Zainab Sarwar is a registered certified power yoga specialist and nutritionist, and has run highly successful yoga studios in Pakistan. She is known for her unique approach in dealing with her clients, because she provides highly personalized support for everything from diet to exercise to help her clients reach their weight loss goals. She has now moved to Dubai and is re-establishing her brand – Moksha Studio Power Yoga. She shares some of her nutrition / exercise with AltMuslimah.
Zainab, how would you describe yourself? A yoga expert? A nutritionist? A life coach?
A Holistic health & Wellness coach would better describe me. I work on changing people’s lifestyle approach through yoga and nutrition.
How long have you been in practice?
Its been 10 years since I became addicted to yoga practice and 5 years since I started teaching it professionally. In 2012, I launched my yoga studio with the name of “MOKSHA STUDIO POWER YOGA “ and till date have delivered more than 2500 classes successfully.
What made you interested in yoga?
I have polycystic ovaries so I had always struggled with weight issues and after my marriage the symptoms actually became worst. I was very depressed, perplexed and my mood swings were at their peak. With multiple attempts to curb my issues, a friend motivated me to attend a yoga class for a change. I attended my first yoga class with Jason Crandall who later became my Mentor in this field. After my very first class, I felt my stress reduce and my focus increase.
The experience left a very positive impact and every passing day, yoga rejuvenated my psychological and physical health. Not only did I feel more connected to myself but my depression vanished and I started thinking more positively about life. I also started losing weight and my PCOS symptoms were almost gone.
Yoga transformed me inside out. Yoga taught me the art of letting go and keep moving on no matter what amount of hardships come in life. After completing my first 21 days of Yoga practice, I was willing to pursue a lifelong journey to explore the human condition. This was a turning point in my life and I realized that if one session could bring such changes in my life, the same can be offered to hundreds of women around me with similar issues. This became a career objective which I have been relentlessly pursuing up until now.
During the course, I went through three miscarriages and an ankle repair surgery and it was because of Power Yoga that I healed quickly from all the physical, emotional and psychological traumas. Through sadness, depression, happiness, anxiety and joy – Yoga has allowed me to experience myself and the world around me in a way that is honest, humble, skillful and energetic. Now I am committed to yoga for life.
Do you think a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of practicing yoga?
Not really! Actually people come to my class with a general perception that yoga is a very easy practice in which you sit cross-legged, do some breathing exercises, meditate and that’s how you lose weight and get all the potential benefits.
In my sessions, I don’t just instruct my students while standing separately at the front of the room. I teach, train and supervise each and every person myself. People generally get intimidated about the idea of trying intermediate or advance poses but I make them comfortable first and never push them beyond their body potential.
What advice would you give to women who feel like they don’t have time to set aside time to go to the gym? Should they focus more on their diet or exercise?
Both diet and exercise go hand in hand. Healthy diet is important to lose weight on scale where as exercise is very critical in sculpting your body shape post weight loss. So many women do diets and lose weight but still after losing about 10 kg of weight, their fat is still hanging around their bodies. On the other hand, those who do exercise with diet successfully drop their dress sizes as well as their weight on scale and look more sculpted.
You must have heard about 80/20 theory where 80% is contributed to diet and 20% to exercise respectively. That 20% of exercise should be based upon the right approach otherwise your body suffers. So if you are eating right and exercising wrong, the whole combination will turn out as a disaster for you and vice versa.
I would like to give one piece of advice to women: Give yourself due importance if you want other people around to give you importance. Take one hour of your day out for yourself, as no investment is better than investing on yourself. Even if they can’t join any gym or workout session, go for a 30 minute walk daily and watch what you are eating as you eventually become what you eat.
One of the things you are known for are your 21-day yoga and weight loss sessions, where people are given individualized weight loss diet plans and asked to attend five days of yoga. You set up WhatsApp groups in which everyone sends pictures of all their meals that day, and openly discuss their weight. Is there a reason you encourage that level of openness in the class?
When I started my professional journey, I realized after sometime that people generally lose their motivation after a week if left alone on their diet therapy so I devised this 21 days Power Yoga Fitness Challenge in which I offer exercise and nutrition solutions under one roof. These specifically designed 21 different workouts are so effective that people start seeing results as soon as from their 2nd or 3rd class. People must also send pictures of each of their meals into the group WhatsApp.
I normally take measurements on day 1 of the challenge and repeat those measurements after day 3 and everyone loses about 2-3 inches off their overall body that boosts up their self-esteem and confidence. I set up a WhatsApp group for nutrition part so as to keep everyone motivated. I encourage this level of openness in my class because women generally suffer from self-esteem issues and have so many underlying psychological and behavioral issues. When everybody posts their meal pictures, talk about their struggles and weight then those with particular issues can actually relate to them in a most positive way.
