Asma Hilal Lootah: Building a happy, healthy business around Pilates

Kara Martin 29/05/2014
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Spanking new location: Asma has personally supervised the construction of The Hundred's new two-storey facility in Jumeirah.

Fitness guru and inventor Joseph H. Pilates once said: “Physical fitness is the first prerequisite of happiness”. 

And UAE local Business Administration graduate turned Pilates advocate Asma Hilal Lootah, founder of the award-winning The Hundred Pilates Studio, is passionate about spreading that happiness. 

As of this month, the Emirati has a bigger, better space of her own in which to do just that.

For the past six years The Hundred have held quietly buzzing residence in a cosy white and lime-green space down a dimly lit corridor in a block at Dubai Healthcare City, but recently celebrated the soft opening of their own spacious yet intimate two-storey villa in Jumeirah.

Now known as The Hundred Wellness Center, services extend beyond Pilates, and everyone from male and female, local and expat fitness enthusiasts, dancers, the elderly and injured, even CrossFitters, have been walking through their doors to reap the countless benefits of tried-and-true exercise as well as other healthy lifestyle choices.

The only word Lootah – whose brand won SPIA’s ‘Best Health and Fitness Facility in the UAE’ award in 2013 – can think of over and over to describe the milestone her impact on the growth of local fitness is “proud”.

Q How long has this project been underway?
A It’s such a long story. While I’ve been running the old studio for six-and-a-half years now, an opportunity came while there. My dad offered me an old villa in Jumeirah to relocate to. This was after he saw and believed in my determination to succeed in the fitness industry, he said he’d help me. 

This project started at the end of 2011. The villa was in a very bad condition so I demolished the whole thing, to the shock of my father, and the spot evolved naturally from a one-storey project to a two-storey one.

Now there’s room not just for our usual Pilates services (Mat, Chair, Pole, Cadillac, Reformer etc.), but we’ve also added a Personal Trainer (Derryn Brown), Physiotherapist (Nora Straeter), a Homeopath and Nutritionist (Sean Penny), a Body Composition and Lifestyle Specialist (Marti Susanne Hobby). They're all people that I personally have been going to in Dubai.

I’m really into health and wellness myself and see myself as an example to my clients, and these are some of the people that have personally helped and guided me a lot, so I thought why not share them with the community.

We even made room for a functional training suite, where our personal instructors will be working. It’s going to have everything, kettlebells, Bulgarian bags, weights etc. 

And then another room we’ve kept mostly for yoga, but it may occasionally hold workshops; for example I was thinking of collaborating with the guys at Art of Living, who run lovely workshops in Dubai on breathing, meditation, yoga, and so on. 

We also have a healthy juice bar/café on site, accessible to anyone in the area.

While this centre exists for profit, it was really also done for the people, to provide everyone with the tools to be healthy and happy.

Were you able to tap into the Emirati community and get them interested in Pilates? How has your client base changed over the years?
Yes, I have a good advantage being Emirati myself and can speak to curious Emiratis in Arabic about Pilates and its benefits, see what they’re looking for, their concerns. 

Things have changed a lot since we first entered the fitness industry, it is booming here and a lot more locals are getting involved.

I wouldn’t say it’s a fad but everyone is really into taking care of their health.

And you know what, whether they come to my centre or go to someone else’s, I am happy either way, this is good.

But I’ve been really fortunate in that everyone has been spreading good news about The Hundred and through word of mouth we’ve gathered clients young and old, Emirati and expat, a lot more males too, all types.

I’m still trying to get my dad to try it. I will make him come, don’t worry [laughs].

And CrossFit converts?
Yes, they’re seeing how Pilates can complement what they do, help them to lift (Olympic weights) safely, for example.

I’m just so proud and happy to see the community grow this way.

You were in an office job for years before the idea came about to open The Hundred. Can you share more about that huge leap and how your passion grew for Pilates?
Pilates changed my life. I lived in the US for five years then came back and had this sort of re-entry shock, it was really hard adjusting.

I was quite young and started work at this really hectic full-time job, and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with myself. That’s when I decided to try Pilates with this woman called Kym Parsons. 

You know when you light a match and there’s a spark? She was the spark. She inspired this whole thing, and helped me get through a really difficult time, on an emotional and professional level. 

Her classes were something I looked forward to, I loved, and I never missed a session.

She’s back in South Africa now, and to be honest, lately I haven’t had much time to keep my practice up. I’m in the middle of a Pilates Teacher Training and had to stop because of this huge project. I thought I was superwoman but it was too much, I don’t know anything more hectic than designing and constructing something like this [laughs].

I will go back and finish my teacher training but I won’t be a full-time teacher, it’s more a personal passion. 

I don’t want to be paid for it, I just love it.

And what benefits did you see physically having taken up Pilates?
Pilates works on your inner muscles, not just your superficial muscles. During my teacher training I had to practice teaching and my case study was this really fit trainer. To my surprise she couldn’t do many moves properly because she was so stiff.

You could see that it was just her outside muscles that had had the training, while her deeper lying muscles were not strong enough. Pilates is truly a full body workout, and has helped wonderfully with my breathing also. 

It’s not about how many calories you’re going to burn in Pilates, it’s so much more. For example, Joseph Pilates says in his book ‘Return to Life (Through Contrology)’ that it’s like having an internal shower, and I wanted to stress that because I really do feel it. 

