Nishriin Parikh has been pushing against societal expectations her entire life. When she was growing up in conservative India, studying martial arts was not exactly on the menu of expected interests for a young girl. She was fortunate to have a supportive family and excelled in what would become a lifelong pursuit of fitness, health, and inspiring those around her. She became a leader for generations of people in Bombay, having carried the confidence she gained in those early years onto her current mission of bringing fitness to people of all ages, especially the men and women of our age cohort.
When she was 50, this mother of two bravely stepped onto stage in a bikini for the first time in a fitness competition. She was the age of other contestant’s mothers, and as such, became a role model for the younger women as to what was possible and acceptable for a mature woman. She was an assuring example that strength and beauty can go hand in hand with age. For her there is joy in being able to show others that pushing the body to do what it is capable of is possible for all people in all states of physical fitness.
How old are you?
A few months shy of 55.
Where do you live?
Mumbai, the most bustling city in India. Home to Bollywood.
Is it common where you live for women to be fitness trainers?
Yes, there is a big fitness revolution happening in urban India. The last few years have been promising and there are lots of women who are certified internationally in various modalities of fitness like Zumba, yoga, Pilates, weight training, CrossFit, and more. My own certification file is full of diplomas including yoga, diet and nutrition, mat Pilates, group fitness training, and personal training from Indian and international institutions.
Did you start training in Karate in the 9th grade? How did your family feel about that?
I enrolled in karate in March of 1982 and was awarded my black belt in 1987. I won a medal in the National Karate Tournament. The Karate Dojo is also where I met my husband, Hitesh, who is also a fourth-degree Karateka. We have been happily married for over 30 years. My parents had seen me train with unwavering grit, every single sunset was spent at my Dojo (karate school). I had the most supportive parents who always let me do what I wanted and that’s how I have brought up my own children, Aria (27) and Karan (29). My family has always been there for me and are my lifeline.
“Karate has instilled a humble discipline in my life”
What did you learn from martial arts?
Karate runs in my veins. My teacher Shihan Pervez Mistry is nearly 75 and still doesn’t skip a day of practice. He is my mentor and has been supportive of the way I have chosen to dedicate my life to health and fitness. Karate has instilled a humble discipline in my life. The journey from white belt to black was a transformative process and has taught me to never give anything less than 100% of my effort.
Why do you teach fitness?
Fitness is my passion and I have been mentored by amazing teachers. I feel motivated to pay it back and help people realize their true potential to eating right, training right, and living right.
I’ve grown up practicing my Kata and sparring with great enthusiasm and that is how, even today as I weight train, I am there in the present moment and it’s very meditative for me. Every rep, every set, every karate punch or kick is done mindfully. I’ve seen the change I have gone through when I became aware and mindful of each moment. You become strong, not just physically at a gross level but also at a subtle level once you have found your inner joy. I intend to spread the same when I teach.
“Fitness is really important for all. It starts with taking small steps in the right direction”
Why do some of the women you meet think that at a certain age they are incapable of attaining a good level of fitness?
There is a need to make older women and men aware that age shouldn’t deter them from looking and doing their best. Fitness is really important for all. It starts with taking small steps in the right direction. They need to learn their ABCs first, which will then form words and sentences followed by paragraphs. That’s how you will write your own book as I have written mine. We should make the effort, as we have one life to live and live to our best potential so why wait and waste a single moment?
How do you inspire people to work out?
I post a lot of my workout videos on my social media profiles. From the comments and messages I get, I am happy to see I am able to encourage people to start looking their best and living life to the best of their ability. Positive energy is infectious, so I am trying hard to pass it around to as many people as I can.
What is the value of physical strength for women your age?
Being physically strong is a form of independence. It is self-love which will form an unending circle of loving oneself and extending the love to not just your family, but everything in existence as you are truly a joy to be around. Women need to understand that they can start at a basic level and get to a great level of fitness no matter what age they are. It takes consistent training every single day, from any form of fitness they have access to — this will lead them to the goal of being beautiful and joyful. As we get older, we will lose our muscularity and strength, so let’s engage in activities that reduce entropy.
