Amelia German

Aseema talks to the well-travelled Amelia German, who is currently based in the beautiful island of Masirah, just off the coast of Oman. We discuss her incredible journey from Ecologist and Researcher to one of the biggest Yoga trainers in her region. She also shares her take on navigating the online space and how she seeks to marry her connection with nature and wildlife and her passion for Yoga!

Practising yoga gives me the feeling of calm and contentment, something I cannot find in any other sport or activity.

Hi Amelia! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got into the fitness industry?

I’m originally from England. I moved to Wales at nineteen to study and then to Scotland to do my masters. I then worked there for another six years as a researcher, before branching out to the Middle East- I love to explore life in new cities!  My career teaching yoga started in Bahrain where I was teaching biology in a school for a little bit. I ran an after-school yoga club and from there on it developed into private classes with some people in Bahrain. I also started organizing my own events and classes such as hot yoga in the desert, full moon yoga and the like. Just something different; something to bring together my passions for both nature and yoga! During this time, I would always come to Oman to explore the mountains and all these beautiful places. That’s how I eventually moved here.

I like to encourage people to get outside and get that Vitamin D, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. It’s a pretty big problem in the Middle East- somehow, despite having the most sun anywhere, people here have got the highest Vitamin D deficiency! I think people shouldn’t be so worried about putting themselves through extremes. It’s not that bad to be sweating or to feel hot or cold because that is how you strengthen your body.

How did you come into yoga?   

The first time I did yoga was when I was 21, at University. One of my friends invited me to join her at a yoga course for beginners and I ended up really liking it! I studied Biology and went on to study Ecology and Environmental sustainability in Scotland and then worked as an ecologist there, but through all this time I practised yoga as a personal interest. I’d wanted to do the teacher training for years but I didn’t get around to it till four years ago (I did my teacher training in Spain in 2016). It’s a big investment and when I was just starting my career as a graduate, I couldn’t necessarily go through with it. When I moved to Bahrain, I taught both biology and yoga at school and realised I wanted to focus on yoga much more.  

What do you love most about teaching?

That it’s physical, it’s active, and it’s very much about dealing with people! Most of my time as a researcher was just me on my own going through muddy fields or rainy mountains or sitting at the lab on my computer- which was really amazing, but I was always on my own! I used to work as a teaching assistant and through that I learned that meeting and teaching other people and learning what it means to be a good teacher was something I was really passionate about. So that’s what brought me into teaching.

But it’s not like I’ve put away my career in biology and ecology, no way! That’s why I’m on this island, which is very fascinating in that aspect. I hope at some point to be able to tie these two passions, nature and yoga, together.

Any challenge yoga helped you overcome?

When I was doing this training, I honestly could not imagine standing in front of a class of students. I was so nervous! It can be very scary at first. Just the fact that I’m now able to stand in front of a class of students and that people are enjoying it and gaining something from it, has really helped boost my confidence.

Even doing online classes now has me pushing myself out of my comfort zones. You’ve got to keep telling yourself that it will make you stronger and more confident each time.

Are you affiliated with a club, or do you freelance?  

I used to teach at a resort here, before lockdown. We were actually beginning to organise yoga retreats for tourists- it was supposed to happen now actually! Of course, we’ve had to put a pause on all that for now. But otherwise, I teach clients online mostly. There isn’t a very big awareness about yoga among the people on the island just yet, so I try not to limit myself to this geography.

What does a day in your life look like?

My schedule is really varied actually because I’m always doing different things. Now in lockdown I usually I have one or two classes a day online and then maybe I’ll be contacted to deliver a talk about yoga. For instance, the other day I conducted a corporate workshop on yoga and how it could be used for stress management. Tomorrow I’ll be starting a yoga teacher training for six hours a day for three weeks, which will be my second teacher training. My days are very busy- they seem to just fly by! I’m also still working with the hotel to organise yoga retreats, to be ready for when everything opens again. I also spend time in communicating with relevant companies online- which is how I came across Aseema Health actually! And it’s great to see opportunities such as this for working together towards developing a professional offering and bringing yoga to more and more people.

