My name is Amritpal Bansal, and I am a psychotherapeutic counsellor for clients dealing with mental health issues. As well as this I am a brand consultant with an online health and wellness company, Arbonne International.
If I am going be very honest with you all, when I was approached to answer these blog questions about fitness and well being, I did initially think why me?. I hope the answer(s) will become more apparent in the questions below. My life experiences so far have enabled me to think about these issues from a mindset perspective, rather than just in terms of body image and weight. I am thankful for sharing what I have learnt, and this opportunity, because of how I feel about the AWMB community and Rupinder (The founder of AWMB). It is a blessing and privilege to be surrounded by kind-hearted, determined, powerful, and gracious women.
What inspires you?
I would have named influential (well-known people) such as Oprah Winfrey or Mother Teresa a few years ago, due to their work and impact on others. Although their lives and missions have been incredible, I would now say I am inspired by the individuals in my life and who I come into contact with. My family and friends inspire me to be better, to think differently, and grow. That is also true for many of the AWMB women who I have been fortunate to have great friendships with. I’ve found you that you never know whose words and actions can inspire a change in you. If you are willing to hear the message that is.
What is your relationship like with the gym and fitness?
How I feel and think about the gym and fitness has varied throughout my life. I wasn’t necessarily the most athletic or sporty person growing up. I did PE at school because I had to. It wasn’t until I was around 19/20 years old, I went to the gym with my mum because university life had started to pile on the pounds. Somehow I became friends with regulars at the gym who actually enjoyed working out. That’s when I got into weight training and understanding that it was not just about endless hours of cardio for me.
I worked out 4-5 days a week consistently for 10 years until I became quite ill. It started with digestive issues around 30 years old, and late 2017 led to the discovery and diagnosis of mycosis fungoides, which is is a rare form of skin/blood cancer. Thankfully I was an early stage case; however, treatment between January- May 2018 meant my lifestyle and physicality changed.
My relationship with fitness and gym became non-existent due to a loss of energy and appetite. I felt afraid and disheartened at the time. However, the process made me value my body and overall health more. It made me consider how I was very fortunate to workout the way I used to. I remember telling myself I would get stronger again, even if I had to do it slowly. Whereby that meant starting with the basics like with drinking more water and sleeping better to recover. I have thankfully been given the all-clear and a year post-treatment I am now back to working out 4 times a week. I do yoga, PT sessions, boxing and I just completed my first 26-mile hike for Macmillan cancer support this past Saturday in the Peak Districts. I wanted to honour those still facing the struggle. So you could say my relationship with fitness has been bittersweet.
Do you think social media and fitness influencers, have a positive impact on people, or does is it build towards the stigma associated with having the ‘perfect body’?
I think social media and this topic can be a double-edged sword. By that, I mean certain fitness profiles can be very informative and valuable in the content they create. At the same time, seemingly ‘flawless’ photos can pressurize people viewing them to feel they need to possibly attain a ‘perfect body’, whatever that may be.
For myself, as a rule of thumb, I only follow fitness influencers who provide videos on actual exercise routines or share how you can improve your form/ exercise technique. I also like to read to see whether the captions underneath the photo are informational. If I feel a particular profile is not adding benefit to my fitness knowledge, I just choose to not follow them. I think your mental well-being is the most important thing. If you find yourself comparing your own body to a social media influencer negatively, remove that temptation/ habit altogether – unfollow.
A lot of people underestimate how much your mind matters when working out, sometimes it can be your mind that actually prohibits you from achieving your goals, what would you say to someone who is struggling at the moment with this?
I think how your mind perceives and processes something is very important, in fitness goals and in life. Your mental strength and ability is almost as important, if not more, than the physicality and practicality of a goal. I have struggled with this myself many times, however following 2017 and previously having this identity of a strong, healthy person, to becoming someone who was in hospital weekly, tested my mental toughness. What meaning (if negative) you attach to a goal or a destination can at times take you entirely out of the game. I felt weak and uncomfortable in my own body. Almost fearful and doubtful of my personal strength. I wish I could say overcoming this is instantaneous; however, it is a process.
I read books that uplifted me, listened to empowering podcasts on the podcast app. I surrounded myself with friends and family that encouraged and supported me. I attended workshops and events that fed my mind positively. I would say if you’re struggling, do not feel whatever you’re personally facing, you have to go through it alone. I sought help from professionals, physically and for the emotional/mental aspects. I went to my friends Deepa Sapra, who is a professional yoga instructor, and Emma Baker for PT sessions. As a counsellor, we also see senior counsellors for advice. I no longer have that ‘let me do this by myself’ mentality. Of course, to achieve any kind of goal you need personal focus and determination, however, to take those initial steps, a bit of hand-holding may be needed, and that is more than ok.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift?
