Fun, Family and Fitness with Shani McGraham-Shirley
Creator of Yahsuh, a Caribbean dance fitness program and Director of Yahsuh Fitbox, fitness guru, Shani McGraham-Shirley has many titles. She holds the 1998 Miss Jamaica Universe title, is a respected motivational speaker, a former teacher, a wife and a mother of three children – India, Thai and Mali. Add to that, her new title as wellness ambassador of financial conglomerate, Sagicor Group Jamaica. Shani took some time out of her busy schedule to tell us all about her journey and her thoughts on fun, family and fitness.
How would you describe your journey to becoming a fitness instructor?
Simply put, it was an unplanned, completely left field, blind-sided whirlwind. I was introduced to Zumba Fitness when addressing my own need to lose weight and reclaim my body, after my third pregnancy, 10 years ago. I fell in love with Zumba as a client in a class. The instructor advised us that she was moving to the states one day and we were left with no one to teach Zumba. The entire class said, “Shani, you’re the only one who can actually dance. So, if you teach it, we’ll keep coming”. The owner of the gym offered me a job immediately - there was a demand, all I had to do was supply. I walked away from my teaching profession, as a pre-school teacher, took a leap of faith and started teaching Zumba.
I became a self-taught Pole Fitness instructor and got certified in Group Fitness and Personal Training, eventually transitioning to teaching Bootcamp, Weight Training, Flexibility, In-door Cycling, Plyometric, Calisthenics and I even got a first level coaching certification in Synchronized Swimming. Needless to say, my fitness journey has been an unorthodox, nontraditional, beautifully messy one, and I’ve enjoyed every detour along the way.
What is your ultimate fitness goals?
My ultimate fitness goal is to achieve and maintain my goal weight of 130 to 135lbs, body fat of 18 to 21 per cent, to be free from injury and to maintain a lean but feminine appearance. The hard part isn’t reaching a goal, it’s maintaining the goal.
What's your advice to persons struggling with their fitness goal?
Not all goals are realistic. Discuss your fitness goal with someone you trust, someone non-judgmental and educated in the field. See what it takes to achieve that goal, and assess whether you can achieve it, if you are willing to put in the work and whether you will be able to maintain it. After analyzing the goal and the process, decide if you want to keep that goal. There is nothing wrong with tweaking or adjusting it a tad, as unrealistic goals can be a huge de-motivator.
What’s your go-to work out or routine?
I love a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) Programme as its short, sweet, effective and to the point. I get everything done in one hour – cardio and weight training, with a few extreme moves thrown in. I love a challenge.
How do you balance the demands of your career and your family?
It’s a constant struggle, and it’s a losing battle more often than I would like to admit. I, like many others, have the intention to make my family come first - after all, everything I do is for them; but I can admit to being a workaholic. Occasionally, when I realize I’ve been too consumed by work, I insist on a get-away weekend with either my husband and myself, or the entire family.
What's your favourite family time activity?
Going to the beach or being curled up watching movies. These are hands down my faves. But a fun game of French dominoes or kalooki with the kids is a close runner-up.
What/who keeps you grounded and focused on your goals?
My husband, David. He has a way of bringing me back, helping me re-center, and refocus. He has always been my rock.
What do you do for fun?
The beach is my happy place. I can enjoy it alone, with my husband, my kids or friends. When the sun is on my body, toes in the sand and a drink in my hand, all is well with the world.
How do you relax after a long day?
I don’t relax often enough; this is one of my issues with balance. But on my worst days, relaxation is lying in bed getting a foot rub from David.
Where/what is your happy place?
My happy place, and what I do for fun tend to be the same thing…going to the beach or having a get-away weekend where there is a beach is all I need. You’ll never hear me staycationing in the hills, as beautiful as our mountains are with the colder climate or river vibes, I will always find a beach.
What’s your personal credo/motto?
I am so multifaceted that I have as many mottos as I do personalities. My husband always says he could never get bored with me as I am several women rolled into one. I couldn’t choose my favorite motto, so here are a few.
1. If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it!
2. It doesn’t get easier, you simply get stronger.
3. If it doesn’t CHALLENGE you, it will never CHANGE you.
4. When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have to throw them suckers back, and say “Not today!”.
As Sagicor’s new Wellness Ambassador, what does overall wellness mean to you and how would you encourage persons to maintain a state of wellness?
Wellness is a balancing act of several components; one must have a healthy mind, body and soul. Neglecting one area will significantly affect the others. It’s not just about nutrition and exercise. To maintain a state of wellness, it truly starts with the mind. A healthy mind is forgiving to self. A healthy mind understands that life isn’t perfect, and things will throw you off your routine occasionally. A healthy mind understands that it’s okay to do better tomorrow.
To achieve and maintain a state of wellness, I recommend setting realistic goals that take into account your lifestyle, responsibilities and physical capabilities. Failure is a great demotivator for most, so set targets that are doable and short-term. Once you hit those out of the park, set new ones. Nothing ignites like the feeling of accomplishment.