I grew up watching my mother progressively lose control of her body to Multiple Sclerosis. Some of my earliest memories are of her jumping rope with us in the back yard, and over the course of my childhood, she became completely wheelchair bound. To this day, she does not complain or wallow in despair, but has been my greatest example of strength, determination, ingenuity, and perseverance. Growing up, my mother imparted three life lessons: your health is the most important thing; you should live each day like it’s the last good day of your life; and hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Those lessons have driven me to appreciate and to make the most of my physical abilities, and remind me to challenge myself when I get complacent or am feeling lazy. I am always grateful that I am able to walk. I appreciate every day that I am able to dance. I am thankful that I can braid my daughter’s hair and carry my son when he is tired. And that gratitude only amplifies the empowerment I derive from my physical achievements, like performing on stage, or running a marathon, or becoming a certified BollyX instructor.

Becoming a mother myself presented a new source of empowerment for me, while simultaneously challenging me in ways I had never personally faced before. I am filled with wonder and gratitude for the two children that my body was able to create, but lamented my loss of fitness, and my new overweight and stretch-mark covered state. Due to unexpected complications, over the first five months of my first pregnancy, I went from teaching and performing Bhangra and Bollywood all over Chicago, and working out seven days a week, to being unable to walk a single block unsupported by my husband. I had prided myself on how active and fitness oriented I was, and felt betrayed by my body for falling apart as I tried to do what should have come naturally: having a baby.

When I brought my second child home from the hospital, I was 226 pounds, hypertensive and diabetic, with thyroid disfunction, all of which developed during my pregnancies. Being a compulsive eater, I have always been insecure about my body, but I had never experienced what it felt like to be obese and unhealthy, and my self esteem plummeted. I gained perspective by thinking of my mother, who was wheelchair bound when she delivered her 7th child, and told myself to stop complaining and get to work to regain my health. And that has been my goal ever since.

One year after my son was born, I ran the Chicago marathon, which is still a source of pride for me. But I am empowered by every single step I take towards improving my health. I will probably never again look like my pre-baby self, but I have realized that fitness and empowerment are not about a goal weight or a desired clothing size: Empowerment is working to be as strong as, or stronger than you were the day before.

Empowerment is fighting against obsessing over what you are not, or what you might have lost, and instead striving to appreciate and to make the most of what you have today, so that you can love yourself as you are and be proud of yourself as you are.

Teaching BollyX has not only given me inspiration to continue improving my own fitness, but has given me the gift of helping others in their fitness journeys. I strive to make each class an enjoyable and joyous way for participants to spend their time, because fitness should be a positive experience that celebrates what our bodies can do, not a punishment for everything we think is wrong with our bodies or our eating habits.

Today is the day that you have to start loving yourself, because you do not know what tomorrow will bring; so, I will do my best to make today a good day.

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