Could you tell us more about your Instagram presence?

I started my Facebook page about four years ago and Instagram just after. I spend a lot of time travelling around Oman, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain so I share pictures from all of these places. Most of my content is yoga related but it also shows something about the place I’m in. It also helps to just create that awareness, because especially on the island, yoga hasn’t fully grown into what it is in many other parts of the world today.

I’d been meaning to try going online for a while, but I just didn’t get round to it because there was no real ‘need’ as such, you know. I felt a bit self conscious too, so I kept putting it off. Then as soon as lockdown started and everyone was indoors, I decided ‘that’s it, we’re starting tomorrow’. I mean I couldn’t have in-person classes, so it was great having people come to learn twice a day and being able to connect with them. Quite a few of the people who take online classes from me now actually come from those who were following the page.

Your page is incredible! Are you following any kind of digital strategy?

I don’t really have a digital “strategy” as such. I do it more in a way that I’m totally just being myself; I’m not trying to show something to gain more followers. Any videos or content I have on there right now has a ‘homemade’ feel to it since I’ve just started, so there’s no professional lighting or anything! It’s just – “this is how I am” and if people like it and they want to join then that’s great; everyone is welcome!

Where do you get your fitness inspiration from?

There’s a lot of learning that comes with training others. There are a few teachers that I really like at this moment- one is Yoga with Kassandra. She’s very clear, and I really like her sequences. Travis Eliot as well, his style is completely different. He teaches power yoga and I like how he films himself teaching students real time.  

I also really admire the teachers at the Sivananda school (one of the biggest schools in India). I was doing their classes everyday.

Could you tell us about your 15-day challenge?

Yeah! I’m doing a 15-day weight loss challenge where people join me for two yoga sessions a day. I don’t give them a strict diet plan because you know, these people are coming from all around the world. I just give guidelines on when to eat and what not to include, but not what their breakfast should be or anything. I think with lockdown people are keen to have regular classes, which is very beneficial for them. My main focus is more on getting yoga into their daily lives and making it a daily habit.

I teach yoga for beginners, deep stretching, vinyasa yoga and meditation as well. So I have different classes for anyone who’s looking to learn and I think these kinds of challenges for a specific number of days is a great way to start.

Do you have any advice for trainers looking to enter the industry?

I would say, just the desire to do it is enough. A lot of people think “I’m not good enough at yoga or “I’m not flexible enough” but the point of teacher training is that you learn all of this. From going to regular classes to doing your yoga teacher training, your learning grows exponentially. Not all of the people in there are really flexible or have been doing yoga for years. All you have to do is have the desire and commitment to do it. And everything else will come into place, your understanding of yoga, your confidence.

Carlos Méndez

Aseema talks to Abu Dhabi based Carlos Méndez about life as one of UAE’s most sought-after fitness specialists. With an ever-growing base of happy clients who vouch for this effectiveness, Carlos certainly knows a thing or two about keeping fit and active. His highly effective and customized training methods have made him one of the most in-demand personal trainers not just in the UAE, but also as far away as Mexico, Lebanon, Italy, Spain and Ireland.

Carlos has one of the most interesting and specialized backgrounds that we’ve come across. A double degree Engineer by training, Carlos realized his true calling in Fitness training which he took to with gusto (he is even trained in specialized areas such Neuromyofascial Release in addition to TRX, Yoga, Pilates, Lagree, UFC, Spin & 7 Lesmill).

Today Carlos continues to be a hugely respected figure in UAE’s fitness industry, as he helps a happy base of clients transform into their most fittest selves. Carlos talked to Aseema about the fitness principles that he lives his life by.

“Getting to the gym is the first step. Being consistent in the gym, that’s what’s going to get you results.”

Hi Carlos! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got into the fitness industry?