“Being physically strong is a form of independence”
How does it affect people mentally when they become more fit?
You find joy in each moment of your life.
What is your weekly routine?
I am a disciplined person and I guess I have always been that way. My daily routine entails yoga in the morning with my students. After that, I head to the gym for weight training with my personal trainer. I enjoy lifting heavy weights. I’ve recently started learning gymnastics and my daughter Aria accompanies me. She was keen to go back to her gymnastic roots. I’m the oldest student in the class and I struggle a bit, but I enjoy being a 54-year-old trying to do handstands and cartwheels. Do watch out for me in the next Olympic Games.
What is Yogasstrength?
It is an integration of Asanas, Pranayama, and strength training. So you train to build muscle, strength, flexibility, and endurance. We do everything from bicep curls and chest presses to HIIT and Tabata. Surya namaskars and anulom vilom pranayama are all done on the mat with zeal. Deep awareness of the mind, body, and breath is an integral part of the process. My training experience over all the years pours out in my Yogasstrength practice and I call each one of my students a “Yogasstrength Warrior” as each of us has a battle going on inside us, it is on the mat that we battle our own ego and resolve internal and external conflicts.
How long have you been a bodybuilding competitor?
Five years now. I have moved up the ranks from competing in district and state level tournaments to representing India at international championships. I placed 4th in the last World Championships.
Why do you do it? Is this not something younger people do?
Nobody has officially put an age on looking good, so I might as well we make the most of this. Stepping on stage in a bikini and having an athletic, super fit physique is what I love. My fellow women athletes look up to me with respect.
My fellow bikini athletes are very young, in their twenties and thirties, but I still go up on stage with them and pose as gracefully as I can. In many cases, I am as old as their mothers and they all feel they could change their mommas to look so fit. Up on stage I’m the only athlete who’s handed a mike to address the crowd and often say, “Look, all of you are so fit out there, but somebody back home has really helped you get to where you are today and that’s your parents. So can you go back and help your parents get more fit? It’s payback time for everyone.”
“I don’t know where I get the energy from because the minute I wake up, I’m ready to run a marathon”
Do you eat a special diet?
My diet is rigorous to say the least. My diet is my lifestyle now. I eat mindfully two meals with a required amount of macros that fill my stomach 50 percent. I don’t put food that has no good nutrition in my mouth. I keep my stomach 50% empty, so I eat only 50% of my capacity because I don’t want my system spending energy just digesting excess food. Do we really need to eat so much? I think not.
I don’t know where I get the energy from because the minute I wake up, I’m ready to run a marathon. I am in a state of gratitude always for the energy that I have each moment and I thank the divine force that works on us, which takes us to a level far beyond our imaginations and human capacity.
What do you feel before and after you are on stage?
Childlike excitement is what I feel! Each time is a unique experience and I enjoy traveling and meeting new athletes. There’s a lot that goes on so before I get on stage – from body tanning to makeup, jewelry, and don’t forget the 6-inch high heels. I am glad to have this opportunity to doll up to look stunning on stage. I cherish each moment.
Is it uncommon for a woman in your part of the world to compete like this?
It is. However, things are getting better. India is now showing up with a lot of women athletes competing at international tournaments. I hope to see more athletes rocking the tri-colored flag at the victory podium in the years to come.
What do your children think about you competing?
My children are incredibly proud of me and are my biggest supporters. They and their friends respect me for my disciplined lifestyle.
Who inspires you?
Each one of you reading this is my inspiration to keep my journey going strong and I will be happy if I can help you change. We all inspire each other.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ten years from now I see myself getting prettier and stronger. Maybe they will make a doll in my name, so each child can start right and each adult will put in the time to change to a better lifestyle. All I want to say is that I’m not going to stop because this is a life I love too much.
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