In a sparse, wood-floored studio, Saudi women squat, lunge and do headstands. Even a year ago, teaching these yoga postures could have rendered them outlaws in the conservative Islamic kingdom.
Widely perceived as a Hindu spiritual practice, yoga was not officially permitted for decades in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam where all non-Muslim worship is banned.
But with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowing an "open, moderate Islam", the kingdom last November recognised yoga as a sport amid a new liberalisation drive that has sidelined religious hardliners.
Spearheading efforts to normalise 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.
Arms outstretched, their bodies folded into a 180-degree backward bending posture known as "chakrasana", or wheel pose.
Ayat Samman, a 32-year-old health educator, said yoga helped alleviate her lifelong struggle with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder that often left her bedridden.
"It just opened me up like a water balloon," said Yasmin Machri, 32. "After my first class... I started breaking down and crying."
Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler, has sought to project a moderate image of the kingdom, long associated with a fundamentalist strain of Wahhabi Islam, with a new push for inter-religious exchange.
"The prince's outreach to other religions is apparent in the interfaith gatherings and the new enthusiasm for Saudi Arabia's pre-Islamic heritage," said Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
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