At 22, Farah* suffered serious injuries to her back and right knee in a road accident. She tried physiotherapy but two years and countless therapists later, she had still not healed.
The immobility led to a uterus displacement and at 24, she was unable to conceive. Physicians forbade her from exercising. Farah could not see herself recovering or being physically active ever again.
Then one day, a friend suggested that Farah visit Saamiya, a trainer for a new form of exercise called pilates. Within two months, Farah’s injuries had cleared up and she was pregnant.
Pilates helps develop flexibility and though pretty new to Lahore, is catching on fast, particularly among women. The city has at least three professional pilates instructors and their clients are mostly middle-aged or elderly women suffering from bone injuries. For now, all that is holding back its growth are a lack of qualified trainers and ill-fated solo experiments at home by some women.
Saamiya, who is 46 but looks two decades younger, first learned about pilates from the Oprah Winfrey show. In a later trip to San Francisco to visit her sister, she saw that doctors were recommending pilates to rehabilitate patients suffering pre- or post-natal stress and backbone and joint injuries.
She also noticed that her own fitness regimen was having a negative impact. “As I aged, years of weight training took its toll. My body sagged and became increasingly inflexible,” she says.
Saamiya, a doctor herself, took courses to learn how to use pilates equipment, like the reformer, the trapeze and the pilates chair. She took an online course on nutrition. About a year ago, she began professionally training clients in a gym run from her basement at home in Defence.
She currently employs two trainers and has over 20 clients. Some are students from LUMS. Others, middle aged and elderly women, are professionals and housewives. Most live in Defence, some in Gulberg and one in The Mall area. She teaches them a mix of classical pilates and exercises by Tracy Anderson (trainer for the likes of Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow).
Saamiya says beginners should use pilates machines rather than start exercises on the floor at home. “An overweight person who has not been exercising regularly should begin with machine-based pilates. It forces the body, no matter how big or inflexible, into the right position. Practice fixes the posture. Women trying it at home have suffered injures,” she says.
A good diet is essential to becoming healthy, she says, but adds that people should ease into strict fitness regimes gradually. “If a 200-lb person is put on the trapeze and then told they will have to go on a strict diet, they will run away very fast,” she says. “Once a client has established a strong weekly workout routine, I tell them that by eating healthier they will see results even faster.”
That advice includes adding yogurt with probiotics and kefir grains to the diet. “They accelerate the absorption of nutrients while ridding the body of toxins,” Saamiya says. “Also, incorporating food craved during childhood in your current diet is a great way to curb cravings and binge eating.”
She says finding skilled and motivated female trainers is one of the hardest parts of her job. “There are plenty of experience and professional male gym trainers, but pilates is different. In a gym a trainer is supervising maybe five people. Pilates requires one-on-one guidance and physical contact is essential for proper guidance. Women don’t feel comfortable being trained by men,” she says.
Saamiya personally trains women who are pregnant, injured or recovering from a caesarian section. Uzma Sagheer, a former gym trainer, trains some of her pregnant and elderly clients. “It as a good substitute for physiotherapy for the older women,” Uzma says. “For pregnant women, it helps them shed extra weight and makes the delivery easier.”
Gem, a certified Filipino masseuse, helps Saamiya with other clients. A session with a trainer costs up to Rs12,000.
Zainab runs a pilates studio in Gulberg. Most of her clients are women over 40 or under the age of 16. “The girls come because pilates helps make them taller,” says Annie, one of Zainab’s trainers. “Most of the middle-aged women come because they have suffered a neck, back or knee injury and exercise eases the pain.”
*The name has been changed to protect her privacy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2011.
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