By Vidya Pradhan
Let’s face it..to many Indians, exercise for exercise’s sake is often considered a waste of time. After all, our agrarian ancestors depended on hard work in the fields and back-breaking efforts in maintaining the household to work off the lassi and ghee. Middle class homes featured simple, low calorie food, rich in seasonal vegetables and local grain. Options for eating out were limited to the local dhaba or udipi joint.
Today, our environment has had an explosion of food choices, from processed to fast food, but alas, our mindset has remained the same; which may explain why the South Asian Heart Center in El Camino Hospital is chock-a-block with young Indians with heart disease.
Shobha Reddy, fitness guru from Mountain View, is doing her bit to shatter this mindset and get us sedentary Indians off our couches and on to the gym floor. Once a portfolio manager with a mutual fund company in Mountain View, Shobha traded in stocks and bonds till a meeting with a personal trainer in 1998 made her focus on an investment in the health of the body rather than the health of her client’s finances.
Shobha has always been the athletic sort, so she was delighted with her first trip to a local gym in 1989. Unconvinced by the package the personal trainer at the gym was trying to sell her, she decided to enroll in sports training certification courses at De Anza College. She was the first Indian to complete a course in personal training. She then started teaching courses at the local YMCA on a voluntary basis and in no time became on of the top trainers at the Y.
Naturally, her move from finance to fitness was looked at with skepticism from her family. She had left a lucrative and white collar industry to try her hand at something that was essentially manual labor, which occasionally involved cleaning up studios and picking up dirty towels. Her sleek outfits raised more than one pair of eyebrows in her conservative group of relatives. “People used to ask, Shobha, are you divorced, because I would go to the gym very early in the morning and late at night?” she recalls with a laugh.
But Shobha didn’t care. Her aim was to build the network and reputation that would enable her to have a studio of her own one day. She got a spot teaching at the El Camino Y, one of the most sought after places in the Bay Area and started teaching a Pilates course as well after getting certified. In the early years, her freshman status meant that she ended up getting many of the difficult, unmotivated clients, people who wouldn’t show up. “I would call and call and nag and nag,” she says. “That’s how I learned to market myself.”
2 years ago she finally felt ready to make it on her own. She set up a gym in her garage and trained a couple of people. “I thought why not focus on training Indians, since Americans have plenty of trainers for them anyway,” she says. “Besides, American trainers don’t really understand the Indian body type.” Or their mentality! “Most Indians tend to get discouraged with the intensity of a personal training routine. I try to taper it gently so they don’t lose their motivation.”
Poorva is one of the regulars at Shobha’s gym. Her aim was to lose a lot of weight and Shobha’s routine fit her perfectly. When Poorva became pregnant, Shobha modified the workout to accommodate her changing needs. “I’ve tried Curves, other personal trainers, but somehow I’ve never been able to stick with a routine for a long time,” says Poorva, “but Shobha is a real motivator. She also an early adapter when it comes to new techniques and new equipment. She attends conventions and then uses us as guinea pigs to try out her new ideas!”
Today Shobha’s calendar for her home gym is full. “It is more a studio than a gym,” she is quick to point out. Most of her clients are over 40. “In our 20s we lose weight without effort and in our 30s we are busy with our work and kids. Suddenly at 40 we have a wake-up call and unfortunately, it is much harder to lose weight,” is her experience. She conducts a variety of classes at the India Community Center in Milpitas and is piloting a program at the South Asian Heart Center. She also trains clients for marathons and in a uniquely Indian touch, helps Bharatanatyam dancers with stamina training and stretches before their arangetrams.
WNI asked her for some fitness tips to pass along to our readers. In Shobha’s words –
– Not everyone can go to the gym. Start with a light walk. Get out of the house. In 2 weeks it will get into your system.
– Do your workout early morning otherwise the day's routines will overwhelm you- exercise will become secondary.
– Sacrifice a little sleep. Consider it like seeking a promotion in your life instead of your job.
– After you hit 40 make small changes in your lifestyle and diet. Give 3 weeks for any changes to show effects.
– Vegetarian diets are tough to modify – you have to reduce carbs.
– For the Indian female body 2-3 pound weights are enough. Low intensity workouts are fine too.
– For Americans the problem is overeating, not partying – for Indians it is not overeating- it is partying. Watch what you eat at parties. If you think a particular serving is probably 600 calories, it is probably 1200 because you know how party food is made.
Shobha Reddy has agreed to join WNI as our fitness expert. Send in your fitness questions to her using our feedback form.