In this episode I am talking to Alma about her journey (so far) to creating a studio and a team of women to support other women on their own fitness journeys. I really like her holistic approach and understanding the specific needs of women, many lessons that she had to learn the hard way. I hope you feel inspired and also help with the latest manifestation.
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Hi I'm Jamila and anybody everybody Tottenham is bimonthly podcast, introducing the good people of Tottenham to you. Hello friends. Today we have our second episode about sports. I'm talking to Alma, who has a fitness slash wellness studio here in Tottenham. And we talk about all sorts of things. She's so eloquent. I gotta tell you, just later on there is short, ahm moment where we are joined by her French Bulldog mushroom, and it's a bit of a noise in the background - that's the dog. It's not her being hungry. Okay. I hope you enjoy it. Okay, so today on the pod, I've got alma from Aw, wellness studios. Thank you very much for joining me Alma .
Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.
Okay, Alma, so we always start with people's connection to Tottenham.
I was born in Tottenham. So I grew up in Tottenham, I went to primary school in Tottenham, I went to secondary school in Tottenham. So it wasn't until college that I was out of Tottenham, but even then, I did sixth form and college at the same time. So my sixth form was in Tottenham and my college was in Barnet, so always kind of been within the north, but predominantly, Tottenham.
And where have you seen the changes over the years?
Tottenham has changed a lot. And I think, I mean, I think that can be a conversation within itself. A lot has happened since I've grown up there. You know, I still remember the riots, I was on holiday. When that happened. I remember seeing it on the news and thinking, Oh, my God, how is this happening? You know, it was such a scary time. So there's been some some sad things and good things. I think one of my favorite things about Tottenham though is that we have such a mixed community. And when I've traveled, I've really realized that actually, that isn't the case everywhere. And so what was my normal actually isn't the normal everywhere. And so when I meet people, when I work with clients who haven't come from London, or maybe they haven't been, you know, they haven't been in Tottenham, and it just really shows like, how different upbringings can be when we're just around the same people. So it's one of my favorite things about John, it was just like, how mixed it is. And sadly, we are seeing that that is changing, you know, is becoming more predominantly white, middle class, people with more money are moving into the area, and the people that have been there this whole time are being pushed out. So that's really sad to see,
was it just in Barnet that you were outside? Or have you spent other time outside of Tottenham?
Now aside from that, in terms of education, all of my education was in Tottenham, and then when I went to university that was in Bournemouth, so you can imagine actually, that's a great, you know, transition so Bournemouth to Tottenham, that was a humongous culture clash for me. And I was really not used to that. So I only survived one year. And then I came back.
What did you study? What did you attempt to study?
So I studied media, hair and makeup. And I then went into a career for, gosh, about four or five years, although I had already been doing hair and makeup. Before I even got to uni, I started working very, very young. And it was an amazing career. But it got to a point where it wasn't fulfilling on an emotional level. And I realized that that was really missing for me. And one of my kind of life lessons is that I'm someone that needs to really feel fulfilled by what I do. Otherwise, I'm just not happy. So I left makeup and then I got into health.
Yeah, because when I look at you and your work, it is really very holistic isn't it? officially you are I don't know, how would you describe yourself? Would you say you're personal trainer? Or how do you describe yourself?
So I really like the word coach. And it's something that I've kind of used across the team. So when we're talking about the trainers at the studio, you know, if you look at the qualification, yes, they're personal trainers, but actually what they're doing is coaching women. And I make a point to kind of differentiate that because the standard of personal training, at least from what I've seen in London, is very low. And a lot of what goes on I think is really bad. And it's why I left the commercial gyms because I just felt like I can't be a part of this. So when I opened up the studio, I was like, Okay, how can we clearly differentiate between a personal trainer and a coach? So to me a coach is coaching. You're coaching, you know, through all the lenses so for us, we're looking for that kind of Mind Body Spirit approach, holistic approach 360 to really understand wellness and health. Whereas traditional personal trainesr, it's the typical get down give me five, Yeah, let's go - you know It's very like it's a very male dominated industry, they don't take into consideration women's physiological differences, emotional differences, mental differences, you know, stages of life, all of these different transitions of things that need to be acknowledged. And they're just not.
