New first ladies of fitness
By Akhila Krishnamurthy
28th October 2012 12:00 AM
Her body clock is perfectly aligned with her daily routine. Every morning, for 18 months now, 32-year-old Shanthala T Medappa has been starting her day at 4.30 am, sharp. Until 8 pm, when she finally gets home in time for dinner— “that is, by the way, not in the car and is not a sandwich”–and catch up with her husband, Shanthala’s schedule is structured, and sacrosanct. As a Hatha Yoga instructor, based in Chennai, Shanthala handles four classes across locations at Chennai’s 136.1 yoga studio in addition to a private session where a mixed group gathers on a terrace to break dawn with asanas (postures) and pranayama (meditation). Somewhere, amidst all the driving (across venues) and training, Shanthala manages to take a deep breath and sneak in time for her own practice—“at home or another yoga centre where I am learning the principles and nuances of the Mysore-based Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga”.
In Mumbai, Kirti Nagpal, who just turned 30, is counting down to the Zumba Fitness Party in Goa, next month. Two weeks ago, on Facebook, Kirti’s post read: “Took my first Aqua Zumba class today; was amazing!” As the Marketing Head for Zumba Fitness in India, Kirti is a qualified Management graduate from Pune’s Symbiosis Institute of Management and a certified instructor in Zumbatonic, Aqua Zumba and Zumba Toning by the Zumba Fitness in the United States. “Zumba is a party,” she says, “By that logic I guess I party, every day.”
In a way, she is right. Across India, as more people are waking up to the importance and imperativeness of fitness in the world we live in, young women with professional qualifications and corporate jobs are pursuing their passion for fitness and stepping up to the next level by constructing lucrative, long-lasting careers out of them. They are, to use a jargon from yoga, making fitness their Prana (life energy). In their scheme of things, the cash is working out rather well.
In Bangalore, Neera Katwal, a PhD from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), Madras, is just back from running a half-marathon in Mysore. Neera discovered long distance running three years ago. Based on her own journey on the road, and combined with a course in yoga, she has carefully chalked out a fitness module that allows runners to strengthen their core and improve their flexibility. That module, today, is now both her rigour and resource. Three days in a week, at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore, a small group of runners begins its session with some dynamic stretching, a series of core exercises, plyometric and some static stretching. Neera is also a personal trainer and conducts workshops and sessions for corporates.
In Delhi, Vesna Jacob from Bosnia, who owns and manages two centres and a staff of 10, and who can take credit for bringing Pilates and Postural Alignment to Delhi, some five years ago, has just finished a photo shoot for the cover of her book, Work it Out Without a Workout. “It’s meant for people for whom fitness is not a priority,” Vesna clarifies, of her book that will be launched in January, next year, “As a wellness expert, I’m convinced a book is a great way of reaching out to more people and creating a perceptible shift in their mindset towards fitness.”
Meet Radhika Chaliha, who transitioned from a full-time HR professional into a full-time yoga instructor armed with a certain discipline and consistency that is really the premise of the form. With a Master’s degree in Organisational Psychology and a keen interest in human behaviour, Bangalore-based Radhika, who belongs to Assam, married her corporate experience in Human Resources with her own deep, personal experience with yoga to make a career shift in August last year. “Initially, I turned to yoga for my body,” she confesses, “But as I practised, I found myself transforming, and not just physically. I became more accepting and focussed about things in life.” The decision to finally take the plunge though was slow and gradual.
Sometime last year, Radhika woke up wondering why she was itching to read the Yoga Journal more than the Harvard Business Review. “I think that was the clincher,” she says. Drawing from her study of yoga at S Vyasa (in Bangalore) and at the Ashtanga Vinyasa centre in Mysore, Radhika crafted a unique Vinyasa Flow that she has been sharing with her group of students at the Zela Fitness (a fitness studio in Bangalore), Smart Studio (in Bangalore) and her own little space in Indira Nagar that she is hoping to christen as Kiki’s Yoga!
Enterprise and its spirit are also central to the success of these fitness gurus. Look at how Nidhi Mehta who now lives in Jaipur (she moved from California in July last year), has sown and grown her fitness brand, BollyBeatz. With five centres across the world—Jaipur, Singapore and three in the Bay Area, United States—that are all managed by Nidhi, and where all the instructors are her own students, BollyBeatz is really the coming together of Bollywood style dance and fitness. In 2005, post-wedding, Nidhi arrived in the United States and for want of nothing better to do, began teaching a few young women, some Bollywood dancing. “One day, one of my students said, ‘Why don’t you stick to a particular routine so we could memorise it?’ It got me thinking,” Nidhi remembers. Having studied business—he is a management graduate who began her career with McKinsey (in Delhi)—Nidhi developed a raw idea into a lucrative business model that has successfully stood the test of time. Today, once every eight weeks, a new routine is introduced. Quality and standards are a given in BollyBeatz. “Every centre, across the world, is dancing to the same tune,” she says. In addition to the fitness aspect of things – “you can burn between 700 and 800 calories per class”–BollyBeatz, Nidhi avers, has allowed women, mostly homemakers, to “shed their inhibitions, and find liberation and an identity for themselves”.
