What does it mean to feel empowered? For me… it’s being classy, sassy and a little bit badassy 😉
I feel empowered when I am able to push myself so hard just to prove to myself that I am capable of achieving just about anything in all aspects of life. Currently, I’m finding empowerment through my personal health & fitness goals…something that I was never strong in while growing up.
What has recently been extremely satisfying and empowering as a Muslim-American woman is fitness and weight training. Never in a million years did I ever think I would enjoy training and pushing my body to “work” as much as I do now. Never did I think I could train my taste buds to fall in love with wholesome and real foods.
Growing up in a traditional + very non-athletic Pakistani/Indian household, I hated physical fitness class at school (like I literally dreaded it to the point where I would force myself to become sick some days so I wouldn’t have to go). I never played any physical sport – I was a cheerleader for one year and then I quit. I basically hated anything that caused me to sweat or caused any form of discomfort to my body. I was never competitive and often didn’t care when it came to being athletic. I did not have the confidence to strive for perfection in the athletic department.
Then, shortly after I got married, I was diagnosed with a health syndrome which I learned could cause various problems to my body in the long run. Physically, I started to see some effects of the condition I have and at that point, I knew I had to do something about it for my future self. Additionally, seeing my parents be diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and strokes has motivated me further to improve my own lifestyle to possibly prevent all of that as I get older.
Once the realization of wanting a change kicked in within myself, it was then I decided to dive into the empowering world of health and fitness with a lifestyle change.
Has it been easy? Definitely not. Attainable? Absolutely. But most of all, it has been so empowering. Every drip of sweat, ache, or rep has made me stronger than yesterday. It has given me confidence in my abilities to complete various tasks. It has made me happier.
Fitness has helped me become a better version of myself.
In an effort to encourage more women to train, lift weights, or simply just live a happier and healthier life, I want to share a few things that this sport has made me feel as a woman. I hope it sparks even an ounce of motivation or inspiration in anyone who wants to improve themselves in some way.
1. Strong is the new skinny/fit. “Forget skinny… I’m training to be a Badass.” I have always been “skinny-fat” which made me look slightly dis-proportioned. I think the lack of exercise + the occasional treadmill rides were my secrets to being “skinny-fat”. Besides the physical aspect of it, strength training has helped me manage my PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). For me, building strength is working much better than trying to be skinny ever did. Forcing myself to run on the treadmill in my parent’s basement for 45 minutes did nothing but force me to go through the motions, make me feel weak, and basically hate my life/working out in general. Instead, taking the strength training approach with light cardio along the way has made me not only look stronger but feel so much more satisfied when I am able to lift or carry heavy things!
My advice: If you are like me and are starting from the way bottom down on your fitness journey, do not set a goal to be “skinny” or “bigger” but instead set a goal involving a lifestyle change – make your goals to be “fit, active, healthy and strong.” Essentially, that is what will help you reach your ideal fitness goal. I promise. Focus on health… not weight. Start with incorporating some resistance and strength training into your routine. If you are working out at home, buy some basic essentials: Yoga mat, dumbbells (please purchase some higher in weight than 5lbs), kettlebell, resistance bands, stability ball, etc.
2. Fitness is about so much more than weight loss or gain. This is a mental game. Your mind is more powerful than any muscle. Use it wisely, flex it. When I first committed to a new relationship with fitness, it was mainly about looking better and having more energy on a daily basis as well as trying to sustain my health and a whacko menstrual cycle that was affected by my diagnosed syndrome (PCOS). Within a few months, this changed to a more internal feeling of happiness. Why? Because I changed my mindset. I knew that I would have to put in lots of time, hard work, dedication and discipline while juggling a normal life with a husband, work, family and friends. I knew I would have to step outside of my non-athletic comfort zone. But once I changed my negative [full of excuses] mindset, I was able to create a routine in my lifestyle that allowed things to become easier and more second nature. I am now proud to say that health and fitness have literally become part of my lifestyle. I am not trying to be fit or healthy for the summer but fit FOREVER. I actually look forward to my training days. I used to love shopping to release stress… now I think I rather be at the gym. There has never been a day where I regret that I worked out. Of course I have days where I am exhausted and of course I do give myself those day(s) off to gather myself, but the minute my blood is pumped and muscles are warmed up, I can’t wait to kill a training session.