Yeah, I was gonna ask when you said that you find the standard very low, what are some of your criticisms, so you feel like the male dominance, the maybe aggressive, like hyper masculinity and anything else?
I think very much the approach, as you said, there is like this aggression. And there's also this very strange kind of power play that goes on that I think is very toxic. And I think that for some clients, it can be not sure what the right word is, but it, it can not be a great idea for them to be in that type of a dynamic. So where the trainer is really taking this kind of dominant role, and the client is very in a submissive role. And often, most of the time, it's male to female. And so at the studio, whilst Yes, we lead the session, and you know, we have no knowledge and with a professional, at the same time, there is definitely a balance, you know, that's what we aim to bring to our sessions is this balance of ultimately, the client knows their body the best. And so we can advise, but we need to be led by the client. So if a client comes in, and they are sayint to us oh I've just had an argument with my husband, I'm feeling really upset, we're not going to go and push them to do a crazy session, you know, their nervous system has already taken a hit from an emotional level. So maybe we're going to bring that intensity down, maybe we bring in some yoga, maybe we do some breath work, maybe we work with some oils. And so that is what I think is missing. It's this individualized, person centered approach, you know, it's just like, No, we're here to exercise. We're here to train hard, you know, train through the pain, you know, no, we need to recognize where people are, and meet them where they're at.
So you said you were in makeup. So how then suddenly the shift into personal training, etc.
So I was doing makeup, and at the time, I was in a very abusive relationship. And I got to a point where I was so depressed, and so down, that I developed an eating disorder. And now many, many, many years later, I do think that in some ways, we're kind of born with things. So it's not that I blame that relationship. But that was kind of the time where it really came to the surface. And so I was binging and then going into restriction. And so I was in this kind of back and forth cycle. And I ended up putting on a lot of weight on and got to the point where I couldn't even leave the house, you know, I was just so ashamed of what I looked like I was in mental distress from this relationship. And it was in that relationship, which now again, many years later, and after much therapy, I can look back with gratitude, because that relationship really changed my perspective on life, and made me realize how much power we have within us. And I think as women, this is something that is not spoken about is about finding this power that's within us. So I started working with a nutrition coach, it was online, and we had some kind of sessions in person to check in. And so I started kind of looking at diet and making nutritional changes. And I started to see the weight come off. And this this transition period was really the ladder that I've been climbing now for many years of like, slowly getting better slowly going to different professionals to talk about, to help support different things. And the other reason why I didn't go for a trainer initially was because I was terrified. I was terrified of this big six foot four man with a six pack, shouting at me - a very scared, overweight young woman who'd been in this abusive relationship. The last thing I wanted to do was be with a man who's in power, right? And that's so scary. So I started with the nutrition, worked with a female coach, and started to see the weight come off then introduced the personal training. That is a whole other scandalous story. Someone ran off with my money, it was very sad. Anyway, I managed to get another coach who did not run off with my money, and I did 10 personal training sessions with him. And the sessions were completely weight based. So this was the only time in my life that I had done any form of exercise like as a kid. I remember being in Downhills Park and all my friends would be on the monkey bars playing football, and I would be on the bench with the moms listening to the mom gossip eating snacks. That was me I was that kid right? And again, this is funny, right? So like everything that happens when we're young relates to when we're older. So like now, I you know, love working with people and I love understanding people And I really think a lot of that comes from the things that I absorbed when I was younger. So I was like, so interested in the relationship, so interested in their work drama you know, I didn't want to do monkey bars, I wanted to learn about what was going on at Susan's workplace. So it's, it's funny, isn't it? How things mirror. Anyways, so, P continued losing weight, and then I kind of got into this cycle of losing, losing, losing. And I started seeing how people treated me differently. And because I've been in both bodies, I've been in a very overweight body, and then eventually I got to an underweight body, I've lived in both. And I can say that the way the world treats you, everybody, even the people, the people closest to you, is very different. And fatphobia is a real thing. So that was a big transition, is seeing that my value as a human being grew when I was smaller. And so of course, what I learned from that was, I'm only good enough, if I'm small. And so then my addiction went from overeating to under eating. Because in my head, I was like, right, this is how people are going to like me,
because you get a lot of praise when you lose weight, isn't it, everybody wants to talk about it, you look amazing, and what you're doing.
