Shiraz, Iran. Two women lifting in a gym, I claim no rights to this image.
This month I conquered a new feat! It was done all in the name of becoming a great Iranian hiker! I completed my first month of Gym membership at the Red Crescent-a volunteer organization for disaster relief, the Middle Eastern equivalent to the Red Cross. I know what some readers might be thinking: “what, gyms in Iran!?” or “women are allowed to go to the gym?”. What about when it comes to the typical western ideology that Islamic nations are somehow not up to par with modern times? Perhaps one might think “outdated equipment, eh?”. Maybe some just feel that working out in Iran-with all they have heard via western media and from a few negative voices-does not sound at all that fun. I’m sure many generalizations and misconceptions about Iran+women+gyms may run through that misinformed cranium of yours but…All I can tell ya – like you may have been told before – is, it ain’t nothing like you are thinking here in Iran! Actually, Iranian gyms were nothing like I was thinking, gulp! Allow me to inform you so that you may visualize just what an Iranian gym might be like for a woman like me looking to get tight and fit!
Often my husband spoke highly of gyms in Iran. I never doubted my Mohsen jan that gyms from his homeland could perhaps be enjoyable. He is a man, after all give him a bar with some dumb bells, a weight bench, let him pump iron for a few hours and ta da this is a fun and manly work out! However, that is not how it works in my world. I like my work outs to be dynamic, fun, versatile and energetic. When it comes to the gym I consider myself demanding and high maintenance! It is a MUST that there is some diversity or else I can get bored really quick and may never return to gym land. Oh, and let’s not forget to add some cool work out buddies and knowledgeable instructors into that equation of work out demands, please. Therefore when you add it all up, what do you get? You get absolute heaven in this chica’s world of work outs. What a dream eh? And to me it seemed that was all it was, just a dream to find something extra effective, fun and affordable, really any where that is hard to find. And I was in Iran anyways, it is hard finding exactly what I miss, since I am new here and….It was not like I would make friends with my broken baby like farsi or even have a bond with my instructors or the girls at the gym. Bonding is always something I enjoy about working out. I loved getting to know all the other fitness Gurus for music and idea swapping! I let go of the idea of joining the gym in Iran, at least for the first few months here. I never really brought it up while underestimating Iranian gyms and what they had to offer foreign women like myself. “I’ll just sit around a few more months enjoy the sabze pollow and continue to pack on more pounds,” so I thought! However, the more I got into this hiking habit…The more I realized I needed to strengthen my legs, balance the flow of my breath, lose some poundage and build stamina for longer hikes. How I loved my hiking! But I needed a boost to improve quickly on all that I lacked for more stamina and swift hiking up the beautiful mountains of Northern Iran. Needless to say, nothing got me into tip top shape like circuit training at the gym, with some additional running and aerobics, in other words, CARDIO! So what the hay? I gave in to what I denied my body for so long… I applied for surprisingly cheap membership at a Red Crescent gym. And let me tell you with only a few bucks you pay for monthly membership, I was certain I would suffer no losses!Entering the gates of the heavily guarded gym, I was met by a mysterious man clad in black with dark shades, and a black hat tipping below his left eye. I made my intentions known; I was there to get fit and nothing more. He led me through a desolate corridor; all was so quiet but the tapping of his designer Italian loafers until we arrived at a thick, huge, red curtain that hung from several feet above us….“I can’t go beyond this red curtain, you will have to go alone from here”, he said. I questioned none of his demands, and gave my rials to his outstretched hand. He turned and swiftly walked away.
There it was the thick red curtain, and what was beyond that I could only imagine. Slowly I peeped, ahead in the distance were several chatty women dressed in an array of different styles from different generations of fitness eras and various athletic uniforms. They wrestled with their clothing ahead of me. Some women were swapping perfumes and hair accessories. Others focused on faces of those they conversed with. I observed at the lockers, eager ladies of all sizes, built, and ages relaxed their chadors down to their feet. Some women wore martial arts uniforms, some in clothing that I once remembered seeing on Richard Simmons or Olivia Newton John – like when I was a little tike in the 80’s- and some women simply wore sweats. Other members did not leave much to the imagination and all I could think was, wow so much like home but even better! Even better in the sense that women did not have to worry about men checking them out, insensitive behavior, or how they looked in front of others etc. It was just the girls, no men peeping in, and we were all here congregating in the same large room for one purpose and one purpose only. That purpose was to get our glutes into the best shape possible. A woman entered the room, drill sergeant like stance and began shouting at us all as we stood there looking, “Yek, Do , Se, Char,….” Counting in farsi, the women lined up and I followed. They began repetitions of stretching, leg lifts, and arm raises. Next, “Boro boro”, she yelled the women began to run an area of the gym in circles. Finally the music played and ah it was so sweet. I was already sweating when hips began to move left to right, front to back, kicking of the legs, lifting of the arms, we were all in full aerobic swing. The instructor pulled my uncoordinated body to the front center and in farsi taught me all the moves I needed to know in order keep up. It was basic aerobic with some dance, a lot of action and explosive energy with some zumba entwined and God I could barely keep up! Women leading you can see were doing this for a while. Some women were old enough to be my mother. I realized how out of shape I was unable to keep up with these women, boy they showed me! I struggled to keep up, first time I broke a sweat in I do not know how long, but I kept up. Towards the cool down Gogoosh version of Love Song played and we did a cool down ballet, we floated through the cool down.
It was all over… So I thought! The instructor ushered me to a floor mat where we continued with Pilates and ab exercises. When it was all over I laid there flat on my back. I gazed at the ceiling with my stomach gurgling in my throat, I was about to puke. My face, I am sure it was red as a ripe tomato. My instructor stood over me smiling and speaking in farsi, “farsi man khoobniste!” I told her. She pulled her hand out and I reached, she lifted me to my feet, “farda? “ she asked, “Aye farda” I replied.
To be continued…
Follow me around to see how my gym efforts worked out in Iran, did I stick with it, or was I a quitter?