball competitively while growing up or coaching CrossFit.
“Yoga was never on the agenda,” Nofal, the Egyptian yoga guru, said.
However, it’s safe to say she landed exactly where she was supposed to.
After working in the sales and banking sectors for a little less than two years in Alexandria, following her graduation from college, where she majored in finance, she recognized that was not what she wanted to do.
“I just felt like it was not my thing. I didn’t fit in the puzzle,” the full-time freelance yoga coach said.
However, during college, she was exercising regularly.
“I just loved fitness, but I couldn’t find a mix that had everything [strength training, cardio, and mobility],” Nofal said.
That is when she encountered CrossFit.
“I just loved this combo of strength training and high-intensity workouts,” she said.
Even while she was working in a bank, she pursued the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) fitness certificate. This was her first step toward pursuing her fitness career. While she was working as a banker, she used to advise her co-workers on how to maintain a healthy food diet and how to train.
“I knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to explore the wellness world,” Nofal said. “My mom always told me that I always knew what I wanted and that I always pursued what was best for me.”
In 2014, at 22 years old, her whole life had changed.
She quit her banking job and traveled to the US and stayed with her sister for a year to pursue her CrossFit level one and level two certificates (training six days a week). Her curiosity then took her to Nepal to pursue a yoga teacher training certificate on a 30-day trip where she did not know a single soul. On the trip, she learned the most basic kinds of yoga exercises, learning the benefits of various postures and learning breathing and meditation exercises, including pranayama.
“That experience unleashed something in me that made me want to travel more,” she said. “It made me realize that there is so much more to see, and it made me question why I was staying in this little Alexandrian bubble.”
Her curiosity then led her to seek another certificate (a year-long diploma) in integrative nutrition. She particularly enjoyed the aspect of tackling nutrition from a wellness perspective, and therefore, she wanted to tackle well-being from a holistic approach. She learned about nutrition and bio-individuality diets (each person requires a tailored food diet because bodies differ in terms of nutritional needs). The instructors taught her how to think, and not what to think. During that course, she was introduced to over 100 dietary theories throughout the year.
“I especially liked that part of it because you decided what you liked in terms of nutrition, and you have various resources to pick from to cater to the client,” she said.
However, she started getting back injuries because of the high-intensity CrossFit workouts, and her doctor even told her that she needed to quit CrossFit training. She started looking into yoga because she couldn’t lift any weights. However, it was a struggle at the beginning because she was accustomed to high-intensity trainings.
“So, I started reaping the benefits of it [yoga], and I wanted to learn more,” she said. “I have always been a curious person.”
Nofal believes that people are not only eating badly because they don’t know what to eat but because of a variety of different reasons including feeling stressed because of their career, toxic relationships, or trauma.
Many things in her life have changed in between all of those experiences. She coached CrossFit and general fitness, she moved to Cairo indefinitely and started teaching yoga full time. She went from one extreme to another, from high-intensity training workouts to Zen workouts, from eating so much protein to going Nepal-style vegan for 30 days to traveling to Sri Lanka on a 40-day and 300-hour yoga retreat (a more advanced retreat than her first one).
Unlike other sports, you could do yoga forever and anywhere, and all you need is a space and mat.
“Even if you don’t have a mat, you could meditate cross-legged,” she said. “The simplest exercises could make you feel uplifted. For example, if you are not having a good day, you could just do some breathing exercises and you will feel better. If you’re feeling stiff, you could do some yin exercises [a slower-paced more meditated exercise where postures are held for long periods].”
Yin exercises mobilize the body. If you are feeling lazy, you could do a strength or flowy exercise to feel more energized, she said.
“In the class, I feel like I am the maestro, and everyone else is moving according to me. As a coach, my job is to create energy and harmony,” she said. “Yoga makes you a mover.”
Yoga is not as structured as other sports, and Nofal knows how to use that to her advantage. She has a box she uses during class where she writes and throws two weeks’ worth of different ideas and exercises, including heart openers, hip openers, and core and ladder flow (building your flow) exercises. On a different day, she sequences according to an intention (soft and strong).
“People love the element of surprise. Sometimes I feel like a good teacher knows how to keep things spicy for themselves and the clients. I always think about how I could innovate. Knowing theories alone is not enough. Creativity and engagement are a big part of it,” she said.
Her main three approaches to movement are general fitness (one day of strength training focusing on leg workouts and the other day is a MetCon workout), animal flow (one or two days a week), and yoga (four days a week). Yoga gives you a strong upper body, mainly the core, and you still work the legs but not so much. The 40-minute MetCon workout includes exercises such as biking, rowing, snatches, and hang cleans. Nofal started learning about animal flow during quarantine while pursuing an animal flow certificate.
With animal flow, you’re always on all fours. It’s animalistic in the movement. There is more strength training in it than yoga, Nofal said. It requires more power than yoga. Yoga is line-oriented while animal movement is more animalistic, and you’re always down on the ground. Animal flow exercises are all integrated. It forces you to work on coordination and includes cross-body exercises, and, at the same time, requires ease and smoothness. There is strength training in yoga, for example, in inversion, single leg work or pushup exercises. Yoga has a lot of pushing action. This is how she mixes it up.