I was born and raised in Mexico, where I completed University. After that I lived in the States for a year and then in Italy for another, where I got my double degree in engineering. In 2005 I started working in telecommunications till 2009 when the crisis came around. Unfortunately the firm I was with went bankrupt globally. When there’s massive unemployment in the whole country it’s hard to get back on your feet. That’s when I started going to the gym – to release stress. One thing led to another and they told me I could be an instructor at their club! So I went from taking one class to three, then four programs and since 2009 I’ve pretty much been certifying myself in this field. My last certification was in Neuromyofascial Release, and I’m here now, in Abu Dhabi since 2015. Been in the fitness industry for eleven years.

Would you recommend any certifications for those looking to get into the field of personal training?

I recommend that you do a physical education or sports science degree or get some kind of physiology exposure. I was privileged to be born in a family where my dad was a doctor and my mom, a nutritionist. So conversations and habits around healing and keeping healthy were a constant at home so it was never new to me. Bones, muscles, ligament tissues- my dad taught me much about the human body. And they always encouraged me to do volleyball, karate, swimming, so I was always into sports. I could do a 400 m track in under a minute, which was quite fast for a teenager!

Another thing to note – my body was a mess! I had crooked knees. When I was ten years old I used to I sleep with an iron bar between my heels, to set my feet sideways like (think Charlie Chaplin). So there was always this concern about ‘my knees being bad’ and that I was going to suffer if I didn’t exercise.

But yes, I recommend people to study. You can’t really go out there and tell people “Yeah now do ten push-ups and then ten sit-ups” because you saw that in a YouTube workout! You need to know about healing and about the other person’s background.

Could you elaborate a little more on your specialization- Neuromyofascial Release?

Fascia is the connective tissue, the glue which holds us together by connecting one part of the body to another, giving the body much of its strength and support.  Neuromyofascial Release attempts to identify strain patterns in the fascia and their effects on body function, both locally and as a whole.  It is a way to connect your brain to your body more. In a way that if I’m asking you to do a push up, I’m asking you to place your body along the train lines in the anatomy; Tom Myers identified certain lines of the human body and when you move, you move in certain patterns. If done wrong, you are more prone to injury. It’s not something new, we just know more about it recently because it’s influence in this area is being studied more now.

Who are your clients?

I’ve been working with five year olds as well as clients at the age of 65. I go all the way! I work like an engineer; I like to find what’s wrong and fix it. I like to work with kids because it’s still early to fix things. I know exercises that can help prevent illnesses, build better coordination and games to improve their fitness as well. I worked with a client who had stomach cancer and could not move. I work with pregnant women for both pre-natal and post natal. It’s always like, if I can help you, i’ll do it. I don’t specialise in diet and nutrition to be able to guide you but I can help you move, release stress through yoga, Pilates, HIT, TRX etc.

Are you affiliated with a club in the region or do you freelance?  

I’m sponsored by a club here, but I would say I’m more of a freelancer. I do group fitness for studios but I also give services to private clients. Now though, I’ve only been on zoom all through quarantine.

Of course! What has the lockdown been like for you?

I’ve been here in Abu Dhabi the whole time and it’s been pretty good actually.

One thing I’ve noticed is that as much as some people have been stressed about safety in gyms- they’ve found that in an online class they can be on the other side of the screen, where no one is watching them. So even if they were afraid to try something new in a regular class, where they would probably hide in the back, they’re more open to trying it out now, behind the safety of their screens. Normally as instructors you’re worried that that person at the back is going to hurt herself. But now because of the screens, I can just look and correct it. Zoom gives them a lot more confidence. Even now, with gyms opening, people are saying, “Carlos, can you keep online classes for me please, I don’t want go back to the gym!”

What is the current state of clubs and studios in your region?

Clubs are doing a great job of following the guidelines of the sports council and the Abu Dhabi Health & Safety Authorities to keep people safe. They’ve demarcated areas, and you have to stay within that square- whether you jump, run whatever, you don’t get off the square. I think it’s fun- in the past we’ve seen members sometimes fight for their spot in a class!  And another thing is the sweat. Imagine a very intense class where you are running, jumping, doing burpees, the whole deal, and you have the person that never sweats next to the guy that is dripping in sweat. So where there was maybe some discomfort, now there’s none because everyone is isolated from each other!

Do you think online classes may be here to stay?

