January issue 2010

By | Life Style | Published 14 years ago

Each morning at my gym, dozens of women pour in. Without a trainer on duty, they bring with them books and magazines, share tips on the different kinds of exercises and discuss which one works best for burning the stubborn fat. For many, it’s a place to socialise while they burn calories, gossip about the latest fashion trends or discuss their children’s routines. Although a positive sign, these ladies also rely on the attendant on duty to carry weights for them or lay out their yoga mats. For many, going to the gym is only an option when you need to lose weight. Each one of us have encountered the usual “Why do you need to go to the gym, beta? You’re already so thin!” from concerned relatives who feel you might disappear into thin air if you step on that treadmill.

For at least the past decade, group exercise classes like aerobics and yoga have been very popular, with many of these instructors holding classes in their own homes. For instance, my yogi, Nazia Malik, conducts sun salutations classes at her house, in her daughter’s pink bedroom whose walls are covered with Hannah Montana and Kung Fu Panda posters. Nazia has been practicing yoga for about eight years now — and it is obvious: she could twist into a pretzel if she wanted to. Periodically, she also gives out advice on eating habits, like eating fruits at least a couple of hours before mealtimes — and not after meals — since it aids digestion. When asked about her choice of location for conducting classes, she responded: “It’s the convenience factor. I don’t have to worry about rushing home in time to pick up the children from school or to take them elsewhere.”

In the past few years, exercise studios, gyms and clubs have introduced classes that will appeal to those looking for a strenuous workout, like kickboxing and power yoga. Wondering how popular these types of classes were, this reporter decided to dive into the challenge of attending as many group exercise classes as possible.

The first, a mix of basic stretches, aerobics and dance, was advertised in Home Express. Taught by Sarah Noman Baqai, the class was a mix of young college-going students, stay-at-home mothers and career women. An hour of intense cardio and quick foot movements followed. Small-built and soft-spoken, Sarah is surprisingly loud during class, pushing each of us to follow her moves. “Pretend you’re plucking apples from a tree; first with the right hand and then the left” and “pretend there’s a spider on your back, so wiggle your hands like you’re trying it shoo it,” come the instructions. In order to come up with better foot movement and to make class more interesting, Sarah spends about six hours each week on just this. “In addition to fitness and flexibility, these classes are also an outlet for empty-nesters and others to mingle and meet more people,” she says.

Just this past summer, Sarah had a special child attend her class. The girl was extremely nervous and didn’t want to join the group. “Towards the end of the summer she didn’t want to leave. Her school has started but she has promised she’ll be back in winter. Now she’s actually confident about her movements and this was almost like rehab for her. She even taught some of the moves to her cousins,” Sarah tells me.

Enigma’s “Return to Innocence” plays on the speakers as the class of about eight people relax in a child’s pose after a strenuous routine of Bikram or hot yoga. Studio X on Zamzama is currently the only place in Karachi that offers this class. Bikram yoga is practiced in a room with temperatures around 40ºC and includes over 20 postures in a flowing series. Practicing yoga in such high temperatures allows better flexibility and detoxifies the body. Fortunately, the day I participated in the class, one of the heaters was out of order so the temperature never peaked over 34ºC. Even so, after a series of poses for over an hour, I was exhausted by this challenge. Salina Taqi, a yogi who is certified from Singapore, warned me ahead of class to “listen to my body.” She emphasised how practicing yoga is not about a person’s ego or how much you can push yourself; it is about going slow and steady.

Mishka Murad who recently joined Salina’s class is amazed by the results. “I joined hot yoga for fitness, to maintain high energy levels and relieve stress and yes, it’s working! I like the personal attention that comes with this class; it’s small and my yogi pays special attention to me for that reason.”

Jeannette Faruque, the owner of Studio X and a fitness buff, is hopeful about changing the mindset of her gym members. Most of the gym members have joined to lose weight and once they reach their target weight, they leave. “What they don’t understand is that this is a lifestyle. You have to continue with it. You can’t just come in each time you want to lose weight,” says Jeannette. Studio X offers a range of group exercises from power yoga, pilates and yoga for kids to cardio jam, kickboxing, and ab-and-bum blast. “It’s fun to have variety and to build your stamina by trying out different types of exercises.”

Nida Tapal, a member of Studio X, prefers attending classes here because she can pick and choose any class she feels like attending. Its membership package is flexible, allowing people to try out different routines (and timings) if they get bored — this also encourages members to continue exercising.

Dr Mubashara Khan, of Shara Health and Wellness Centre and Institute, who has an MPhil in Sports Science in addition to a PhD in AMD Homeopathy among other diplomas and degrees, thinks people take sports and fitness very lightly in Pakistan. Herself a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Dr Mubashara’s daughter leans towards boxing. “Homemakers and even career women should focus on fitness. Another problem is that people take advice on nutrition and exercise without consulting a trainer because everyone’s physique and stamina is different. You can’t apply the same techniques to everyone,” she says emphatically.

BodyBeat, a dance class at Shapes, has been extremely popular over the past year with a long waiting list of people wanting to join. Hasan Rizvi, the instructor, has opened up BodyBeat Recreational Centre (BBRC) in addition to giving classes at Shapes. Huge, dramatic posters of their debut performance, Cinema Live, adorn the walls of the huge studio. Talking to Hasan about the BBRC and the classes it offers, I wonder if people join the dance classes to just lose weight. “I tell the people right away that if they are here to lose weight, then they should look elsewhere. This is strictly about dancing, learning the foot movements, techniques. Yes, as a result you may lose weight but that isn’t what you should come here for,” Hasan tells me matter-of-factly. For that, the BBRC has the Fat Torching class conducted by Babar Javed. That class is for people who are serious about weight loss and fitness. Even otherwise in his dance classes, Hasan tells his students to “suck it up and keep dancing. They are here to learn something and it’s my job to teach them. Unless they’re going to faint, they have to continue dancing.”

Fitness, it seems, is not the top priority for people which could be why finding capable, committed exercise and dance instructors is very difficult. “I want to introduce so many types of classes, like Tae Bo and pre-natal yoga, but it is very difficult to find people who will stay committed. I’m willing to teach, but there aren’t very many willing to learn,” says Jeannette. She teaches a variety of classes at her studio from power yoga and pilates to cardio jam.

Jeanette Faruque

Jeanette Faruque

I return to Studio X for my final class, cardio jam — or so I think. The class is built around circuit training which basically shocks all inactive muscles, even ones you didn’t think existed. About 10 minutes into the workout and I begin to count the minutes till the end. In class, Jeannette is the complete opposite to what she is outside class. “Ten more,” she yells after what feels like a 100 crunches. She doesn’t take no for an answer and makes you workout till the very last second of the class. By the end, I have no idea how I’ve made it; my legs feel like jelly and I’m not sure I can walk down the stairs without collapsing. But it feels phenomenal. Even though I go running at least twice a week and try to swim regularly, my muscles have never been this sore.

A week later, Jeannette calls me wanting to know where I’ve disappeared. “You haven’t come to any of the classes. You have to try pilates!” I am convinced. After attending the class I now realise why people can get addicted to exercising. Once you reach that high from pushing and challenging your body to its maximum, there is no turning back.