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Strength Of A Woman
Text by Simone Dinshaw and Shirin Mehta
Published: Volume 17, Issue 8, August, 2009

Forcing yourself to commit to blah fitness regimes is now a thing of the past. Join us as we traverse from the ancient art form of yoga, through the well established landscape of the gym, to the virgin territory of dance therapy, unearthing alternative approaches to holistic health along the way through the women who embody them. Three women, three approaches

Yoga next
Deepika Mehta gives a new twist to the ancient art form of yoga

Some people inspire you with their life-story, others with their life-philosophy. Deepika Mehta does both. When she met with a near-death accident while rock climbing in 2001, both her bones as well as her dreams of becoming a dancer were shattered. Her doctors told her she would never walk again, but her indomitable spirit believed otherwise. After spending a year confined to her bed, she discovered that yoga enabled her to regain her active lifestyle when physiotherapy failed. Today, yoga is not merely a fitness routine for her; it’s a way of life.

In Deepika, youthful dynamism coexists comfortably with ancient philosophy of yoga. She has trained under gurus in ashrams and delved deep into the study of this age-old discipline, a study which she claims never ends. Her yoga classes veer off the traditional path, whilst still remaining faithful to the original art form. “There might have been a time when I wanted to create my own brand of yoga,” she confides, “But now I know that it is too pure a practice.”

Each class is unique, but follows a similar structure. She incorporates everything from dance to surya namaskars as a warm-up. The first half hour, during which you exercise every muscle of your body, is physically taxing without stirring up aggressive energy. The second phase of the class is more receptive, during which students go into still positions and hold them. For the last 15 minutes, she guides you through meditation or pranayama to induce stillness.

The yogini, whose clientele has included stars like Bipasha Basu, Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra, no longer sees staying fit as a struggle. She trained Sandeep Sachdev, the winner Biggest Loser Jeetega, who lost 50 kilos on the show. However Deepika maintains that yoga is not just about losing weight, it’s about finding your inner strength. “A lot of young girls who come to me are confused and worried about their body image,” she tells me. “Once they begin to use their muscles, they begin to realise that they are capable of things they never thought they could do, like headstands, and this gives them self-confidence.”

She admits to having run the diet gamut, only to discover that the best nutritionist to listen to is your own body. She no longer denies herself anything, but loves to eat raw food, which makes up about 70 percent of her diet. “Energy is the most important thing for me,” discloses the vivacious young woman, “so I eat food that makes me feel clean and pure and gives me lots of energy.”

Yoga has brought both energy and balance into Deepika’s life, but she is still as passionate as ever about her first love – dance. Her personal fitness routine, which incorporates the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa, also includes one mandatory night of dancing at a club every week. “The way I dance, people probably think I’m drunk or high on drugs, but the only thing I carry with me to clubs is my bottle of water!” she laughs.

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it,” Margaret Fuller once said. Deepika, whose name literally means light, is dedicated to sharing her knowledge of yoga with the world. From her own experience of turning a major setback into a new opportunity, she knows the importance of motivation. One of her favourite stories is that of Michelangelo. “When all that other people saw was a block of stone, he saw the perfection within and carved it out. That’s what I try to do.” And with her innovative techniques and infectious joie de vivre, that is precisely what she does.

Nice and easy
Namita Jain’s
fitness package, Jaldi Fit, is a runaway success with all those who wish to lead a healthier life

Fitness is her passion. “My work totally consumes me,” says wellness guru, Namita Jain, whose recently released book and DVD package, Jaldi Fit sold out before she could organise an official launch. Into its second edition already, Jaldi Fit, she explains, is meant for those who are not gym enthusiasts and yet are looking for a convenient ‘wellness-in-the-home’ solution, with step-by-step instructions for a strength training workout. The book includes tips on nutrition, osteoporosis, different body types and weight loss and generally paves the way for those craving a healthier lifestyle. And all you need for Namita’s programme is 20 minutes at home, a mat, a chair, a towel and a 500 ml water bottle that doubles for weights!

“My love for sport was probably the starting point for my keenness to learn and then teach and write about fitness,” explains Namita who from the age of five years underwent a rigorous swimming training programme, in addition to playing squash, badminton and table tennis. “The learning and teaching phase started 20 years ago,” states this sports buff who holds international certifications in several fitness-related disciplines and today has 200 students from various walks of life. Her classes (in yoga, pilates, weights, aerobics…) include students, trainers, people with special needs such as arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, high BP…. “I feel a fitness routine should be safe, effective and enjoyable. Many start a vigorous or complex training programme but don’t last out due to injury or mental and physical burn-out,” she cautions. “Fitness should be a part of your lifestyle and fit seamlessly into your daily routine – a hard-to-break habit.”

