I met Aya at our Running Club organized by the largest mosque in our region and a group of doctors who attend it. She was the fitness coach for the women’s section, so we wouldn’t just drop off our kids and walk around the field, not wanting to play soccer with the boys and men. After this she began offering classes at our mosque’s gym once a week, which I attended, and she simultaneously taught fitness classes in a couple of gyms, including our region’s largest University’s fitness center. She also offered fitness sessions to new moms with their babies at our beautiful waterfront and one of our main shopping malls, and she worked as a Zumba instructor at a ladies only gym just outside the city center.
Just before the state of emergency due to the Covid19 pandemic, she started teaching aquafit classes at our city’s premier sports complex. I’ve kept in touch with her outside of our coaching sessions, and seeing as she’s the only mutahajjaba fitness trainer I know (though not the only one practicing) in our area, I thought I’d ask her how she felt about the impact she was having on our community.
Aya started her certification in Saudi Arabia in 2016, while she was pregnant with her first child. She did her Canfitpro theoretical exams, and then completed the practicum exams in Canada in 2018, when she immigrated here. As a fitness trainer she worked at women’s only gyms, and offered exercise sessions for Port City Strollers that addressed the desire of new moms and babies to exercise in convenient locations, where their babies would have many distractions: at the Halifax waterfront, and a the Halifax Shopping Center. She has had experience heading classes in Zumba, Aquafitness, Circuit Training, Boot Camps, and Core Fusion. She also offered fitness classes for women indoors and outdoors through the local mosque (which is where we met). Currently she only offers online live classes (to individuals and to groups) via zoom. She’s also looking into getting certified as a Pilates Instructor.
Her friendliness and kindness struck me immediately, coupled with her professionalism and know-how. I watched her come up with all sorts of solutions to get reluctant moms moving while they waited around for their husbands and kids to finish running and playing soccer. She was always respectful of everyone’s wishes, limitations, and fears, and met them with knowledge, patience, and compassion. She never pushed anyone to do anything they were uncomfortable doing, and yet managed to get virtually all ladies attempting something at some point! She always knew how to strike the balance between challenging people’s perceived limitations or shyness with ways to overcome them while staying within the acceptable norms of hijab and dignity.
I tried never to miss a session, so I got to spend quite some time talking with her and getting to know her. After a few months I asked her if she’d write an article with me for American Muslim Women Magazine, on how to maintain a fitness schedule during Ramadan. Whilst working on this, I suggested I interview her for my blog, where AMWM readers could learn more about her. She graciously agreed, and this is the result of our back and forth:
You have a background in computer science, but decided to get into the fitness industry as a coach. Why?
Yes I have a Bachelor’s in Technology Education, and I worked as a computer teacher for a while. I loved it! But I got the chance to teach fitness dance in Saudi Arabia and I loved it too! It’s kind of a mix between my teaching skills and my fitness skills!
You got your certification while you were pregnant, how was that?
It was pretty challenging, especially studying anatomy in a different language. Alhamdullelah and with my husband’s help I got through it! I passed the theoretical exam and after having my baby I did the practical.
What propelled you to want to provide live fitness classes for Muslimas in Canada?
Well, I know it’s not so common for Muslim ladies to find a women’s only gym with a private and safe space for them to workout.
You are one of a small handful of Muslimah fitness coaches in the province of Nova Scotia, possibly in the entire Maritime region, who wears hijab. How did the non-Muslim community receive you?
Very well, actually. I always got very positive feedback. I often got compliments on my scarves, and people were very nice and respectful.
Do you think that as a practicing mutahajjaba giving fitness classes, you’re encouraging more Muslim women to get fit? Have you seen this in your classes?
Yes, I noticed that Muslim women feel more comfortable coming to the gym and will ask to join my classes, because I dress like them, I speak Arabic, and I know the culture. If you’re more comfortable, you’re more likely to enjoy taking classes and sticking to it.
Why is fitness important to you?
Fitness is so important to me, because it keeps me feeling good about myself. It brings out all my positive energy. In terms of teaching fitness specifically, I feel amazing because I’m able to help others reach their fitness goals.
What issues have you encountered in your years of coaching experience?
So far I haven’t really faced any major issues, Alhamdulillah!
What do you think are the greatest obstacles for Muslim women to obtain their fitness/wellness goals?
I think that to obtain your fitness goals there are no limitations. You can exercise anywhere and any time, and following different types of exercise. So I always tell my participants that there is no excuse! Everyone can achieve their goal, because there’s always a way.
What services do you provide to your clientele?
I teach group fitness classes at Canada Games Centre and at Dalplex, and I also started to teach virtual fitness classes (online) for groups and one on one.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself improving and teaching different types of fitness trends and classes.
I know you love Pilates, are you a certified Pilates or Yoga Instructor?
No, not yet, but I’m looking into it. I love Pilates, it’s such an amazing way to work out: you get so much done without having to move around too much, and I like that it incorporates breathing and core/stability, that’s very important.
What’s the best advice you’d give our readers to encourage them to take charge of their health?
Don’t let anything become an obstacle. Give yourself time each day to walk/run or do any kind of workout. It’s an investment in yourself! You deserve that time. Love yourself enough and be kind to yourself. Believe in yourself, and rest assured, that you’re not alone! You’ll do great!
If you’d like to get in touch with Aya for a fitness class you can reach her on IG @aya_mohsen126