Yeah. And the scary thing about the praise, and this is something again, at the studio we try not to do is when your brain is used to hearing praise. As soon as that weight is regained, which is probably about 70% of people, if not higher, you automatically are then shamed. Because you've put on what you've lost, which was what you were pr-, you know, praised for. So you're now automatically a bad person. And you hold shame about this weight gain. So we really try with weight gain, you know, rather than, like, encouraging, like, yeah, well done, it's more like, okay, and how do you feel about that, you know, rather than well done, keep going, which is all I heard throughout the whole time. Even when I was clearly too small, I continued to be encouraged, continued to be told how great I looked, and I should keep going, you know, that was was the comment, keep going. So I did, I kept going, and I kept going, and I ended up at a weight that was too low for me. You know, I was cold all the time, I had no social life, I was even crazier with food, my relationship with food was insane, because I was so terrified of putting weight on, because putting weight on meant that my whole life was gonna change again, you know. So all of this experience then led me to personal training. So it was all kind of my own personal experiences. So I was in a place where I had put on a little bit of weight, I have kind of been able to work through my feelings around that, you know, I had therapy for body dysmorphia, and things like that. And I decided that I really wanted to help women feel strong and empowered, and for the focus not to be on weight loss for it to not be on extreme methods. And I wanted to bring this holistic approach to training and this this lens of seeing the mind body spirit, and really looking after ourselves through this lens. And that's really how the studio came about. Yeah.
So in between you were in a big gym group. How did you find being a personal trainer there? Was the pressure on you to kind of do it the old school way? Or did you already experiment a little bit then with a more holistic way?
That's a great question. Yeah. So I worked for a commercial gym, I worked for the same company in two different locations. And the experience was very much the same. I think I only survived two years, which was already a very long time. It was a very male dominated team there. The second team I joined I was the only female on that team, the one before I think there was two other female coaches at the time. And I did not feel a pressure. But I think that was because we were standalone trainers. So essentially, we paid a fee to the gym. And then we were able to find clients, you know, in the gym. And because I knew that their approach was very different to my approach. I never really believed that there was competition, not because I thought that I was so wonderful. But because I realized that they were all kind of fighting over the same clients. They wanted the clients who were really looking to actually work in a disordered way, you know, not to the client's fault because obviously the client doesn't know that this is the wrong way because this is what is pushed on to women. So for me, it was kind of easier to find the right clients. But what I found was then the environment wasn't the right environment, you know, I would be sitting on the gym floor having these deeper meaningful conversations with my clients where they're, you know, spilling their, their heart and soul. And next to us, we would have a guy, you know, aggressively grunting over us. You know, we would have men constantly approach whilst we were in sessions asking for my clients number asking for my number, there was a complete lack of respect. So for me, it became very clear that the environment wasn't suitable for the level of coaching that I wanted to provide. So I did a life coaching qualification, because I really wanted to be able to hold a space for deep conversation, for transformational change. And really, when lockdown came in many ways it was a blessing because I had to leave the commercial gym, it closed. And about one year in I just thought, Wow, I can't go back. So many of the physical symptoms of my anxiety disappeared, just from not being there. And I was like, wow, this environment is actually making me sick. So I started looking for a space. And then I found Blighty cafe and now we're above.
But still, I think that's, that's quite a big step to have the confidence to open one - was it like a small step was like, Okay, I could have rented this space like for a month?
I was very lucky that they gave me a really nice contract. So no, I didn't have to sign up for an extended period, it was six months. And then after that, I could get out if I wanted to. But I think that I was so set and so clear on knowing that I couldn't go back to the gym. But I was like, hungry, you know, and I was like, I will make this work by any means. And I remember the day that I called all of my clients, and I was terrified. And I said, Hey, I want to open a gym. And I need to know if you will come with me because this is only possible, you know, if you'll come with me. And every single client said yes. And it filled me with i It still makes me emotional now. It filled me with joy and love. I felt so supported and like these women really understood the mission that I was on, and that they believed in me, you know, that was massive, because obviously at this time we're in lockdown. This is not the time to be making big financial decisions, right. So everyone around me was like, You are insane. You know, you're definitely having a breakdown. Don't do this. And I just knew in my heart. It was where I was supposed to be. So I went ahead
and bought a bunch of weights or how did you go about it? Yeah, they were all sold out during lockdown, isn't it because everybody was doing their own home gym?
