To Be A Better Me

What do you think about when you exercise? Abnormal breathing and heartbeat, concentration and control, brain activity and body coordination...the whole person switches into a completely different mode, as if stepping through a wormhole and into a parallel universe that will create a different you.

Shaz Careem hails from London, in the United Kingdom, graduated from Imperial College London as a Business Management major and was previously employed at the British Museum. He came to Chengdu for the first time in 2012, and today, other than his main job he also is one of the co-founders of SHIFT.


Shaz Careem

In search of the body's codes 

In the animal kingdom, it is survival of the fittest, and a species' success is closely tied with physical strength. Sometimes the same can be said for humans, as we're not totally free from animal instinct. Shaz was a bit of a twiglet as a kid and would occasionally be the target of bullies. At the time, he thought that if he worked out harder, he'd be able to protect himself and fight back. When he was 15, he began to learn martial arts: karate, taekwondo, judo, boxing, MMA...more than a decade has passed and he gradually discovered the style of exercise most suitable for him, and now he works out not only for physical fitness anymore. 


"Body builders and power lifters have completely different demands in the types of exercises and muscle training they do," Shaz explained, adding that he is more fond of the latter. "The former might boast better muscle definition, but muscles that are too big can become restrictive and a burden". Practicality is what Shaz pursues, like the concept "looks fit with clothes on, looks muscular with clothes off". Of course, not too muscular. 

The formation and maintenance of muscle mandates a lot in daily life, from the way you eat and the way you sleep to the way you work and the way you play, Rome and good habits are not built in one day. Discipline endows the body with more freedom, but Shaz also jokes that he is but an ordinary man, and he loves dancing, so sometimes he used to go partying from dusk til dawn like most people. However, he began to cultivate an interest in other, healthier areas. In Shaz's apartment, there is a small "laboratory" with a lot of raw materials on the shelf. It reminded me of Walter White in "Breaking Bad." The differences are those items on the shelf: organic beeswax, Sri Lankan coconut oil and black salt from Yunnan, etc. They are used to make natural skincare products such as lip balm, body butter, face scrubs and more. Also, he likes traditional Chinese medicine for its natural, mostly herbal based therapies and effective albeit time-consuming solutions to eradicate the root of health problems. Shaz said: "When your body turns good or bad, it's not always a sudden problem out of nowhere, but the result of years of dietary, sports, sleeping and other daily habits."


Follow your heart 

At the tender age of three years old, Shaz's dad migrated from Sri Lanka to London, while his mom lived in Sri Lanka until her marriage, so Shaz could be considered a second-generation immigrant that grew up in the British capital. Shaz revealed: "The collision of cultures obviously isn't a strange occurrence in such a family, but they shouldn't be oversimplified as just cultural differences, it's also about people's personalities and outlook" adding that "London is an inclusive, multicultural city, it's easy to be find your own, unique identity". Chengdu has left him with the same impression of comfort that many expats get, but with an extra bit of affection shared between people. "Take for instance, in the parks and residential communities in Chengdu there's sports equipment for citizens to use, and these places have also turned into a venue for socializing among neighbors. This kind of community interaction rarely happens in London". 

In the summer of 2012, Shaz came to Chengdu for a month for a short-term job opportunity at Sichuan University. Initially hoping for just a taste of an exotic land, he wound up staying in Chengdu for the next six years. He likes the weather, the people, the food in Chengdu and a bunch of other reasons he didn't want to expand on for the millionth time. "I just know that I am not done with this place just yet," he proclaimed, earnestly. 

Working out 3-4 times a week for a couple of hours each time is a habit Shaz has maintained since he moved to the Hibiscus City. Due to his passion for fitness, he has made friends with many others who share the same pursuit. In October 2016, the first SHIFT Day event he and his partners organized was held, and about 200 people attended the event. They were pleasantly surprised at what was on offer, and today SHIFT still organizes free exercise classes every week, through the Shift Community that Shaz organises. For this reason, the platform has also attracted and assembled plenty of both Chinese and foreign exercise fanatics in Chengdu, and involved sports ranging from yoga and martial arts to bike rides and Zumba. "People should be able to exercise for free, it shouldn't exclude people because of money," was Shaz's initial motivation for founding the SHIFT Community. 


Two years have passed and SHIFT has almost 500 participants in their Community. While offline events in Chengdu are fast becoming more diversified and under the backdrop of converting user scaledriven by commercial returns, Shaz still insists on providing free weekly exercise classes for anyone who wants to join, no matter what their level of fitness. Not blindly cashing in on opportunities and resources is Shaz's creed, just like his dedication to his body is not fixated on "looking good".

Encountering a different you 

Shaz began practicing yoga in the past couple of years, something very different to his normal likes: fast paced and strenuous types of exercises. Surrounded by a circle of various sort of workout experts, very Sunday he would encourage other yogis to come and practice at his home. He clears out his living room, and every session could only accommodate up to 10 people, but now there's a group of people who regularly come and join in. 

Shaz admits that his true love is boxing, because the rapid dodging and counterstrikes require holistic integration of the mind and body under high concentration, and here reaction means explosive releases of energy. Meanwhile in yoga, the "integration of the mind and body" is a contrasting type of integration. Amid slow and controlled breathing, the practitioner needs to seek balance while cooperating with the body, which realizes an "up close and personal" distance between mind and body. Yet, due to the gentle and mild process of yoga, both the mind and body can conduct a kind of self-scan - is there still some energy that remains blocked somewhere? In many ways yoga shares similarities with Chinese Tai Chi. "People choose to exercise, and it changes people." 


Though muscles have memory, life is dynamic. Shaz maintains a sense of curiosity for different forms of exercise, and in each of his lasting commitment to different disciplines, he found his own form of athletic expression. 

"A better body, a better lifestyle? Perhaps. When you're exercising, it's a dialogue with yourself, in some ways" Shaz said. "The body is an external representation of yourself. Eventually, through this kind of solitude and conversation, you might create a different you".

Excerpted from HELLO Chengdu May Issue

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