These days, when awareness is high, we know more than ever before, how our body works and how to keep it healthy. Even so, there is an ever-increasing trend worldwide towards obesity. It is perhaps human nature to not look far into the future, instead we focus on the here and now, being oblivious to the long-term benefits and threats. It cannot be denied however, that a fit body leads to a better lifestyle because one does not get exhausted as easily, something that is very relevant to modern life.
Gyms have been sprouting up all over Dhaka in recent times, hinting at a rise in awareness of the necessity for a healthy life. However, they are not the only avenues one might explore in the search for a fit body. There are a number of other ways to stay in shape. Recently there has been a rising trend in the practices of Yoga and Pilates.
“When customers come to me, they want to increase their flexibility and do strength training,” Samah Hamza, a yoga instructor says. “Yoga is about maintaining fitness, more so than weight-loss, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
When asked whether she has seen an increase in the interest over the recent past, she replies in the affirmative, “Definitely. Two or three years ago most people were not interested in Yoga. Now, frankly speaking, it is the celebrities- Hollywood and Bollywood stars - turning to Yoga, in turn inspiring the masses to do the same. People have become more fitness conscious, perhaps because of pressure from what they see on magazines and television.”
On the subject of diets, she is cautious: “I only give dietary suggestions if asked. Even then, I do not give them any fixed guidelines, just suggestions based on what I eat and think is healthy. The trend of going on diets is based on a misconception. People think that if they stop eating, they will lose weight. Actually that is very unhealthy. To have a healthy lifestyle and stay in shape, one has to have more meals a day of healthy food, thereby gaining the energy to exercise and get in shape. When you have a balanced diet, the body will keep responding to exercise and you will lose weight.”
The modern obsession with losing weight is a lot about looking good. Yoga can help there. “Although you do not lose weight as a direct result of practising yoga,' says Hamza, “Yoga helps in reducing body inches, thereby making sure that clothes fit better and you look better.”
Pilates is the latest trend in fitness, and there has been a lot of interest in the discipline. It focuses on exercising the whole body, and emphasises control, precision and concentration in both the mind and the body. Movements are not performed rapidly or repeated excessively. The focus is on quality and not quantity. The abdominal muscles, lower back and buttocks serve as the centre of all movement, allowing the rest of the body to move freely.
“Pilates is not just a one-off exercise routine, it's a lifestyle choice,” opines Pilates instructor Shazia Omar. “My classes are really tough, and only someone who is regular will get the benefit of Pilates. It reduces your weight, increases your body awareness and coordination, strengthens core muscles and improves your metabolism and posture.
Since it strengthens muscles, it's really good for the back as well, and a lot of my clients come to me with back problems. It helps in preventing general illnesses as it increases circulation. It also helps to prevent injuries like slipped discs, which are very common here.”
This focus on core stabilisation which makes one stronger from the inside out. The balance between strength and flexibility creates a healthy, vigorous and symmetrical workout for all muscle groups resulting in a leaner, more balanced, and stronger body. Also, it helps in weight-loss as, according to Omar, her students all leave her class sweating. For full effect there is no air conditioning in her class.
Omar also thinks that the fitness awareness among Dhakaites has gone up. “There was a time when people would only go for a walk in the park if their doctor prescribed it. Now, people are much more aware, and want to stay fit and healthy for their loved ones. Not enough though, which is surprising, because your health is your biggest asset, and if you're not healthy you cannot function in other aspects of life. Not everyone makes the commitment to stay healthy, but awareness has definitely increased,” she says.
She does not believe in prescribing diets for her students. “I don't give them any hard and fast guidelines, but it's always good to cut out fat and oil, and eat vegetables and fruits.” Her classes are from seven to eight in the evenings at Club Amazon in Gulshan on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, and if you get there armed with a yoga mat, a bottle of water and a towel, you can start immediately. The class is available at Dhanmondi too, taught by Omar's younger sister Alizeh Ahmed.
Gyms have been a part of the Dhaka fitness scene for quite some time now. Sports Zone gym instructor Rana Ahmed is also of the view that recent times have seen an increase in the interest. When asked what he would put it down to, he says, “The volume of illnesses has gone up in recent times and also the rate of diabetic patients. The media has played a part in raising awareness. Also, when sportspeople look at other countries they see that we are behind in terms of fitness levels. All this has contributed to the rising interest.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests that of the many gyms that have sprung up in the city, there are some whose instructors are not that involved in the activities of their patrons.
On the importance of responsible instructors, Ahmed says, “Without instructors you cannot have a gym. Instructors basically offer consultancy and supervision. If you exercise without the supervision of an instructor, you run the risk of injuring yourself. Also, you will not get the full benefit of the workout. An instructor motivates you, gives you direction, and basically sees to it that you are progressing correctly and at the right pace.”
Whatever discipline you choose, it is important to make an informed decision. The three instructors have all stressed upon one aspect; the importance of our health. It is definitely not something to be toyed with.
If you decide to go to a gym, ask others who go there whether the instructors supervise them properly. Do your research on your choice of workout, and if need be, consult with your doctor before going down a particular fitness route. Then commit to your chosen discipline and start a healthier life.
You may contact Samah Hamza, Yoga instructor at firstname.lastname@example.org, Shazia Omar and Alizeh Ahmed may be contacted for Pilates at email@example.com and
By Sakeb Subhan
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Special thanks to Body & Shape and Shazia for helping us with the photoshoot.