“As a coach, I believe we should be doing everything. If you specialize in one thing, you narrow down your capacity and capability to that one thing. You could be a joker if you want to,” she said.
All professional athletes integrate mobility and yoga now because they benefit from it both physically and mentally. The FIFA players are all integrating yoga in their workouts.
Now she is taking a course in integrative nutrition specializing in hormones and women through holistic approaches and nutrition.
“You hear how a lot of women are not giving birth, are complaining of acne at an older age, and gaining weight and not knowing why, and it’s all related to hormones,” she said.
She also wants to learn how to do physical therapy.
“As a yoga instructor and a mover, you learn about anatomy, and so, you want to know how to fix someone’s body manually. In physical therapy, you use your hands to help someone, and you could understand right away what the problem is and how to fix it,” she said. “Physical therapy forces you to understand the mechanics of the body.”
Nofal’s next project is owning, managing, and operating EDEN. EDEN is her complete fitness facility that will be launched in 2021. It includes a variety of activities including, yoga, physical therapy, fitness, and swimming. The EDEN slogan is “integrating wellness”.
“After working in this field for many years and moving around, I am finally home,” she said. “EDEN, in a nutshell, is a result of all of my efforts and energy put under one roof. It is a place that I will use in an organized manner to give back to everyone else around me.”
Nofal and her business partner (her husband) chose the peaceful name EDEN because of Adam and Eve’s story, as Nofal said, “of integrating purposefully, to unearth power and wholesomeness.”
Nofal is also one of the ambassadors of the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. One of her duties is to evaluate and execute a plan of how to use her field of work to benefit Egyptians. One of her main ideas is implementing mandatory yoga in schools as a part of her plan to teach kids how to be more mindful and calmer. Another idea is to train kids with disabilities.
Nofal struggled with anorexia when she was 12 years old, and that is a part of why she is passionate about overall mental and physical well-being.
“I reached a point of anorexia that was dangerous. You could see my bones through my skin,” she said. “This is what made me want to study nutrition, and it made me want to make everyone around me feel well.”
During quarantine, like many other coaches, she had to adjust her trainings. She could no longer coach in person. Luckily, she already had a YouTube channel. However, she only had one class on it. She started to grow her YouTube channel and used Instagram as her two main platforms during quarantine. She started with a 30-day challenge posting fitness and yoga tutorials and taping classes every day. She got excellent feedback. Due to the success, she continued her tutorials and taped classes through the entirety of quarantine. She believes she is a better coach because she had to learn how to coach virtually, which was challenging, she said.
The good thing about yoga is that it is mobile. You could do it from everywhere.
However, she will still implement online classes when she opens EDEN through online streaming or on-demand.
“Yoga philosophy makes you a better person because it refines what you believe in and does not contradict it in any way,” she said.
Nofal also has a line of five different colors of yoga mats (Yogi Things), and she plans to expand it and have more than yoga mats. For now, her design is writing “today’s intention” on the mats, to remind her clients of their intention of the day during practice.
One piece of advice she could give people is to encourage everyone to try to find their passion and purpose and to make it work in harmony with other areas in their life, including relationships, wellness, and spirituality. She encourages people to always have a well-rounded circle.
“Working in harmony and seeing things in a circular shape where each part of your life is like a slice or segment of the circle provides you with a healthier lifestyle. Everything in your life is connected, and balancing one area helps you balance another,” she said.
Nofal believes that she has huge social responsibilities, and therefore, 5% of Yogi Things sales go to orphanages. In addition, the EDEN team will coach people who can’t afford to get trained. They will try to implement a quarterly theme where they are giving back in this direction while using their services and facilities. They will also be creative with it.
“SINGLE LEGGED CHAIR/ STANDING PIGEON” POSE:
“This one is one of my favorite exercises because it opens up your hips, it’s very grounding and it teaches patience because you bear all of your weight on just one leg, but you are also engaging the center of the core. It is really good for strengthening your legs as well, and it’s really good for someone who has imbalance on one side because it opens the hips on one side while strengthening the other leg.”
“BOUNDED WARRIOR THREE” POSE:
“This is like ‘Warrior Three’ but with the bound of the arms around the legs. This one is very tricky because you are trying to balance on one leg while the other leg is also fully engaged reaching backwards. Your heart and your shoulders are engaged because you are in a bound. So, automatically, the backward shoulder is opening up. Your core is engaged, and you’re extremely focused because you are trying to balance yourself. This is also a great one for the legs and shoulders.”
"BIRD OF PARADISE” POSE:
“I love it because it opens your hips, and it’s also a balancing exercise. So, you have the freedom of ‘open hips’ and an ‘open heart and a twist.’ At the same time, you have the balance and the grounding feeling of being in a balancing posture. The metaphor behind it is like ‘the bird of paradise’ (the flower). So, it’s beautiful in that sense.”