‘The Gifts of imperfection’ by Brene Brown and ‘What I know for sure’ by Oprah Winfrey. Brene’s book tackles so many topics that we all collectively face – perfection, the need to please, vulnerability, shame, guilt. This thinking of ‘I am not doing enough, quick enough, or good enough.’ Her work as a shame researcher and writer is so clear and concise. Plus I love this book and her other work because she says it like it is. Whereas Oprah’s book bought me a sense of calm and understanding gratitude, thankfulness, and joy better. I learnt being grateful is a daily working practice. It also made me think about being more present at the moment. I gift that book because it is beautifully written and moving.
What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months?
Motivational or empowering books ordered via Amazon, I genuinely could not list every single title without writing an essay here. The two books above were ordered that way. Also, the AWMB workshop in January. The insight, community, and friendships it has bought to my life have been invaluable.
How has failure set you up for later success?
Failure has given me insight into how I can improve things better for the next time. Whether in fitness, personal relationships, or work, each stumbling block has actually made me more resilient and clearer on what is right for me. At the time of the particular perceived failure, it can feel so huge, however looking back on them now I do not feel that way. I say ‘failure’ is your compass – it will direct you to where you actually need to be.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
I would say overcoming my own personal fears and self-doubts. For me, it’s not a specific life challenge, but rather who I am in that challenge. Becoming healthy again post-cancer treatment/ill health and completing the Mighty hike both required challenging my own personal held beliefs of myself. That I am capable and strong enough to get through it.
If you could have a gigantic billboard, what would it say?
‘Never underestimate the human spirit – especially your own.’
I think we all the ability to become more than we think or feel is possible at times. I’ve seen in my personal life and work that we all can be exceptionally hard and critical of ourselves. Of course, there may be real limitations to what you can or can’t do; however, I have seen people recover and overcome real tragedy and still flourish. A billboard like that may possibly remind us all of that reality.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
Brene Brown- ‘Vulnerability is not about winning or losing; it is having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it is our greatest measure of courage’.
Rachel Hollis – ‘Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.’
Maya Angelou – ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better’.
In the last two years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?
I would say in the last two years – meditating has really helped give me focus and a sense of calm. I breathe better, which affects how I now react to certain situations. This is my daily habit now in the morning. A new belief/behaviour I have had, more so in the last year is to try new things. I joked to Rupinder Kaur that as long as it’s legal, moral and doesn’t put me or others at risk, I’ll say yes to new opportunities. It has already led to numerous memorable moments. I’ve traveled alone, gone glamping, completed the hike, taken part in more charity events, and met so many amazing people as a by-product of taking these actions.
What advice would you give to someone who has low self-esteem and is about to embark into a journey into fitness and well-being?
I would first say you’re not in it alone. Even the most well-trained gym-goer will have their moments of self-doubt and low self-esteem. Get the correct and relevant support – whether that be a PT or going to a class you enjoy. I went to Zumba, legs bums and tums – practically everything to regain my love of fitness. I also have friends that have organized weekly group PT sessions. That way, you have the moral support of one another and in a space that you’re comfortable in. Find a way that gives you that healthy accountability. Also celebrate your wins, even if you do one extra sit up, star jump, or one additional minute on the cross-trainer. A practical tip is to take out your workout clothes the night before a workout, so you can’t make any excuses. I’ve been there, I am still there some days, so remove any distractions.
What would be your message to the AWMB community?
Just take the first step even when you have no idea what you’re doing and while feeling indifferent. The truth is whether it’s your relationship with fitness and well-being or any other area of your life, making some form of change or attempting something new can feel exhilarating and frightening. You may get questioned about your choices or not supported as you hoped by your loved ones. However trust me, it does get easier once that challenge or hurdle becomes familiar. I also hope that you know your worthiness is not attached to the outcome of your achievements, but to the story you choose to create for your own life on your terms. I’ve learnt what you think about yourself, is the deciding factor. Your story, whether fitness, well being, business, as a mother/sister/daughter/partner and friend matters, irrespective of how big or small you may think or feel it is at times. So stand proudly in your story, give yourself some compassion and do the best that you can, knowing every single day that is enough.