For more information on Lootah's Hundred Wellness Center, visit: www.thehundred.ae

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Train with the experts at Talise Fitness Extravaganza

Jay Asser 28/05/2014
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Mass participation: A bigger venue means more people can now sign up for the extravaganza.

The Talise Fitness Extravaganza is back with the largest exercise event of its kind in Dubai, and will be held on Saturday, May 31, at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai.

The all-day event will feature various group master classes led by Les Mills presenters, with Talise Fitness hosting the event in the Safinah Ballroom of the hotel.

“What we’ve done for the Talise Fitness Extravaganza is to find a suitably large venue so we can really showcase it and make it a bigger day of it,” said Cawley. “The last couple of times we’ve had between 1,200 to 1,600 participants throughout the day.

“It takes some logistical coordination between each Talise Fitness club… just to get all the sufficient numbers of equipment to facilitate this event.

“You’re looking at having an RPM (revolutions per minute) class, so you’ll need up to 200 bikes potentially. So it can be a bit challenging but very rewarding as it makes for a massive wow factor when you have these numbers of people participating in one event.”

Les Mills’ classes are choreographed exercise-to-music sessions, with popular exercises like RPM, an indoor cycling workout.

Other well-known classes which will be featured at the fitness extravaganza are BodyAttack, BodyBalance and BodyCombat.

“They’re great, high energy, impactful classes,” said Cawley. “All the classes are choreographed to music so it’s very vibrant and pretty funky.”

The event is free for Talise members, while discounted options are available for the general public. Registration can be done online for individual classes.

Don’t miss the chance to get together with hundreds of instructors and fitness enthusiasts and get fit, even if it’s for a day.

What: Talise Fitness Extravaganza
Where: Safinah Ballroom, Jumeirah Beach Hotel
When: Saturday, May 31 from 08:00
Contact: Visit www.mefitpro.com to register or call 04 406 8800

THE SCHEDULE

8:00-8:45 – RPM Master Class
9:30-10:30 – BodyPump Master Class
11:00-12:00 – BodyAttack Master Class
12:30-13:00 – CXWork Master Class
13:30-14:30 – BodyBalance Master Class
14:30-15:30 – BodyJam Master Class
15:30-16:30 – Sh’bam Master Class
17:00-18:00 – BodyCombat Master Class

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Lifestyler with Josie McKenlay: The beauty of beetroot

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I love this fresh, earthy root vegetable.

The deep purple root is enjoying a bit of a revival, popping up on the menus of fashionable restaurants, but the dark green leaves are also edible and packed full of nutrients.

It was originally cultivated by the Romans and has a history deeply embedded in Eastern Europe (think Borscht, the Russian soup).

It’s high in fibre, aiding smooth digestion and elimination, rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese and potassium and packed full of antioxidants.

Beetroots have long been used for medicinal purposes, primarily for disorders of the liver as they help to stimulate the liver’s detoxification processes.

The plant pigment that gives beetroot its rich, purple-crimson colour is betacyanin, a powerful agent, which may have a role to play in suppressing the development of some types of cancer.

Beetroot & goats cheese salad
This makes a lovely light lunch or starter for four people

Ingredients
► 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon each of balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of honey and a minced clove of garlic mixed together for the marinade
► 4 fresh, raw beetroots, washed, peeled and VERY thinly sliced
► 200g goats cheese
► Rocket or mixed green salad leaves Marinade the slices of beetroot overnight or for at least a couple of hours.

Slice the goats cheese into large rounds – at least four pieces, but smaller if you wish – and grill on high on an oiled baking sheet for two or three minutes until they soften and start to turn golden brown. To serve, scatter the beetroot slices over the plate, top with the goats cheese, garnish with the salad leaves and drizzle the marinade over the top, together with a little black pepper. Lovely with some warm crusty wholegrain walnut bread.

Beetroot, carrot, orange and cucumber juice
You will need two raw beetroots, two large carrots, two large juicy oranges, a cucumber and grated ginger is optional. Simply juice them all and blend.

Beetroot & lentil salad
This is delicious warm served with grilled, white fish or as a meal of its own with perhaps some salad.

Ingredients
► 300g fresh, raw beetroots
► 200g of lentils of your choice
► Wholegrain mustard, olive oil, honey and lemon juice for the dressing 

If the green leaves are still on the beetroots, cut them off leaving at least 2cms of stalk. Wash them and boil them with their skins on for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on their size. They are cooked when the skins slide off easily. Boil the thoroughly rinsed lentils for roughly the same time. They need to be soft but cooked to a mush. Mix the dressing ingredients in quantities to your taste. The beetroot skins should slip off easily whilst they are still warm. Roughly chop into small pieces and mix with the lentils.

Roasted roots with yoghurt dressing
Fabulous as a vegetarian meal on their own, with quinoa or serve with the roasted meat of your choice and gravy rather than the dressing.

Ingredients
► A selection of root vegetables including beetroots, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, together with whole baby leeks, quartered onions and whole garlic cloves
► Olive oil
► Dressing: Plain yoghurt, dill, lemon juice, horseradish and black pepper

Chop the root vegetables into large pieces and drizzle some olive oil over them all, not too much, and then just turn them and mix them over and over until they are all just about coated. They will take anything up to an hour to roast depending on the size of the pieces. Check and stir three or four times during cooking. Mix the dressing ingredients together to your taste. Serve whilst the vegetables are still warm.

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