I have witnessed my clients’ mood and behaviors change. This approach of including everyone in a group works like a supportive community where everybody is encouraging each other without judging anyone. If a client loses some weight on scale and post it in the group, everybody congratulate them and at the same time get their motivation that if that person can do it then so can we. So this 21 days fitness challenge is just more than a weight loss class. It is designed to change them physically, mentally, socially and psychologically.
Have you found that a lot of women find it difficult to openly discuss their weight problems and tell you what they actually eat on a daily basis?
Yes, it’s a very common problem with women and mainly because we live in a very judgmental world especially towards women. Women go through a lot during their lifetime i.e. menstrual cycles, pregnancies, breast-feeding, contraceptives and menopause etc. Their hormones and stress play a major role in their weight management but generally people judge them on their looks and body appearance that actually lowers their self-confidence.
In my sessions, nobody judges anyone on any basis. It’s a very friendly class where I am more connected with my clients. If they don’t feel comfortable about anything, they talk to me privately about it. I never push them to openly discuss that they don’t want to. After getting comfortable in our supported environment, they don’t find it difficult anymore to discuss openly about their struggles.
Do you think self-esteem plays a role in the physical health of your clients?
Yes definitely. The lower one’s self esteem is, the more mistakes they tend to make to lose weight quickly like using over the counter weight loss drugs, starving themselves and following fad diets or drinks which actually adds up to their level of frustration. Being consistent is the key for losing weight. One needs to be patient and realize that weight loss will not happen overnight just like weight gain didn’t happen overnight.
What have you found to be the biggest hurdles for people who are overweight in joining a gym or a yoga class?
Their self-image, self-esteem and motivation level are the biggest hurdles. The human body has been created by God in a way in which if we will love and respect it more, it will start showing positive results soon and the more we reject and ignore it, the more problems it will create for you.
Are there one or two cases you have dealt with who have had especially stellar results?
There are a lot of cases with stellar results but some are really close to my heart. I will particularly share two of them with the readers.
A nine-year-old child named “Muhammad” came to me a year ago. The child was suffering from Cerebral Mild Palsy (CP) and had a growth of a 4-year-old child. He was mute but he could hear properly. He didn’t use to even turn sides on bed, walk or sit without support. He had athetoid (jerky movements) and his mind response was really bad. I used to call his name 20 times to make him respond to me. It was like a test case for me as I was doing my research on effects of yoga on special children. I decided to run four different therapies on him in a one-on-one session daily for 1.5 hour. The child hadn’t had any success with any physiotherapist in past so it was quiet challenging for me. I conducted a mix of therapies on him.
After one month into the therapy, he showed amazing results. He started to sit without support, was able to turn sides and bend his arms and legs. His athetoid had improved almost 80% and his mind response became so much better that he started responding me back almost immediately after being called. His parents were amazed at his results. After 3 months into the treatment, he started to stand with support and his hands grip became really strong. He used to love coming to the sessions. I never used to push him beyond his limits but I used to treat him like any healthy child because he has a heart just like other children and that is why he started trying his best to improve himself. I could see the motivation in his eyes and actions. After six months into the treatment, he started to sit independently on the toilet seat, started brushing his teeth and starting to make sounds after which he started attending session with a speech therapist and then got admitted into special children school in Islamabad. This case is very close to my heart since I feel I really touched his life. CP children can never be 100% treated but Power Yoga definitely improved his and his parents’ quality of life.
Another case involved a 38 year old woman came to me 4 years ago. She was one of the very few swine flu survivors in Islamabad about 5 years ago. The left side of the body was really suffering from that fatal disease effects. She used to walk with one crutch in hand and used to have inhalers thrice a day. When she joined me, she was emotionally, physically and psychologically traumatized and her husband was not in favor of her joining a yoga class as according to him she was only wasting her money. After a month into a yoga practice, her inhaler intake reduced to once per day and she was able to walk without crutches. She could even climb up the stairs slowly. Her husband was so amazed at her recovery and she got her self-esteem back.
Interview by Uzma Mariam Ahmed, a Dubai-based lawyer and the chair of AltMuslimah’s Advisory Board, and also one of Zainab’s clients.
Zainab shall be writing monthly columns on yoga, diet, nutrition and life for altMuslimah. Please send in your questions for her by contacting altMuslimah or by reaching her at +971 52 986 5868 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.