In a day and age where impeccable, air brushed models and celebrities set the standards of beauty and fitness, women often dream of achieving the impossible. We incorporate artificial quick fixes into our lives that eventually lead us away from our goal in the long term, whether it’s better skin or thinner legs. However, there are some women who’ve managed to keep their heads at a time when botox and surgery seem to be the acceptable answer; women who have pioneered ventures that promote healthy living without compromising on aesthetics. These three heroes understand that looking good isn’t merely a matter of creating a beautiful façade but in fact, comes from a harmonious mind, body and soul. Amna Shaikh, Zainab Abbas and Shehnaz Minallah are inspiring women who prove that the ingredients you need to reach your ideal of beauty aren’t to be found in a glass jar, but within yourself.
Amna Shaikh, daughter of couturier Nasreen Sheikh, opened her spa, Arammish (meaning tranquility in Persian), close to a decade ago. A yogi as well as a UK-trained make-up artist and holistic healer, Amna started Arammish with the aim of providing a total wellness program. Based on holistic and natural therapies that cater to all issues, whether mental or physical, Arammish offers a fusion of healing techniques that have over the years been discarded or forgotten in lieu of allopathic treatments. The spa offers a diverse range of natural and organic therapies ranging from Ayurveda to aroma and even the little-known chromotherapy, which uses light in the form of colour to balance “energy” lacking from a person’s body.
The resounding success of Arammish and the fact that it is now the go-to beauty spot for Lahore’s socialites and celebs prove women’s willingness to embrace the natural, says Amna. "What sets Arammish apart from other salons and spas in the country is not only the variety of treatments we offer but also the fact that I’ve tried my best to source as much material as I can locally. All my staff is Pakistani and trained to an international standard. I am personally against the concept of borders but I firmly believe in working with and promoting every aspect of our country. Also, for our custom built salon near the FCC park in Gulberg, we opted for solar panels as our electrical source in order to remain as organic as we possibly could." Amna strongly believes that the Arammish experience should mean all-encompassing well-being, hence the spa also offers health food options and an organic juice bar. So while you pamper yourself with a papaya facial or strawberry and cream hair mask, you can treat yourself guilt-free to a tuna salad sandwich or a platter of hummus with whole-wheat bread.
40-something Zainab Abbas is a Pilates instructor who also introduced the Route Two health supplement store in Lahore. One look at svelte Zainab is all that is required to convince anyone of the effectiveness of Pilates as the chosen form of exercise. The soft-spoken instructor fell in love with Pilates while vacationing abroad and felt a connection that hasn’t wavered since. She offers personal training sessions at her studio (pricey, albeit worth the money) while also offering Zumba, yoga (with visiting instructors) and Pilates with girls she has trained herself over the years. Named after its German inventor, Joseph H. Pilates, this form of exercise comprises of over 500 different controlled and precise movements designed to strengthen without adding bulk.
According to Zainab, Pilates is a great alternative for women who want to tone their body and strengthen their core without adding ungainly muscle or enduring endless hours of sweating at the gym. It is suitable for all ages and body types and Zainab swears by its effectiveness in weight loss, giving the example of a client who went from size 14 to 8 with just Pilates and a controlled diet. However, for Zainab the ideal body is neither waif-thin nor super muscular, but simply one that belongs to a calm and happy mind, free of any aches and pains and that is what she endeavours to achieve for all her clients.
Shehnaz MinallahThere is no denying the dynamic energy that resonates from Shehnaz Minallah, energy that even the most skeptical cynic can’t ignore. "We all know peace comes from within but no one quite knows how to get there," Shehnaz laughs. Shehnaz helps people connect with themselves and attain inner peace through the erudition of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living Foundation. The program combines ancient wisdom with modern science to deal with afflictions of the mind, body and soul. It focuses on breathing techniques to help each person find their center and reconnect with themselves in a manner they never knew possible. It increases personal awareness and allows the body to release all its stress with the exhalation of each breath. According to Shehnaz, who became enamoured by the school of thought at a particularly dark juncture in her life, by day three of the two-week long course when rhythmic breathing is introduced, the person is already beginning to experience mental tranquility.
Shehnaz was first introduced to the Art of Living while finalizing an acrimonious divorce and dealing with depression caused by an empty nest syndrome. She admits that while it might sound ludicrous to many, something as simple as deep breathing helped her fight depression without the aid of any medication. The breathing calms the nervous system and helps the brain deal with stressful situations better. While many may view this hypothesis with skepticism, there is no side effect to meditation and one can only benefit from it. The frenetic pace of life these days and the inability of many of us to disconnect from our hectic schedules leave little time for introspection or the chance to simply put up one’s feet and relax. At moments like these, the Art of Living and the meditative practices it teaches can aid a person in attaining stability and peace.
Zainab Abbas and Shehnaz Minallah’s photographs courtesy Hello! Pakistan