In many ways, in fitness, its instructors have found for themselves a solid and meaningful identity of their own. “Sometimes, life has a weird way of making you sit up and re-asses things,” Shanthala says, after wrapping a 4.30pm class at 136.1’s Alwarpet centre, “I think yoga and I met around the same time. I loved my corporate job no doubt but yoga was always on my mind.” So, Shanthala decided to translate her thoughts into action. A Teacher’s Training course at the Sivananda Institute in Kerala four years ago was the logical beginning to what has been a stimulating and satisfying journey. At least, so far. “The influence of yoga on my life has been hugely positive,” she says, “Patience is a virtue I didn’t possess and even though I can’t say I have a lot of it now, I must acknowledge that yoga has definitely taught me to be calm and composed.”
Likewise with Shanthala’s colleague, Joshna Ramakrishnan who is easily among the most sought-after teachers of yoga at 136.1 yoga studio. “Back in college, I was highly restless,” she says, “As yoga became more and more a part of my life, I found myself feeling grounded. Then, one day, in November 2009, four months into a corporate job, I wondered, how about I craft a life for myself where I shared my own experience of yoga and let other people discover a sense of balance too?” Trained and certified at the Sivananda Institute in Kerala, Joshna kicked off her yoga journey with a two-year stint in
China and Hong Kong. “I spent time teaching students across studios there,” she says. In February last year, after a three-month tour in Rishikesh, stopping over at Chennai, a friend introduced her to the creator of 136.1, Yashwant Saran.
At 24, Joshna is already a symbol of strength, stamina and flexibility. In July, this year, she took a month-long sabbatical from her full-time job – she teaches Hatha Yoga, Power Yoga and will helm a Yoga Boot Camp this month, for the second time, this year—to spend time at the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Shala in Mysore. “In Yoga, the learning never ends,” says this engineer from a Chennai-based engineering college.
Talking of professional courses, Bangalore-based Deepashree Anjanamurthy too quit a desk job in an IT organisation to live her fitness dream. “Everything about a desk job was irking me,” she says, “I didn’t find the time to look after myself; all that I was doing was chasing money and meeting targets and deadlines.” A month-long therapy-based course in yoga followed by curiosity to discover Pilates led her to certify herself as a full-fledged instructor. “I realised I felt good sharing and teaching yoga to my students,” Anjamamurthy says, “And I’m convinced this is what I’d like to do for a long time now.”
The other advantage of being in the fitness industry, like Chennai-based Jayanthi Murahari says, is “if you work hard, you only get fitter”. At 33, Murahari is a certified fitness trainer from Reebok as well as a Personal Trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. Managing the business aspect of two branches of city-based Purple Fitness Studio and offering fitness consultation to corporates—she recently held a workshop for the employees of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and yoga sessions for the Tamil Nadu Police – Jayanthi is also a fitness columnist. “Fitness is a good place to be in,” she says, “In today’s world, a whole lot of women have come to realise the need to incorporate fitness into their lives.”
From an instructor’s point of view, that’s a good thing. Look at Kirti who handles two to three classes in a day and trains a cross-section of people—“from age 12 to age 60”—in Zumba Fitness. “In terms of results,” Kirti says, “Zumba Fitness is remarkable. In an hour-long session, depending on an individual’s range of motion, you can lose anything between 600 and 1,000 kilo calories.” As a high intensity workout, Zumba’s biggest advantage is its rhythm and motion. There is a party-like atmosphere that a Zumba Fitness class creates.
And Kirti is living it up. Originally from Chennai, Kirti recognizes that the fitness industry is extremely “competitive. It’s imperative to have your fundamentals in place and then you’ve got to do what it takes to constantly keep scaling up.”
Say hello to Minoti Ramachandra, who at 27, is already the Regional Head of the LVDS (Lourd Vijay’s Dance Studio) in Bangalore and who is, in addition to being a performer and trainer of Salsa, is also helping a group of women discover fitness through belly dancing. “Dance will always remain my first love,” clarifies this engineer who opted to make a career in Salsa instead of IT. A couple of years ago, following an intensive course in belly dancing, Minoti found herself cornered literally by her students who egged her on to start classes exclusively on belly dancing for fitness. “I won’t say the focus is on belly dancing,” she says, “It’s really about using that as a platform to let people have some fun and get fit in the process.”
In Hyderabad, Kiran Dembla is busy sculpting bodies for the silver screen. Kiran has combined her passion for fitness and expertise in personal training and has come to be recognized as a “celebrity trainer”. Her Sweat Zone gym is, in her own words, a “no-nonsense zone”, frequented by a whole host of actors from Kollywood and Tollywood. “Getting a toned body is easily among the hardest things to do,” she says, “And once you have it, you want to flaunt it, forever.” Actor Tamannah, who is all set to blaze the screen with Rebel, credits her “toned, worked-out” look to Kiran. “It’s a process of collaboration,” Kiran says about personal training in general, “If I give a hundred percent, Tamannah or whoever it may be, needs to put in about a two hundred.”
Talking of effort, Vesna is a living proof of how changing your posture could change your life. Over the years, as a Pilates and Postural Alignment instructor and a wellness expert, Vesna has been significantly touching lives and effecting positive change and action. “We are a combination of the emotional, intellectual and spiritual,” she says, “And it’s in our hands to create a life that is balanced.” Okay, time for some shavasana (corpse pose)!
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