Yes, I paid triple the price for all of the equipment in the studio. And I went to like a commercial gym retailer that's that sold equipment. I took out a business loan. So at the time Barclays were giving out loans for businesses and so I applied to one of those and gratefully I was accepted. And with that money, I bought all of the equipment and I refurbished the studio. The studio looked very different when we first moved in. So I whitewashed all the all the walls, I put, you know, the floor down and then had all the equipment in and slowly kind of built up what we have now.
So you did your own version of the whole DIY home improvement. (Yeah). You also learned some new skill. (Yeah). And did you do some workouts outside because like gyms were closed weren't thet. (Yes.) And I've seen some pictures of you in the parks, no?
yeah - so it was a mixture of doing zoom sessions, you know, in the gym with like wet paint on the walls. Well, you know, in between painting the wall, on Zoom. And then when we were allowed to train in the parks, it was amazing. So we took the clients to the park was able to do one to one sessions there. So we trained in a park that wasn't far from the studio. And we were able to do some strength stuff and cardio stuff, some core some boxing work. So that was really nice and great to be able to reconnect again. You know, I really missed that during lockdown. You know, the lack of connection. I think a lot of people, you know, really struggled with that. So it was a very stop, start, stop, start, stop, start. And then finally, I think it was in the March that the gyms reopened. Then we reopened and touch wood we've been able to be open ever since.
Not only a be open ever since but you have been building a little team around you.
Yeah. So I very quickly realized that my mission was too big for one person. I definitely think of myself as a dreamer as someone that's kind of very ambitious. But I quickly realized that I was on the road to burnout. And I guess we can go into it later but my health was declining anyway. And so I really had to think about how do I move this to the next step so that I can still help as many women as possible. And we can build the studio, but without sacrificing my health. And so I started interviewing for coaches, I did over 30 interviews before I found our first coach who's Anna gratefully she's still with us. And it was just a perfect fit, she really understood the mission of the business and how we wanted to work. And so she was very patient with me, whilst I kind of, you know, crossing my T's and dotted all my is and figured out Oh, my God, how do I actually have a team? And how do I have staff and this is the first time I've done anything like this in my life, you know, so I was learning on the job. And so she joined the team. And yeah, she's still here. So I must have done something right.
So now you've got three members of staff with, you no?
we've got four members or so we have four coaches. And then we also have teachers. So the teachers are the people that run the classes, but they don't do one to ones at the studio, and then our coaches do the one to ones.
Okay. And so what's what's the dream, then?
my mission is for AW, wellness studios to be the go to place for women looking for a holistic approach to health and fitness. So it's women who are open to view this kind of this chapter, this journey in a different way than what they might have experienced previously. So of course, expansion, you know, we would love to get a bigger space, so that we're able to offer more sessions or more classes, and I would really love to stay in Tottenham, for me, it feels very important that the studio is in Tottenham, because I was, you know, I was born there. And it's kind of my way of, of giving back to all the richness that I received growing up,
I mean, I would like you to have a space where I can go to have an accessible space
absolutely, the dream is to have a ground floor on a main road. So that we're clearly seen as easy to get to, because you know, a lot of the big spaces are in industrial estates, but they're dark, they're not well lit, and they're going to be scary for women to walk to, you know, I wouldn't want to go to the gym when it's dark. So we're really looking for a space on a you know, nice busy road, ground floor, big windows, so we can have lots of light in and like you said, not having stairs, it's a massive problem so that, that is ideal. That's what I'm putting out there to the universe to the listeners, if anyone knows anywhere.
