20 Jan 2017
10 min read
Let’s start with your childhood.
I was born in and spent most of my early life in Pokhara. My father worked in the Nepal Police Force, and my mother was a housewife. We were brought up to strictly abide by rules and regulations regarding how we conducted ourselves. My parents always encouraged us to focus on our studies; and although my father was a national-level football player and into sports such as judo and karate, he’d tell me that studying was how I would make something of myself later on in life. That’s why I never thought that I would end up making a living in the health and fitness sector.
So how did you get into the sector?
It’s a long story, so I’ll have to go back many years to explain things. I got married when I was 19, and I went to live with my husband’s family in Singapore, where he was working. I wasn’t prepared for married life, I guess. I’d grown up quite pampered by my family and surrounded by a strong support structure. In Singapore, I didn’t have that, and I started having problems with quite a lot of things. My husband would mostly be travelling on work, and that made things worse for me. Within a few short years of my marriage, I had my two kids—Anjali and Ashutosh—but as rewarding as motherhood was, my life in Singapore was difficult: I was depressed most of the time, and I didn’t have my old support structure to turn to. To make matters worse, after the birth of my second child, I wasn’t eating well or sleeping well, and I had developed back problems. But I knew I needed to take care of my health first if I wanted to take care of my kids.
And you thought you’d heal yourself, at least physically, through exercise.
Yes, you could say getting interested in fitness changed my life. I thought I’d try to get in shape by first trying out aerobics, so I signed up at a gym. I was in such a bad shape that during my first class, I had to ask to take a break five times in the course of one hour. But after that first class, I kept going back for more, and soon, I could see the benefits that exercising brought me.
And as I explored more fitness regimens, it slowly dawned on me that I could perhaps become an instructor and help other women who were in the same boat that I had been in. I thought I could at least help the women in my immediate circle—those who had been through childbirth—get back in shape. I also knew that many women, because of the hormonal changes they go through after childbirth, have problems with depression and so on, and I believed I could help them get back on their feet. So I took an aerobics instructor course certified by the Federation of International Sports, Aerobics and Fitness (FISAF), and two years later, I got certified as a personal trainer too.
But you didn’t want to continue living and working in Singapore?
Things were continuing to get worse between my husband and me—I don’t mean to say he was bad to me or anything. We just weren’t able to resolve our issues. I did work as an aerobics instructor for four years, teaching families of the Singapore Police Force, but I knew I could not continue living with my husband. And we both understood that it would be better for us to go our own ways than carry on our strained relation in front of our kids. So I finally decided, in 2002, to return to Nepal. My kids would stay back with my husband because we knew they would have a better education in Singapore.
How did your friends and family treat you when you returned to Nepal?
My parents had a very difficult time dealing with my divorce. They were very worried about me, and they also had to answer all these questions from all our relatives. When a woman gets divorced in Nepal, it’s very difficult for the family. And it was very difficult for me to explain things to people too. In fact, many of my friends still don’t know that I am divorced. There is so much stigma around divorce that women like me don’t want to reveal our stories to others. And there’s this other feeling that comes with divorce that I still struggle with today—I wasn’t able to provide what one would call a normal family environment for my kids to grow up in.
How did you piece back your life again?
When I returned, I knew that I had to be independent. I knew I couldn’t go back to my parents and ask them to take me in. I also knew that I had to be independent in order to show my kids that we have to try our best even through our tough times. Luckily for me, because I had these certifications, I could find work in health clubs. So I started freelancing at health clubs around Kathmandu. I also wanted to get an education because, as my parents had always told me, education would open doors for me. When I’d gotten married, I was studying in the 11th grade. So now here I was as a 26-year-old seeking to do her intermediates. I enrolled at Padma Kanya Campus, and when I was filling the admission form, the admission officer was shocked that I was thinking of doing my intermediates at that age.
But you didn’t just do your intermediates; you went on to study even more.
Yes, after I got done with my intermediates, I enrolled at St Xavier’s College to do a bachelor’s in Social Work. I kind of had to conceal my age from my classmates. I didn’t look very old, thankfully, and no one caught on that I was much older than them. Through these years, I paid my way by working as fitness instructor. After wrapping up my bachelors, I got a fellowship to do Master of Science in Regional and Rural Development Planning at the Asian Institute of Technology, in Bangkok. I figured that the masters, which I got in 2013, would help me find work in some reputable INGO when I came back to Nepal.
But you let all that go in order to continue as a fitness instructor?
Once I returned home, I met many of my old colleagues, and they all said I should start my own gym, because they knew the clients that I had worked with before were pretty happy with me. Over the years, I had also gotten Zumba-instructor and yoga-instructor certifications—from Los Angeles and Kerala, respectively. Furthermore, I had always enjoyed being a fitness instructor, and I had also put much thought into how a fitness centre could be run. So I put the proposal to my friend and fitness instructor, Rekha Rana, who agreed to become my partner, and together we started Niraamayae in 2013. Rekha lives in Australia today, so these days, I manage the centre.
What’s unique about Niraamayae?
We were probably the first fitness place to create a ladies-only gym among other gyms. I’d seen how women often felt awkward working out in front of men, but here, they can work out without feeling embarrassed and so on. We have also placed a lot of emphasis on conducting assessments of our members so that we can tailor fitness regimens to fit their needs. After they join our centre, we make sure to encourage them all the time to stay the course. Niraamayae is also a fitness academy—meaning we train people who want to become fitness instructors. So far, we have trained 30 such individuals already.
What advice would you give to those who want to become fitness instructors?
I would tell them that first and foremost, they need to dream big. And as for the practical aspects, I’d start by saying that they need to get certified. For women, I’d like to tell them that you don’t have to just think about being Zumba and aerobics instructors. You can become weight trainers too. There’s nothing you can’t do if you push yourself to grow. Actually, that’s also what we try to have the members of Niraamayae believe.