The trainer sits on his yoga mat in front of the class and runs through the moves and poses. Young men and women sit behind him in four rows, following his lead.
This is a gender-neutral yoga class in a yogi’s home. His name is Ehsan — a pseudonym that he chose for himself — and he trains his students three times a week. He says he learned yoga in China and it’s now been eight years since he began teaching across Tehran, especially in wealthy northern neighborhoods and in the homes of his trusted students.
Ehsan has between eight and 10 students in each class.
Not all of his classes are gender-neutral. He also has men-only and women-only classes, depending on the clients’ preference. He holds classes between 6am and 8pm.
Although there are tight restrictions on gender-neutral classes or male trainers working with female students, there is a rising demand for these types of classes in Tehran.
In his class, students are free to choose what clothes they wear to the classes, but he recommends a white T-shirt and yoga pants.
Sahereh is 28-years-old, one of 10 students who attends Ehsan’s 8am class in the Zaferaniyeh neighborhood. “Ehsan is a professional yogi and a perfect trainer and teaches the poses very nicely,” she told IranWire. “It’s true that his class is gender-neutral and women can also attend and learn yoga, but I have not experienced any improper behavior in his class so far. Because of the legal restrictions, everyone is cautious not to cause any trouble for themselves or for the trainer. The difference between this trainer’s class and others is that everyone, regardless of their gender, can attend and exercise next to one other.”
Sahereh says the fee for this class is between 500,000 and 1,000,000 tomans ($US50-100) for an hour-and-a-half class three times a week for four weeks. “The fee is a little higher than legal public gyms, but since it’s private with a limited number of people, the quality of training is very high and everybody is happy to pay the fee. Also, we all know that considering the legal restrictions, our trainer takes on so much risk and therefore, we can’t object against the price.”
Despite the fact that gender-neutral gyms are illegal in Iran and many people have been arrested and prosecuted for running them or attending classes, they are still popular and there are many active underground classes around the country, especially in Tehran.
In July 2019, Tasnim News Agency stated that 30 men and women had been arrested in Gorgan province for attending yoga classes in a private house. Masoud Soleimani, a spokesperson for the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Golestan, the capital of the province, told Tasnim: “These people were gathering in a place with improper clothing engaging in immoral behavior under the name of yoga.”
Soleimani added: “The trainer, who had no permit to establish a gym, promoted his home class on Instagram.”
The arrest took place shortly after the judiciary ordered that the Instagram accounts of a group of Iranian street musicians be shut down. So far, Ehsan’s Instagram account, which has around 10,000 followers, is still active. He says the reason for this is that he has avoided posting any advertisements on his feed. “You can’t find a single ad or anything that reveals I have gender-neutral or even women-only classes on my page. There are just some video clips and photos of yoga poses, which is very natural and nothing out of the ordinary.”
Ehsan says his students usually find him through his friends, relatives, and former students.