Exactly, exactly, that would be our dream. And also, the other interesting thing is you like a lot of weight training, isn't it? Rather than cardio, what's the thinking behind
the kind of popularity of women exercising was always around cardio. But actually now we know from the studies that weight training has so many benefits, especially for women as they're getting older, because when we go into the menopause transition, we start to decline in muscle. And so if a woman has had no weight training experience, you know, no weight training background, then the amount of muscle mass that she naturally has is going to decline. Whereas if then she's able to start weight training, she is going to be able to build her muscles, so then the loss is less. So there's kind of you know, the thing from the muscle perspective. But then also things like practicing balance, you know, women lose the arches in their feet due to the hormonal change. And so it's like, oh, I'm really clumsy. And all of a sudden, no, this is your bones, you've literally lost the arches in your feet, of course, you're not going to be able to balance the thing your feet have changed. And so in learning, how do we balance how do we bring that into everyday life? How do we bring that into exercise, strengthening the core, pelvic floor, you know, you know, pelvic floor is a very complex system part of our system and our body. And so we really need women to be seeing specialists and to be referred to specialists to be able to make sure that their pelvic floor is functioning in a way, you know, to support them post birth and even before birth, you know, we all have a pelvic floor, whether we choose to have babies or not, pelvic floor is a key part that needs to come in. So all of this links into weight training. And the other thing that I think is really special about weight training is the empowerment. So I think it's very important that women feel strong. And so when you're able to lift weights and as you get you know more confident and you're able to lift heavier, nothing beats that feeling, you know, that's gonna make you feel strong and empowered and boost your confidence. So I think it's a really nice way to train for those reasons as well.
I do feel that there is movement in the right direction from fitness people in general about body acceptance. What are your insights? What are you seeing?
I think there has absolutely been a shift. And we're very lucky that we have women who are pioneering and who are happy to put their bodies online, you know, that's not a small thing. And to say, this is my body, I love my body, it is worthy of love, and I accept where I am. Because I really believe that women are plagued with the disease of not enough. And it can take over a woman's entire life. You know, women can spend their entire life worrying about what they look like, and from one diet to the next, or from one addiction to another addiction. And so the fact that we have people who are speaking up about it, and showing that it is okay to be in a body that is bigger, you know, it's okay to have disabilities, it's okay, you know, showing these people who we don't see in the media, you know, women with menopause, again, like, it's like, we act like these people don't exist, it's so weird. And so I think it's amazing that we have people from all these different backgrounds coming forward and showing, you know, this is what is normal. So I think the voice is getting stronger. But of course, we're being drowned out by the commercial, we're being drowned out by the media. And, you know, all of that still has a lot more weight. So I think that we have a long way to go. But I definitely think that we've made some progress,
you have hinted at this earlier about health issues, and I know that you've been suffering from long COVID. So where are you in this journey?
I've learned that I need to really pace. And that's something that wasn't even in my language. Before COVID, I didn't really understand what it was like to struggle with energy levels, you know, I'd have the normal up and downs that people that don't have these illnesses. And so I didn't really appreciate what I had, and COVID really turned my life upside down, you know, I had to really reframe my expectations of myself and learn to work in a different way. And it brought many challenges, because I haven't been able to do weight training, since I got sick, you know, my body, my body just doesn't recover. And you know, when it's your passion, and it's what you live and breathe, and it's what you teach, that's absolutely heartbreaking, you know, to feel that you're so unwell, that you can't even handle a little session. And so I try here and there to see when my recovery is out. But in general, it just takes me so long to recover that it isn't worth it. And so I've had to kind of switch to different types of exercise, like swimming, things that have kind of low impact - dance classes, and things like that. And so that's kind of opened up my world to a whole group of people who, you know, struggle with energy, who may be doing weight training is too much. And so then it's like, how do we work with these people? You know, how do we change a program, so that this is benefiting someone, and not making them worse. So there's kind of that aspect. And then, you know, because of my lack of movement and the depression that that brought. And we know now that long COVID has a really depressive quality to it as well. I really struggled with weight gain in lockdown. And so then that brought another layer of having to work on my acceptance, on having to work on how do I accept the body that I'm in now working in the profession of health, or I'm teaching people how to be well, when I am unwell.
But I think it's important to have people like you in this profession, just how I feel it's important to have heavier bodies as personal trainers, because you just like, you know, if you have like the super athletic person, they don't always understand where most people come from and their experience about being in gym, being in sports, etc.
