Date: 10 November 2022 Author: Energise Me
For many Asian women, language is a barrier to physical activity. One Gurdwara in Southampton has found a way to overcome that. Ensuring that every local lady has the opportunity to look after their health.
Many Asian women will talk about exercise but not physically go and do it. A large reason for this in our community, is that many of these ladies don’t speak English. I’ve always exercised, and people constantly ask me: ‘What do you do? We want to get fit.’ These comments got me thinking – our Gurdwara has a sports hall. Indi, my daughter in law, and I wanted to take advantage of that space and introduce it to our local community. Many of whom have diabetes, mental health issues or body pains and we wanted to help them get fitter and look after themselves.
I knew Charlie from previously. For 15/20 years I’ve done her classes. And she’s just brilliant, that’s why I approached her. She’s got a very caring and calm side to her.
I said, “we’ve got a new temple, a new Gurdwara, and we want to open something for the Asian women to encourage them to get fit.”
And that’s what we did.
‘A lot of people don’t understand English, and for them, Harjeet helps them to understand how to do the exercise properly and how it will help our bodies.’ – Anonymous Class Participant
We advertised and opened it to ladies – any ladies – but wanted to make sure that the women who came to the Gurdwara – Asian women – were comfortable. We decided to only host classes term time because a lot of these women are grandmothers who will babysit their children during the holidays. But I volunteer at the Gurdwara for 3-4 hours every day, so I told the group if they ever want to go through anything we’ll take forty minutes and do the exercises together.
We’ve made it as cheap as possible. It would be free, but we must pay Charlie. Ultimately, the more women that come, the cheaper it will be. A lot of ladies who are on their own haven’t got any money, and we wanted to make sure they could take part.
For a lot of these women, this is their only time outside the house. So not only is it a chance to look after their body, but to socialise and make friends. After the class, there’s a chance for tea and a chat. In that regard, the Pilates sessions aren’t just a chance to look after their physical well-being, but their mental health too.
It’s a safe environment, and you need not be shy as it’s women only. I wear my longer dress to encourage women who don’t feel confident wearing t-shirts and tight leggings to still take part. You can wear whatever you’re comfortable in. The aim is to come to this class, feel safe and work their bodies. How they look and what they wear should not be a barrier to accessing physical activity.
‘I had a minor stroke, and it was recommended to do something active and rehabilitate my body. Even when you don’t want to do it, you must remember why you need to do it.’ – Anonymous Class Participant
I am Charlie, I am a mum of 5 children. And I decided when they were quite little that I needed to get out of the house for my mental health. Otherwise, Baa Baa Black Sheep becomes a bit – ahh! So, I went and joined an aerobics and step class and thought to myself – lightbulb moment, I can do this. It wasn’t long before I signed up for a course. I was probably rubbish in the beginning, but that was where my love for fitness started. Before that, I did very little. I wasn’t great at school; I wasn’t in any teams and I was never picked.
Then almost thirty years ago, Pilates came along. I did a course and began to teach that too. I teach spin and I teach step because I need variety. For me, just doing one thing can get boring. And I think that’s the key to the way I practice fitness. Don’t just do one thing, do everything. Keep it interesting, enjoy it.
If I’m brutally honest, you do start coaching for yourself in the beginning. You think to yourself, ‘oh this is a great way to stay fit.’ And then suddenly, you start seeing people flourish, get fitter and get better. Or you see how sad they are, how depressed they are and how in need of support they are. I see now, rather than it just being about me, it’s about other people.
‘Charlie goes above and beyond for me. She has given me exercises specific to my body’s needs. Because of that, my mobility is so much better now.’ – Anonymous Class Participant
Harjeet approached me and asked if I could take on a class that she was looking to start at her Gurdwara. At that time, I didn’t even think that there would be an interpreter. When I got there, Harjeet said, “look I have to do this otherwise they won’t understand, not necessarily the language but the muscles.”
As with all classes, you learn huge amounts as you go along. When you take the time to know participants as people, you become a better teacher. You take on that there’s a problem with language and you learn to be more compassionate. It’s also great for me because I’m learning Punjabi with each class. I say learn… I’ve got 2 words. But you know, that’s two more than I had when I started! And who knows, hopefully by the time I’ve finished, I’ll have 10 more. So, it’s been a real journey for me too.
I feel fulfilled when I leave there because of the situations that some of those women find themselves in. When they arrive, they get that hour to be themselves. To be them, be happy, chat to their friends, learn and become fitter. So, it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s a lovely class to do.
If someone wants to set up something similar, 100% do it. Do it. And do it because it’s the right thing to do. It encourages people who wouldn’t necessarily feel safe. I think that’s a big factor with classes like this, that the community feel safe here. If it was in a hall outside maybe they’d be anxious, maybe they’d be stressed about going somewhere they didn’t know. But because this is their Gurdwara, they’re totally happy. They know Harjeet, they know Indi, it really helps. So, if you can do it, do it. It will make you a happier person for doing it.
‘The class means a lot to me. I really enjoy it. I need my body to be fit and this helps me do it.’ – Anonymous Class Participant
Take that first step in knowing you don’t have to do it. If you’re thinking ‘urgh I’ve got to do a six-week course’, it can be off-putting. While if you go to one class and you hate it, you never have to go again. The chances are if you go somewhere with an instructor who’s really engaging and wants you to be there, you get swept up in that atmosphere. Feeling like you’re a part of it.
So, I would say get out there! Go and try something and if you don’t like that don’t be put off. Try something else. There is an instructor and an activity out there for everyone.
‘We’re trying our best. We’re trying to get women out of the house and support them. And that’s all we can do, because if you’re motivated, you’ll try something new.” – Harjeet
Pilates classes take place at the Gurdwara Khalsa Darbar.