wewez blog – the national – Hind, Mariam and Amna Balfaqeh loved yoga, but when their teacher, who taught the three sisters at home, moved to Dubai, the women felt lost.
The sisters all work full time for semi-government organisations, but decided to take their hobby and turn it into a business opportunity.
“It was something we did as a family,” says Mariam, 33. “We didn’t have anything in the community here in Al Maqta so we thought it was a business opportunity. We needed something for the community.”
Around six years ago, while the population was growing off Abu Dhabi island, there was still little for Emirati women who wanted to live a more active lifestyle.
One year ago, they opened Tone Fitness, which now has 99 per cent Emirati clientele, inspiring the community to get moving, with classes from yoga to Zumba.
Different generations of families come to the studio, mothers and daughters, cousins, spread simply by word of mouth.
“The women are comfortable,” said Mariam. “For prayer, they know we know to turn off the music. It’s cultural sensitivities that they know we notice, class times changing for Ramadan, these things are important.”
All three sisters work between eight and 10 hours a day in their full time jobs, and the project has not been easy for them to balance, but it has brought them closer.
“In the beginning there was a lot of shouting,” said Mariam. “But we can’t just fall out for a weekend. That’s not acceptable. I was very stubborn before but now I have to hear their points of view. We learnt a lot of communication. We’re sisters and really good friends.”
Amna, 29, agrees the sisters have overcome their initial differences.
“Now, everyone knows their responsibilities but in the beginning there wasn’t that clarity. Now it’s easier and the relationship got stronger,” she said. “There’s more discussion and less shouting now.”
Mariam said encouraging others to lead a healthy lifestyle is “very important” to the sisters. “We need to get that message out,” she says.
Amna says it has been rewarding to see people trying out new forms of exercise.
“They can come here and do many different things and they like that,” she says.
Hind, 31, also said running the studio has turned her life around.
“It’s changed my life both in terms of food and exercise,” she says.
It has also allowed her to experience the trials of running a business.
“We thought it would be easy but getting into it, it’s really not as easy as it seems. It’s been very challenging for me to juggle both jobs,” says Hind.
“At first it was really hard to balance. I would rarely see family or friends but it was for a short time while we set things up.”
The sisters say their work never ends on the business. When they travel, they research new classes and studios to try to keep up with the rapidly evolving fitness market.
“That’s what will keep the studio going now,” said Mariam. “It’s part of us, part of our personalities.”
The support the sisters offer each other has been invaluable, says Mariam. “We have each other’s backs and our family is backing us and believing in what we do. It’s really important for us to have that family support.”