Shashi found strength from fitness during lockdown.

Beyond being a model, actress, media personality, brand ambassador and influencer, Shashi Naidoo is also a successful entrepreneur and business owner. Her businesses include Alushi Model Management and Alushi Aesthetics, an aesthetic laser clinic and spa, which had to close for five months when South Africa went into lockdown. 

Like many South Africans, Shashi had to grapple with immense stress and uncertainty as the country navigated its way through the first COVID-19 infection wave in 2020. While circumstances got the better of her initially, once she focused more on self-care, the other areas of her life began to fall back in place. 

We caught up with Shashi to find out how her health and fitness-focused lifestyle helps her as a business owner and entrepreneur.

How did the pandemic affect your various businesses?

When lockdown regulations forced me to temporarily close my businesses, I made the decision to continue paying my staff in full, along with covering my rent and other costs. We didn’t have any other forms of financial support, so like many South Africans I had to make difficult decisions and sacrifices, such as moving out of my home and back into an apartment. I am not sad about these decisions. My actions showed that I had grit as a business leader and ensured that I didn’t have to lay off any staff or close any businesses during this challenging period. 

Beyond the financial implications, how did these challenges affect you from a physical, mental and emotional health perspective?

Like everyone else, I was under lockdown and stuck at home. Throughout this time, I constantly had these financial and business stresses on my mind and was unable to do anything about them. Not working out and being cooped up sent me into a depression and I started suffering from anxiety. I literally didn’t get off my couch for a month.

Eventually, I pulled myself together and decided to start moving my body, which is what finally helped me get out of my depression. That first step is the hardest, but you’re certainly not going to improve your situation by lying on the couch. I fully credit the endorphins that exercise released and the headspace it created as the reasons behind my successful recovery. When I started out, I couldn’t even do 10 lunges without losing my breath, which can make you hesitant about throwing yourself into a workout. But with commitment and consistency, I built my strength back up and I am now back in the gym, which has made such a massive difference to my physical health and mental wellbeing.

Living fit is so much more than just improving your outward appearance – it is a culmination of everything that makes you YOU – it is a way to be and a mantra to live by and share.

What forms of exercise worked best for you to manage your stress levels?

When most people start off, they watch these typically amazing online workout videos, but this content can overwhelm anyone who hasn’t exercised before or has taken extended time off from training. 

I chose to start with something simple, like daily walks. A brisk walk was enough to raise my heart rate and get my cardiovascular system working. Getting a personal trainer is also a beneficial way to get back into a regular exercise routine, even if it is just for a few sessions. They can guide you and provide an effective workout plan for you to follow. Once you’ve made progress, you can then turn to the various online resources to take the next step in your workout routine. 

So always start small. You don’t attempt to climb Mount Everest after climbing your first small hill. It is a gradual process, even after the initial phases. Even now, I am still constantly building up my strength and fitness. I hope to be stronger at 50 than I am now at 40. 

What exercise approach has worked best for you during the pandemic?

Everybody is different, but what works best for me is working out in a group setting. I love HIIT workout classes, like SWEAT1000. It’s social and there is a real vibe in every session, which goes a long way to also connect you with other like-minded people. Importantly, there is a set time when classes take place. This means I know when I have to be at the gym to get my workout in. This ensures I get my session in first thing in the morning so any other commitments that invariably pop up during the day don’t prevent me from working out. It’s also my time – an early morning session means there are no other demands on my time or attention before the workday starts. 

How did regular activity and exercise help you destress both physically and mentally?

There’s no doubt that exercising during lockdown has made a major difference in my life. When you are in a slump, you don’t always realise you are in that situation. When I made the conscious decision to get up, get out and get active, I realised how important it is to set goals and have purpose for your day.
Aside from seeing the physical changes, the endorphin rush sets you up for success during the rest of your day. It’s amazing how committing to get to the gym or doing some form of exercise every day to care for your body has the potential to dramatically improve every other aspect of your life. 

How do you stay motivated to exercise?

Motivation is transient. You can’t rely on motivation to get you to the gym every day. Instead, forming habits is the key to long-term success and creating a sustainable lifestyle. Having created this healthy habit in my life, I now no longer need to think about getting dressed and heading out the door to exercise every day. 

Other tips on how to manage stress? 

I got into a terrible habit of keeping my device next to my bed at night and would answer emails and start working if I struggled to fall asleep or woke up at night. I have made a concerted effort to charge my device overnight far away from my bed so that it is not a distraction or temptation. Rest is vital. Without sufficient sleep you’re not going to be able to manage stress.  

I also love a weekly massage. It helps me relax and get a good night’s rest before the week starts. I read that massage is a great way to improve your health and longevity, so I decided to add this to my regular routine and I have benefited greatly.