I think there’s going to be a good balance between people going back to the gym and those staying at home.

I don’t think it’s going to be a trend; I think it’s just the need of the hour. I want to hope that in the future, there won’t be the fear of a virus and we can go back to the real normal, not this new normal, but one where we can be closer to each other. But in the meantime I think a lot of people will like to stay home, more because of the fear of putting themselves and others at risk than anything else.

“Seeing or hearing about the positive impact of what I do in people’s lives- that’s what keeps me going.”

Are you building an online presence?

I was never really comfortable putting myself out there doing push-ups, showing my six pack and saying come to my class! I was always a word-of-mouth guy. This virus forced me to open Instagram. I think I got on Instagram two years ago, and maybe had what, 4 posts in the whole of that year? But since March, there’s been this pressure to get out there. My plan is to have a website sometime soon, to have structured programs. But for now, I’ve just been working. So far I’ve been getting more clients and more classes purely based off recommendations, which I’ve been really thankful for.

What is your favourite part about this career?  

Looking or hearing about the positive impact of what I do in people’s lives. As an engineer I was happy telling myself that by connecting centres at Chicago or New York I was helping a lot of people! I was happy doing it, but now that I get to see the person come in to my class regularly and say that they feel so much better, or that they don’t have this pain anymore, or that their anxiety has reduced- that’s what keeps me going. That’s what makes me want learn more. If there’s something I don’t know, I want do a course about it so that I can learn, and I can help. That’s the thing I love most about what I do.

One memorable moment in your journey that you’d like to share with us?

That’s hard. There’s too many that could make me cry right now!

One was the client with cancer. He had his tumour removed. We were still exercising while he had it. His passion was playing soccer. So naturally, he was very frustrated mentally and emotionally, because of the feeling of being stuck. Through coaching, breathing, yoga and other exercises we started doing, he’s now back at it and how! He went back to playing soccer three months after his surgery!

What does a day in your life look like?

Very busy thank god! I’ve had a lot of work; I have a lot of private clients that I train online so I schedule them back to back. I’m connected to the phone the whole time! I start from 6:30am till 8 at night. I’ve also started doing classes for Mexico on request so I now teach in Spanish 3 times a week! And then log in here in the UAE. Lockdown has me working with clients in Lebanon, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Mexico. So yeah, it gets pretty busy. I do switch off in the weekends though! I take that time for myself.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start working out or start yoga?

It’s all about your mind set. People think that just going to the gym will change them. Getting to the gym is the first step. Being consistent in the gym, that’s what’s going to get you results. Find a schedule that works for you. And stick to it. You don’t have to go through painful workouts to get results, but it’s about getting there and getting moving.

Don’t look for results in the short term. Wait for a month. If you want to weigh yourself (which I do not recommend), weigh yourself at the end of a month, don’t do it everyday. Get into the mind set that you’re going to create a new lifestyle.

Also, focus on what you eat. That’s the game changer. Again, it’s a lifestyle choice, not a 4-day detox. Temporary solutions will get you temporary results. Mind set is the key.

Do you have any advice for trainers looking to enter the industry?

Be humble. Be honest with what you’re learning and what you’re giving to the client. Don’t try to sell because you’re in a hurry to sell. If you don’t know, say you don’t know, and learn. Help people in whatever way you can. In the end that’s what this is about.

Hari, Bangalore: Lifestyle Coach

Hari is one of the acknowledged trainers in Bangalore and has an active emphasis on lifestyle factors in his training methodology. Read on to know Hari better.

Hi Hari! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got into the fitness industry?

I’ve always been an active guy right from childhood. I loved trekking and the outdoors- I could never sit at a desk and work 8 hours a day! I did my diploma, worked in the defence segment for two years and then did four years of engineering.

After working for about ten years, I decided to leave corporate in 2008. I returned to India from Germany where I was working and decided to start something of my own. That’s around when my fitness journey really started. Given my background, I took up a lot of widely recognised international fitness courses. Even now, I do at least one new course every year from anywhere in the world, just to keep learning!

I believe fitness is a lifestyle. A lifelong journey. So I don’t actually call myself a fitness trainer- I call myself a lifestyle coach.