My advice: Your mindset is what can make or break you. Just like how you have to eat to grow – you have to fill your mind with the correct thoughts and outlook. Positivity, belief in yourself, and faith in your goals are key. Surround yourself with people who are honest with you and who inspire, encourage, support, push, and motivate you. This will help your mind bring out thoughts that will only brighten and empower your life. If you want some basic advice or motivation from me, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Your mind is more powerful than any muscle. Use it wisely, flex it.
3. “Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy… and happy people don’t kill their husbands… they just don’t.” My favorite quote from Legally Blonde! But in all honesty, this is more than just quoting a movie. In reality, when we exercise, our bodies release a chemical called endorphins. Not too long ago, I experienced a euphoric feeling, post-workout! I would describe this as a feeling of intense excitement and happiness. About a half hour after returning home from a training session, I told my husband that I didn’t know why, but that I had so much energy, and I was just so excited and happy. “I freakin’ love life.” Alhamdulillah (all praise to God) of course. Mind you, this was after a long day on a work night. This is not the only time I have experienced such a feeling. Ever since I have incorporated fitness into my lifestyle, I am happier, more positive, and can handle stress better. Who doesn’t want to be the happiest and healthiest version of themselves?
My advice: Start by doing simple exercises that you enjoy and that you are capable of doing. Don’t overkill it in the beginning. Fitness should not feel like a chore. It should make you feel happy and proud of yourself. Just because I enjoy weight training or high intensity workouts, does not mean that you will too. Honestly, my fitness journey actually began by simply doing 30 minutes of yoga every other day (shout-out to Erin Motz Yoga series). Eventually, I graduated from this and began to explore strength training. After that, I was doing various random programs I found online (Jillian Michaels, Emily Skye, etc. All great for helping me build some strength and confidence in my abilities). As I progressed, I began to adapt a new lifestyle change with my diet – I’ll talk more about this in another post. In time, my focus started to shift towards wanting to completely transform my disproportional, skinny-fat, weak, and unhealthy body. I was fortunate to meet a great trainer and friend who has helped me learn so much and fall in love with weight training (shout-out to WinTheDayTraining in Connecticut). So, find what fits you and stride from there.
4. Fitness has taught me discipline. “You’re stronger than you think you are… physically and mentally.” If you want to build discipline into your life, try becoming fit. It’s allowed me to follow a more organized routine to help me achieve my goals. Fitness deals with two main things: diet and exercise. Besides disciplining myself to incorporate an exercise routine into my life, disciplining myself to eat the right things has been tough yet attainable. If I don’t plan, I often fail or don’t necessarily eat the most nutritious foods. This basically pushes me further from any small or big fitness goal. So that is why having that discipline to plan and prep my exercises and meals is important to me. It has also disciplined me to have get a better night’s sleep and create a social life schedule. I used to sleep extremely late and then struggled to have energy throughout the next day. Now, because I know I am going to get a tough workout in the next day, I try my best to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily!
My advice: Write it down. When I first started changing up my diet, I would literally make a weekly food schedule and hang it up on my refrigerator. Eventually I didn’t need to do that anymore but every Sunday (ok ok almost every Sunday), I sit down for a quick few minutes to mentally think about what foods I need to prep for the week. This is one form of discipline. Write down your goals or put them in your phone for you to see. This will help you fight the urge to skip that workout or eat that cheesy pizza for lunch. In the end… be stronger than your strongest excuse.
5. When you become FEARLESS… you become LIMITLESS.
Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physically or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. – Bruce Lee.
To me this quote sums up how I view my life now. I think besides childbirth (which I have not gone through yet but I definitely have a fear of going through it someday), testing your limits during a workout is so empowering, especially as a woman. I can’t wait to test more limits! Everyday I feel like I overcome something that used to make me feel uneasy. I’ve always been the go-getter type if I set my mind to something but I’ve also always had subconscious fears, doubts, and negativity. Overcoming the fears of doing things that I’ve always felt I was incapable of doing makes me feel so fearless and gives me a sense of accomplishment. Trying things outside of my comfort zone makes me feel limitless now.
My advice: Imagine your life without fear. Nothing would stop you right? You would become “limitless.” Just like that, if you become fearless and limitless with your fitness life, you can overcome other aspects of your life that cause doubt or distress. So do yourself a favor today and start making a plan for that lifestyle change that you have been contemplating for a while now. Do it for you, and no one else. The sky is the limit.
Be stronger than your strongest excuse.