Namita’s students at her workout and yoga classes swear by her, putting themselves into her dynamic hands despite backaches, vertigo and other health problems, so that she has almost a fan following who wish to lead healthier lives, besides gaining toned silhouettes. The music throbs, her gentle voice rings out the cues ‘side step, grapevine, diamond…’ commanding greater energetic movement. From the ‘pretzel’ to the ‘swan dive’, a personalised amalgam of several workout disciplines, from yoga and weights to pilates, has seamlessly blended together to offer an hour of controlled, relaxed activity, leaving you invigorated and relaxed, remarkably at the same time. Bound by a common purpose and activity, the camaraderie in her classes is amazing and I ask her what keeps her students coming to her tirelessly – some of them for several years. “I think maybe my love for exercise is infectious. They enjoy their ‘time out’ and the wonderful ‘fit’ feeling that they get with exercise.” Namita’s workout plan incorporates cardiovascular fitness which improves the functioning of the heart, lungs and circulatory system; strength training which improves bone density and enhances metabolism helping burn those extra calories and flexibility training to keep the body supple.

What, according to her, is the perfect strategy for weight loss? Diet plus exercise, it would seem, is the time-tested way and there are no short cuts or easy solutions. She lists ‘decreased fat consumption and portion control, palatable food choices, an active lifestyle and consistent exercise habits’ as the checkpoints to losing weight. And, she adds, “Successful maintainers tend to watch their weight more closely and notice small weight gains. Frequent weight checks help avoid a relapse into old eating and lifestyle patterns. Exercise adherence is the strongest predictor of long-term success in weight management.”

And, her best tip for healthy eating?
A lifestyle change that we all need to make, here it is: “Begin by taking charge of your dinner meal. This is the time of day when your physical activity is tapering off. You are tired, your energy levels have probably dropped. At this point you are extremely vulnerable. Your natural instinct is to grab all the ‘comfort foods’ you can lay your hands on. While it is not easy, controlling binge eating at dinner-time is a key factor in maintaining weight.”

All you ladies who want to knock off those extra stubborn pounds, this could well be the best advice you have ever received. Remember it comes from the lady who has made fitness her mission in life.

Beauty and the beat
Dilshad Patel
combines therapy and dance in her unique approach to wellness

Darling, you think you’re fat and ugly. You are. Don’t cry about it, go do something about it.” Not exactly the words that any woman wants to hear, nevertheless the advice Shiamak Davar once gave Dilshad Patel, who trained under him as a dancer and instructor for seven years. I find it hard to imagine anyone calling this svelte woman with the stunning features and radiant smile sitting across me in the café ‘fat and ugly’.

Dilshad started dancing at the early age of five, and never stopped. Forsaking a career as a professional performer, she double majored in psychology and philosophy, and then journeyed to America to study dance. She was holding a dance therapy workshop in upstate New York when Garth Fagan discovered her. The internationally acclaimed choreographer spotted her potential and immediately awarded her a scholarship to his dance school in Rochester, New York, where she also spent a year as an artist-in-residence.

She then returned to India and is the pioneer of dance therapy in the country, which is not to be confused with dance as therapy. The latter refers to the endorphin-induced rush one experiences after an exhausting zumba session or a few hours at a night club. Dance therapy, on the other hand, encourages the authentic flow of movement as an expression of one’s internal state of being. “We are born with an innate ability to move,” says Dilshad. “All we need is a medium, an instrument like our bodies to express how we feel and act upon those feelings.”

It is no coincidence that you physically slump down when feeling low. Your movements reflect your personality, and improvisation of those movements allows you to experiment with new ways of being. Studies have shown that the simple act of straightening your posture can give you a strong boost of self-confidence. Dance therapy works on the principle that the body and mind are in constant reciprocal interaction, and so a change in one affects a change in the other.

Also, although much emphasis is placed on talk, human communication is for the most part non-verbal. We reveal volumes about our internal thoughts and emotions through our posture, facial expressions, gestures and eye contact. We also unconsciously decode other people’s body language when interacting with them, which strongly influences our reactions to them. Dance therapy helps in resolving interpersonal problems by making you more aware of what your body is communicating to the world, and what the internal source of that communication is.

None of Dilshad’s dance therapy classes are the same, with the beats varying from Bach to Bollywood tunes, and the techniques being constantly adapted. The class begins with a warm-up, followed by extensive stretching and some structured dance to enable freer movement. What follows varies, and is where the real therapy begins. Sometimes Dilshad uses projective therapy; “Imagine you are water,” she tells her students. “Let your body flow like the movement of water.” At other times she uses mirroring to show them their stiffness and reticence, helping them gain awareness and control over their movements. Dance therapy not only helps you work through internal issues, but also gives your body a neuromuscular workout, stabilising your core muscles and strengthening the body and mind.

Having worked with people from all walks of life, from coperates to cancer patients and juvenile delinquents to deaf and visually impaired children, Dilshad has witnessed the positive changes that dance therapy has brought into the bleakest of lives. As our informative chat draws to an end, a girl from a nearby table shyly approaches her to ask for her card. Apparently, I am not the only convert.

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