A Conversation with Asma Hilal Lootah
The Hundred founder and owner, Asma Hilal Lootah, didn’t reach the place where she is now with overnight success, luck or the financial help of her family. With a wise and motivating businessman for a father, Asma was encouraged from a young age to find her own independence and create her own financial stability. It was with determination, drive and self-discovery that this Emirati businesswoman came to realise and shape her dream to start a business of her own; a full-service wellness center catering to the needs of her community. Curious to learn more about her journey in becoming the first Emirati woman to own a Pilates concept in the UAE, we spent an afternoon with Asma to hear her story and find out what it was about Pilates that inspired her to introduce it to the UAE, and eventually grow her concept into the wellness center that it is today. Read the full exclusive interview with Asma below.
Symphony [S]: Let’s start from the beginning, where did your love for Pilates stem from?
Asma [A]: A mutual friend of mine and my sister’s encouraged my sister to start taking up classes at a Pilates studio, and she was like, ‘Asma, you have to try this, it is amazing.’ At the time, we didn’t even know what Pilates was. It literally changed my life, for many reasons: number one because of the teacher, and because of the method itself. It was something I looked forward to going to. My job was very stressful; I was working in engineering and this new outlet instantly had me hooked. I went around three or four times a week and my body looked amazing – I mean, it still looks amazing (laughs). I made a lot of friends, and from there, we had our own group.
S: So then it was your discovery of the method that set you on your path to success; how did you decide to open your own Pilates studio?
A: It’s funny, now, I look back and connect the dots, and I can see now that everything happens for a reason.
After four years, I was tired of my job and wanted to open up a business, but I didn’t know what. I tell everyone that I went through a self-discovery phase. I enjoyed my time in the US, DC was my home, but I don’t think that I was living consciously when I was there. I went through a phase where I realised I needed to find something that I loved and to find something that was going to change people’s lives. This is my personality, I love helping people, and I am a giver. And lastly, and most importantly, I wanted to make a difference to my country.
Next thing I knew, the place I used to practice closed and that was when the answers to my questions were answered. It was like a spark that had ignited. When that place closed, I resigned – without a notice, and I really went for it. I went looking for places all over Dubai and my mom and dad thought I was nuts, asking me ‘What is Pilates?’ I thought, ‘I don’t care, I am doing this.’ And then soon after, I opened up my studio in Health Care City.
S: With your family questioning your concept and dream, it must have been hard.
A: Everything in my case started small because I used the money from my work in the corporate world. My dad wanted me to do the dirty work for myself. A lot of people are under the impression that I am a local Emirati and it’s easy. It’s not. We face the same challenges that every single woman faces. I opening The Hundred in Dubai Health Care City with my own money, offering just one service: Pilates.
After six years, 2011, my dad came to me saying ‘I have a villa in Jumeirah, why don’t you move your business there?’ It was a very big testament from him that I had proven myself as a solid businesswoman. I decided to demolish the villa to build a new one in order to offer more services under one roof, and that is where we are now.
S: Why Pilates? What is so great about this type of exercise and why should we try it?
A: It’s a total body exercise. Unlike other activities where you may hear in a class ‘today we are going to focus on legs or arms – that is not the case with Pilates. It moves the muscles and gives you inner strength. It’s like a mix between high-intensity training and meditation, so you leave refreshed. A lot of people get hooked on it from the first time they try it.
S: How did the other concepts come to life?
A: We have many people who come with a lot of problems so I felt it was essential to incorporate other services into our concept. We have evolved the concept to take a complete approach to overall health; we have incorporated DNA testing, Cross Interval Training Classes, Homeopathy, Body Composition Analyser, Physiotherapy, Nutrition and Weight Loss Programs and Workshops to promote more healthy living within our community.
S: Why name it The Hundred?
A: I was brainstorming names for my studio with my best friend, and we were thinking and she asked me names of any classic Pilates moves. At that time, I thought ‘this is so cliché, why should I name it after a Pilates move like everyone else who is doing this?’ but then I said The Hundred. I remember at the first studio where I did Pilates, we used to whine about this classic Pilates move (The Hundred) because it is five breaths in, five breaths out, for 10 repetitions. Totaling to 100, but the whole thing is amazing– it’s solely focusing on your breath. The name was nice, and when you think about the word Hundred it’s complete, it’s full.
S: You’ve built a business that revolves around the concept of living a healthy lifestyle, if we opened the doors to your refrigerator, what would we find?
A: Sauerkraut and kombucha, at the moment. I am in the process of making it! My brother owns an organic farm, so there are a lot of organic vegetables, a lot of strawberries, blueberries, avocados; I also have homemade almond milk (made fresh in the hundred).
S: Do you follow a strict diet? What is your weakness on “cheat day”?
A: No. I don’t believe in strict diets. I eat healthily, but there are days that I will eat gluten or I will have cheese (the other day I did it and I got sick, so I paid for it, but I enjoyed it). I don’t believe in any strict diet. We are here to live and enjoy life. But the point is to make wise decisions, don’t eat fried food.
I don’t do cheat days. I allow myself to indulge in the things that I want to eat, but I don’t eat McDonalds, instead I will eat Shake Shack. My weaknesses are Walker’s Salt and Vinegar crisps and/or prawn cocktail – but I make sure it doesn’t have MSG in it.
S: What is your least favourite form of exercise?
A: I don’t know [pauses and smiles] – burpees!
S: Which one of the wellness classes do you believe shows the quickest and most noticeable results?
A: It’s hard to say, it depends on your genetics to understand what is going to work for you. For example, I can do Pilates five times a week and my body looks great. But someone else might need high-intensity training. This is why I recommend the DNA test so that our clients can tailor their workout to suit their body’s needs.
S: Tell us a bit more about the DNA testing, how does that service work?
A: I am not a doctor, so I will simply explain the process. We have a few different types of DNA testing; DNA Diet, DNA fit, DNA health and DNA estrogen. The DNA will tell you your genetic makeup. The results will reveal many things about your body and provide learnings about potential risks you could face in the future, as well as the various action plans you can take to avoid these risks, such as tailored workout plans and supplements.
S: Last question, what is the one thing you hope our readers will take away from this interview and the story of The Hundred?
A: Inspiration. I want them to feel good that they read it. I hope that they will either learn something new or they leave feeling inspired.
The Hundred Wellness Centre is located in Jumeirah, for more information about classes and the space visit their website here.
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