From The Straits Times    |

Do you like your job? Or wonder what it would be like if you’d gone against your parents’ advice and pursued your dream career? Her World’s Career Confessions column spotlights the professional journeys of its subjects and reveals how each individual’s career path and the choices they have made can have an impact on their personal finances, psychological health, and interpersonal relationships.

In a world filled with wellness trends and fitness fads, finding a personal trainer who embodies both expertise and authenticity can be a game-changer. Enter Maria Lourdes Chan, the driving force behind Casa Maria, a sanctuary where fitness meets holistic wellness. With a passion for empowering individuals to unlock their full potential, Maria is invested in helping her clients achieve the physical and mental transformation they aspire to have.

As a physical trainer and yoga teacher, Maria doesn’t discriminate when it comes to her clients. From international popstars (at one point she was training J-pop legend Ayumi Hamasaki), middle-aged women in their 50s and 60s, and even toddlers (her clients’ kids and even her three-year-old daughter attend her yoga classes), she will happily take on any client who has a willingness to learn more about their body.

With years of experience and a diverse background in health and wellness, Maria brings a wealth of knowledge to her practice. But it’s her genuine care and unwavering commitment to her clients’ success that truly sets her apart. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete striving for peak performance or a newcomer embarking on your wellness journey, Maria’s guidance is tailored to meet you exactly where you are.

Name: Maria Lourdes Chan
Highest Education: Degree in Psychology
Job Title & Industry: Personal trainer, yoga teacher and founder of fitness studio Casa Maria
Years of Work Experience: 13 years

Tell us more about your background. How did you get started in the world of physical fitness?

I’ve always had an interest in fitness from a young age. I started seriously working out when I was 18 – I would put up a mirror in my room and train with weights. Initially, I thought of becoming a doctor, but I wanted to be a doctor without having to dispense medication. Physical fitness felt like a natural extension of that.

I first started with yoga as I believe that healing comes from within. When you have a shift in your mindset and perspective, you’ll motivate yourself to complete your goals even if physically you don’t feel like doing it. To me, fitness starts with using the mind to control the body, and that’s how you connect with yourself.

Later I became a physical trainer after I met my ex-husband (who was also a physical trainer) who trained me.

How would you describe your career? Would you describe it as a job, a career, or a calling that you are passionate about?

It is a way of life for me – I was born to do this. If I’m not teaching a student every day, I’ll feel like something’s missing. I’m so focused on my clients that sometimes I have my three-year-old daughter join us for yoga classes so that I can have more time with her, haha!

It also stemmed from learning how to protect myself as a woman. Growing up, I had to deal with family members who were mentally an physically abusive towards me. While I had to go through this adversity early on in life, I didn’t want to let it get the best of me and it was important for me to see how I could become a better person despite it. This inspired me to do something that allowed me to connect body and mind. 

What’s your day-to-day schedule like?

I always begin my mornings with some meditation followed by a coffee. Then I’ll do something for my physical body because I’ve rested for eight hours. For example, today I went for a run at 5.30am. Then I’ll begin my training sessions with my students. I need to serve myself first before I serve my students, that way I will be in the right state of mind to train them. 

If I’m done teaching by evening, I usually like to unwind with a glass of wine. Sometimes I try to meet someone who matters to me because I like having at least one positive interaction a day. That leaves an impact on me and makes me feel good.

What is your philosophy when it comes to training someone?

There needs to be a connection between the mind, body and soul. When you are connected with your mind, body and soul, you become one powerful creature that even I cannot break. 

I see the potential in my students and their physical bodies. Through physical fitness, I get to know who you are as a person, from the way you train, speak, and carry yourself, to how you pretend you are fine even when you are struggling. 

I like challenging my students because that makes my passion worth living for.

What is one thing people should know before hiring a physical fitness trainer? 

They just need to know that they’re paying. They’re paying for someone who’s of quality. The minute someone knows they have invested in themselves and a service, they will put in the work as they know they have spent money on it and want to see results.

What are some skills a trainer would need aside from physical attributes? 

You need to be able to listen; to have compassion, determination, and the ability to understand your students so that you can bring them to self-actualisation. You can’t just motivate them by telling them what you believe about them – they need to be able to see it through their eyes. Your job is not to tell them who they are or what their potential is. Your job is to physically push them in the safest and healthiest way possible so that they can grow.

Is it different training women as compared to men?

Men are afraid of my classes. When they come to my class, there is some apprehension because they are nervous that I might appear more “masculine” than them. But it has nothing to do with masculinity or femininity. I’m a professional – you’re paying me to train you, and I need to increase your testosterone. Of course, I’m going to be hard on you because there are expectations of results! It was even tough for me to train my ex-husband – he found me too tough!

Women tend to complain a bit more, but they are more understanding of their physical limitations. Men will usually just push past their breaking point and end up hurting themselves. With men there is a lot of ego, but with women, there is a lot of self-doubt. Even though women are powerful, and have a higher threshold for pain than men, they tend to have a limited perception of their physical capabilities, and it can be hard to push through their stubbornness to help them understand that they can get to the next level in their physical fitness journey. 

What are your considerations when creating workouts for women at different fitness levels?

Lifestyle. Everyone has a different lifestyle and their body has been through different experiences, and it differs from every age. One client could hate running and refuse to do it even if it will help her reach her goals faster. 

You have to be able to tailor the programme to their needs and what they are willing to do. What I do is cater to the type of workouts that my clients enjoy doing, but I will be honest in telling them that we can do it their way, but they will reach their goals at a slower pace. I am very transparent about that. It’s different if I’m given a timeline, like say, if someone wants to reach their goals within 30 days. Then they will have to overhaul their entire fitness regime and lifestyle, and even change their diet.

How do you create a supportive and comfortable environment for your female clients?

Never judge your clients. Never judge because they’re just not ready. When they’re ready, they’re ready, and you’ll be there with them because you didn’t rush them. The longer your clients are with you, the more growth you’ll see and you need a lot of patience to not rush them through the process even if you want to see results. The moment they walk into your class, welcome them with open arms and ask them, “How can I keep helping you? How can I show up for you and help you reach your goals?”

Can you share a 10-minute home workout that any woman can do regardless of location and schedule?

If you’re training your legs, you can do Squats (3 sets of 20 reps):

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, toes pointing slightly outward. Keep your chest up and your core engaged. 
  • Lower your body down as if you’re sitting back into a chair, keeping your knees in line with your toes. 
  • Aim to lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground, or as low as comfortable.
  • Then, push through your heels to return to the starting position. 
  • Do 20 reps for each set, resting for 30-60 seconds between sets.

If you’re looking for an upper body workout, you can do Chest Knee-to-Ground Push-Ups (3 sets of 20 reps each):

  • Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, wrists aligned with shoulders. 
  • Drop to your knees if needed for modified push-ups. 
  • Lower your chest toward the ground, keeping your elbows close to your body, until your chest touches the ground or you reach a comfortable depth. 
  • Push back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms. 
  • Aim for 20 reps per set, resting for 30-60 seconds between sets.