As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samira Mustafaeva. Samira is a World championship medalist in rhythmic gymnastics, and the founder of “SM Stretching” fitness studios, with five studios in Moscow and one in Los Angeles. Samira is also one of the first to introduce Barre to Russia and creator of the splits trend.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I started doing rhythmic gymnastics when I was 5 years old, and it turned into a professional career. As a result, health and wellness have always been an important part of my life and creating “SM Stretching” gave me a way to share my knowledge and passion with others. It is my greatest joy to see our clients achieve their fitness goals.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I don’t really see myself as an authority figure, but I’m glad that I managed to inspire many young girls and women to believe in themselves. 2 years ago, we not only opened our first “SM Stretching” studio, we also created a trend for mastering your splits, which caused a boom in the fitness industry. After some time, we changed the direction of this trend and began to popularize “conscious stretching”. As a result, women are now going to stretching classes to improve their well-being, feel lighter on their feet, learn to listen to their body, and to be more energetic and flexible overall. Clients often tell me these benefits lead to positive changes in other areas of their lives as well. The more I hear this, the more convinced I am that it’s true. In both Moscow and Los Angeles, influencers and celebrities who have tried almost everything fitness related, work hard on their bodies, and prefer only highly effective workouts take classes at SM Stretching, which shows that our classes meet very high standards.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am very grateful to my husband for helping me achieve my goals. When I retired from competitive rhythmic gymnastics, I let myself go; I began to eat excessively, gained 22 pounds, had no desire to work, and just hung out. Before I met my husband, I was underestimating my capabilities. It was my husband who got me back on my feet and made me the person I am today. Not a day went by that he didn’t tell me how special I am.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
The most common reasons preventing us from integrating healthy habits into our lives are:
- Lack of motivation: don’t start working out just because you were told you need to and because everyone says it should be a priority. Read, research the topic, learn more about your body, and watch how it reacts to your workout changes and nutrition. This way, working out will no longer feel like an obligation imposed by society, the thought “I have to work out” will start to fade, being active will become an important part of your life, and you yourself will no longer want to skip a workout.
- Lack of time: we often put off things we need or want to do simply because we cannot organize our day. A simple solution is to plan your schedule in advance, which will help you go to bed on time, have time to eat properly, and avoid snacking or overeating due to hunger.
- Stress: Any form of stress disrupts our everyday life. Try to surround yourself with supportive people who inspire you and who you effortlessly bond with. Being around people who want the same things as you makes it much easier to form new habits and maintain an active lifestyle.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
The effective rules to form a healthy lifestyle are quite simple but being consistent in following these rules is of utmost importance!
- Stabilize your daily routine: going to bed by 11:00pm and waking up by 7:00am — during these hours, our body is optimally able to restore its strength for a new day.
- Balanced diet: do not overload yourself with an excessive amount of meals, eating before bed, or eating heavy meals. Always make sure to listen to your body.
- Limit the amount of information you receive (restrict usage of messengers and social media) — put away your phone an hour before bed and go for a walk or read a book. This will give your brain time to rest from your phone screen and switch to “evening mode”.
- Remain active: at least 10,000 steps per day, and at least 150 minutes spent working out per week. This will allow our body to stretch out and help keep ourselves in shape.
- Do something new every day: take a walk on a new route, read a new book, try a new exercise during your workout — any new activity awakens your brain and energizes it.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
There are many benefits of exercising daily in addition to keeping your body in good shape. For example:
- Improved mood — it is no secret that your mood improves while exercising due to the release of endorphins (happiness hormones).
Pay attention to how you feel after a workout: you’re likely in a good mood, you feel like smiling, and seem to have more energy than before the workout!
2. Better sleep: after physically exerting yourself, sleep is deeper and more pleasant 😊
Exercise helps take your mind off difficulties at work, in your personal life, and other aspects. After working out, you have happier thoughts and a feeling of satisfaction.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
I recommend regularly doing exercises that involve the basic muscle groups:
- Tilt your body down keeping your back flat and try to touch the floor, feeling the back of the hips and the hamstrings
- Stretch your back with the Cat-Cow pose.
These exercises do not require warming up, but will tone the hips and glutes, provide a light stretch and a gentle relief of back fatigue.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long-term injury?
To avoid injuries, warming up before a workout is necessary. It is also important not to do the advanced version of the exercise until you have mastered the base movement(s). It is better to gradually prepare the muscles for more difficult exercises. This will help you feel how to correctly perform the exercise, and when moving to the more advanced version of the exercise, you will feel which muscles should and shouldn’t be working. This way, you will not push yourself too hard and will have an effective workout.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
It is impossible to recommend a diet to people without knowing their physiological characteristics, since nutrition varies greatly between individuals. Speaking of stretching in general, we recommend taking Omega-3 and Omega-6 supplements, as well as doing one “deloading” day per week — limit yourself in the number of calories consumed and avoid heavy foods.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There hasn’t been a book that’s significantly impacted me. My life is not influenced by books, but by people who overcome obstacles and fight to achieve their dreams. I would like my book to become motivational and inspirational for someone. I am finishing writing my book right now and will send it to be printed very soon. It will not be a manual on “How to build a business from scratch without start-up capital”, but rather a personal story. It will be as if the reader and I are having a private conversation. I talk about how people tried to break me and my self-confidence and how I found the strength to move on. I hope this book will help someone see the world in a new light and start to treat themselves and their body with love.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We’ve already started this type of movement in Russia. It roughly translates to “anything can be flexible”. It is an analogue for “anything is possible”. Women used to believe that you could only learn how to do splits if you were a dancer or rhythmic gymnast, but with the start of the “anything can be flexible” movement, they changed their minds. I can say with confidence that everyone can improve their flexibility and achieve their splits. The only variable is how long it will take to achieve this goal. In fact, the movement “anything can be flexible” has a deeper meaning than just improving flexibility, it is about the fact that you can achieve your dreams and any of your goals regardless of the circumstances and stereotypes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
The main lessons in my life were taught to me by sports. These lessons push me to finish what I’ve started, both in business and in my personal life, to never pity myself, constantly strive to improve, and come up with new activities and projects. Launching a studio in Los Angeles, learning English in a short time span to teach classes and communicate with our USA team, dealing with a situation in which a trainer left and stole the program I invented — I coped with all of these situations thanks to willpower and perseverance. I make it a rule to stay positive and not focus on difficulties, as it would be impossible to move forward without them.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are so many interesting people in the world whom I would love to talk to, that I cannot pick just one. I am always open to meeting new people and can find a shared topic of interest with almost everyone. For example, I would be equally happy if I were invited to meet Elon Musk, Kendall Jenner, and Blake Lively.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
My account is @samira__mustafaeva and I can often be seen on the SM Stretching account @smstretching.la.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!