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

Kara Martin 12:40 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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