Yeah, focusing on what it's taught me about other people's experience in life. It's, it has it's been life changing. You know, I had no idea what this type of suffering felt like, until I went through it myself, you know, and when you're someone who's used to being so high energy who's used to being able to multitask, who doesn't get anxious in crowds, and then all of a sudden, your life is turned over. You know, there's a real grieving period. So it's been tough and you know, to speak to what you said about trainers being in bigger bodies. It's so important. I can't tell you the amount of clients who have said to me, I feel so comfortable because you're not, you know, shredded, and you're not in this tiny body. You know, you just are like, whatever a normal person looks like, because then it doesn't put that pressure on them. You know, I am not this ideal, you know, which is all fake, but it's not been presented to them. So I think that has been really nice as well is, you know, being able to, to be someone that makes someone else feel like it's okay and to encourage acceptance. And it's really humbled me. And I think a really interesting change that I noticed was that I no longer place value on how much I can do. That was a big one.
It's hard for me still, it's hard for me. But I remember in one of the interviews, Jack Shreeves Lee. She said, We are human beings, not human doings. (Yeah), I always have to remind myself because I'm still I'm like, What have I done today?
It's really strange. You know, I know that I've changed. But there's an aspect of me that's still in denial. There's an aspect of me who expects me you know, to be able to work 12 hours a day, and get up the next day and do it again. And I can't,
if people want to come what is on offer? How should they go about it? Where can they see things?
So you can go to our Instagram or to our website, our website is linked on our, Instagram anyway. But if you want some visuals, I'm a visual person. And we do personal training. We do small group classes. And we also do workshops, we do specialist workshops, we've got a menopause workshop coming up. So if you want to learn more about menopause, how to support yourself or others during that transition, then I would love to meet you there.
Okay, so I'm looking forward to the accessible studio. I shall be there. Until then I've got my little kettle
Yes. And we do do online sessions. So if you ever want to do some we do online sessions as well. Yeah
Oh, I didnt realise Okay, what do you do online?
So it's exactly the same as a PT session. So you have a program that we go through, we teach you how to do it. And then we give you the program so that you can follow it at home as well. You get additional workouts to complete at home. Great to hear that you have equipment, but we do provide equipment for free so that people that don't have some equipment can still do them. And the only difference is that you're not in the studio. So we work them exactly the same.
Okay, very interesting. So that is a personalized thing?
Yeah. Yeah. And it came about because of lockdown. You know, I had never thought about doing PT on Zoom. I thought it was so weird. And then during lockdown, I really realized oh, wow, like if I'm clever with the programming. I can make this progressive, you know, and not boring. And so, yeah, now we offer online sessions. And it's great. Like even the clients that come in for one to one, sometimes work runs over or their child is sick or whatever it is. And so we just jump on to zoom and do an online session instead.
Very good, very modern. Okay, are you ready for the third part? As a Tottenham girl, what are your top tip?
Oh, pressure. So top tips. I mean, if you like outdoor spaces, I definitely think you should take a trip to the parks, I grew up going to downhills. So I love Downhills Park, but then obviously just opposite we've got the rec. And then we've also got Bruce Castle Park, which is a little bit smaller, but they're all really really nice parks. So I think if you're kind of a person that likes open spaces and greenery, then those are really nice places to go to. We've also got loads of great coffee shops. So one of my good friends, Hannah, she is behind with milk. They do my favorite coffees, and not just because she's my friend. And they also stock really nice food and things that you can get in there fresh bread and things like that. So that would be my second one. And my third one would be the roller skating place, which is just off of Bruce Grove station. I think if you're looking for something that is far dynamic, good music, and it's really challenging. I think that'd be a really, really a fun place to go. So that would be my third recommendation.
Okay, so thank you for this. Thank you and have a lovely rest of your weekend. So nice to meet you bye
And you bye.
So in the show notes. I will add the Instagram and the website. And you heard what is our call to action. We need to manifest that bigger studio with big windows. I think we can do it. I'm looking forward to going there. Maybe even this year. Let's hope so. Okay, have a good day everyone. Bye bye. I hope you enjoyed today's episode, learn something new and let that Tottenham love grow. Take care and until next time, bye
Transcribed by https://otter.ai