Could you elaborate a little on your role as a trainer?

I have been in the fitness industry in Bangalore for about 20 years.

I believe fitness is a lifestyle. A lifelong journey. So I don’t actually call myself a fitness trainer. I call myself a lifestyle coach because it’s been quite the process, understanding various perspectives of fitness. I’ve trained in pretty much most of the forms out there – Water Therapy, Cross Fit, Olympic lifts, Healing Yoga from Tibet, Strala Yoga from New York, Ashtanga Yoga, Pilates – you name it. I am a freelancer and outside of offering personal training in and around Bangalore, I also take classes for a couple of fitness companies here.

I’m also part of an education dance trust, Attakalari Centre of Movement Arts, where we run one of the most internationally recognised dance diplomas. I deliver a syllabus on body commission and injury prevention. People come from around the world to train here.

What is your training specialisation and who is your training ideal for?

A lot of my clients are businessmen; they don’t want to become body builders, but yes, by and large everyone wants to be fit, or rather, healthy, and everyone has their own lifestyle. So within that, as trainers, we aim to create a balance.

I would say my specialty lies in treating clients who suffer from chronic pain and those recovering from injuries or surgery. Usually when you go to a doctor, you receive symptomatic treatment. My approach is geared more towards addressing the root cause, “Why does this person have this pain and why is it coming regularly?”

That’s most of my client base. We don’t get to train athletes all the time! One of my clients is 76 and he stands on one leg on a Bosu ball!

How has this lockdown experience been for you?

Lockdown has been a very different ballgame for me. When you’re not working for a gym or a company, there’s a lot of uncertainty. I’ve seen a lot of people move online to market themselves; I myself have done a little bit on Instagram, given the need of the hour, but otherwise I have never really been an online guy, right from childhood.

Is online going to stay?

I think so yeah. Everything is moving online. There is the convenience of doing everything sitting inside your house. Although, I go around telling people to avoid sitting with these gadgets. They cause so many issues, especially down the line. 

I attended a medical conference last year, where the committee said they expected an exponential boom in problems associated with the trapezium muscle, over the next 3-4 years.

Trapezium muscle?

It’s also know as the emotional muscle (back of your neck, at the base) – it works as per your mood. The whole concept of yoga, meditation and “stress management’’ is targeted at alleviating the pressure on this muscle. You hold a mobile or a bag-  this muscle is constantly active.

Sit for hours on a gadget or your computer? Your traps is definitely active! 

These become chronic pains and the muscles become weaker. So many problems can come from just poor posture. The human body is designed to move, climb, run. That’s why we say sitting is the new cancer. If somebody completes an intense workout in the morning, takes a shower and goes to work to sit at a desk – it’s like taking a well-serviced Ferrari and parking it in the garage!

How would you recommend we tackle this?

Do whatever little you can, given your circumstances. Just get out of your chair. Even just standing involves so many new muscles working compared to sitting. That is the main research backing the trend of standing work stations actually.

Food also plays a very important role. You can become healthier by just eating better. But to get ‘fit’ you definitely need to exercise. The journey goes from healthy to fitness. Everything is interrelated. Sleep, food and physical exercise. Not everyone needs to run 20km.

Also try and do any kind of creative work, like dance for example, where both your brain and your body is working. Simple sports like table tennis or badminton that aren’t too aggressive can work too. It’s not all about lifting weights.

People want a silver bullet, but it’s all in the lifestyle- you cannot copy what someone else is doing. See what works for you best.

Do you have any advice for new trainers looking to enter the industry?

I do train a lot of newcomers and guide them on getting into the industry. Again, it comes down to their goals. The moment you say I want to become a trainer you need to know – Who is your target? Do you want to train an athlete or kids? Like any medical professional, you need to develop a varied knowledge base but you then also need to specialise. Don’t try to master everything!

Another thing I would say is that throughout your career, you need to take everything that comes as a learning experience. I’ve had bad experiences, both in corporate and fitness. But the knowledge you gain is never a waste. You never know when it could come in handy.