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That Mama: Her Tribe Yoga Studio Founder & Cancer Survivor Nura Ahmad

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Yogi mama-of-one Nura Ahmad is a former digital marketing analyst and survivor of colon cancer. Now, she heads Her Tribe studio and advocates for women’s fitness and pre/postnatal support

Just as most of the friendships formed in the era of social media, Nura Ahmad and I found each other on Instagram and have been in touch for a while now. I got to know of her through a friend, and first looked to her for inspiration on eco-friendly and holistic parenting in Singapore (I believe I first heard of cloth diapering through her posts!). It has always been inspiring to see this go-getting mama being out and about, advocating for alternative healing, mindful parenting and supporting pre- and postnatal mamas through yoga and antenatal classes at the Her Tribe studio in Joo Chiat… all with a child in tow, every step of the way! What I didn’t know is that she is a proud cancer survivor, and she never thought she would be able to conceive after going through that chapter in her life. Here she talks candidly about navigating parenthood, revamping a business in the midst of a pandemic, and finding the light at the end of the tunnel. Read on for her amazing insights and feast your eyes on some gorgeous photos, courtesy of Irina Nilsson Photography!

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?

Anyone who knows me will readily describe me as the petite girl who is highly energetic and a go-getter. It was two events in my life that truly shaped my career – one being a colon cancer survivor since 2011 and the other being a newly minted mum. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that my husband is part of the equation, for nurturing and challenging me to be who I am today – a director and lead trainer of a holistic wellness boutique studio that is born from a gap in the market and a fire in the soul.

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby? 

After I found out that I was conceiving a miracle baby despite my illness, I took the time to redefine a meaningful career path to work for myself. While being an executive digital marketing analyst made me very risk-averse, I was also a freelance Yoga and Pilates instructor. It was that innate ability of listening to my intuition that finally led me to take the plunge and decide on a career switch in 2015. It wasn’t easy, with financial instability, but making sustainable economic considerations comes naturally when you’re a mom. The arrival of my newborn breathed freedom and flexibility into how I could spend my days nurturing my daughter, Zia, while I rediscovered my passion during my maternity leave.

How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?

Oh! I can still remember that vividly! Sleep training my daughter and teaching her to self-soothe helped me take back control of my days and it truly spurred me to write my e-book, titled Quest for an Empowering Motherhood [Prenatal Edition] for my prenatal clients! Career and motherhood wise, I didn’t really slow down after my maternity ended. My daughter’s presence kept me on my toes! When I am in between meetings, course studies and teaching a prenatal class, my daughter would be on my back in my baby carrier (an Onbuhimo from Soul Singapore), we would have nursing breaks in between and when I was teaching a heavy skilled Yoga/Pilates class, her snacks, toys and books kept her occupied for a good hour or two. I used to call her my polly pocket doll because she was always with me all the time, until I weaned her off breastfeeding at 2 years 6 months old! I generally maintained the same intense drive I’ve always had at the end of the day, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I have never been more enamoured by a little soul who is my little best friend, encouraging and witnessing my growth to provide for our family.

You mentioned once in a Berita Harian interview that you’re a colon cancer survivor. Can you tell us about your experience?

At first I was in disbelief, mainly because I thought I was at the pink of health due to my active lifestyle. The first symptom I remembered was the high fever and numerous bouts of diarrhoea with blood and mucus that went on for a week. Two different private clinics offered similar medication to relieve it and none of it worked for me as it continued to affect my emotional and mental wellbeing. When I finally went to a neighbourhood polyclinic after a month of enduring the pain, they suspected that I had irritable bowel syndrome as all its symptoms were present. Deep in my soul I thought, That can’t be it. I wasn’t convinced, so I got a referral letter to Alexandra Hospital for a colonoscopy screening.

My worst nightmare came true when I tested positive for colon cancer. Further tests were done and I found out that I had H.Pylori infection. Even though high blood pressure and heart problems run in my family, I wasn’t much of a hypochondriac. The discovery of my colon cancer was a poignant reminder that my active lifestyle wasn’t as healthy as I thought. My whole life, principles and lifestyle changed drastically – I chucked out every bit of ‘western’ medicine I had, from my nebulizer to steroid creams for my eczema. I also threw out every pack of instant noodles and processed food at home and made the conscious effort to empower myself towards holistic healing such as eating clean, practising yoga, finding alternative remedies such as Homeopathy, Young Living Essential Oils and Forest Bathing. Anyone that has crossed paths with me can vouch that if there is something that I put my mind to, I would climb mountains to achieve it. For me, the biggest achievement to my natural healing was being able to conceive a child despite all odds.

How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?

Actually I don’t, and it’s intentional that I involve my daughter in most of my projects and activities. She’s an integral part of my life and my career. I found myself living in guilt of potentially missing out on all the magical moments between mother and child as I didn’t have that with my mom from when I was as young as 2 years old. I didn’t know how my mom was when she was with friends, or what were her dreams and aspirations. With that absence, there’s a combination of:

  1. Staying flexible about our approach to parenting style, being open to change and adapting as necessary, not just through action but through mindset.
  2. Leaning on my motherhood circle for emotional support, exchanging ideas and supporting each other while our child(ren) went through baby-led weaning (BLW), teething, weaning and so much more.

How has having a child changed the way you define work?

It changed a little. Coupled with the guilt that juggling motherhood and pursuing my dreams for a viable career path would mean I’d miss out on my daughter’s first moments, I pushed my business plan back by 2 years. It was only when my daughter turned 23 months that I truly became emotionally prepared to work again. It came with a pocketful of sunshine to nurture my daughter’s developmental milestones and co-parent with my husband, who holds a demanding job as a combat fitness specialist. Together we made things work around our daughter’s childcare co-curricular activities, chiropractic sessions and family get-togethers.

How has your own experience as a mom informed your pre/postnatal journey? 

It was a step-by-step process. Every pre/postnatal journey is different. This isn’t a short journey. It took nine months to grow the baby, so your body needs time to recover. I’m a master planner – I dedicated my postnatal journey to fully breastfeeding my daughter as I started to rehabilitate my body slowly with Pilates and the trick is, to keep going at your own pace. Don’t hurry to bounce back to your pre-pregnancy jeans.

Being an analyst by nature, I was able to examine the physiology of my reproductive system for different phases of motherhood and curate an individualised practice to support my pregnancy and postpartum journey. I continue my education in Yoga Medicine Women’s Health Yoga Teacher Training, Fit Singapore Pre/PostPartum Training and Four Trimesters Spinning Babies to equip a rich, unforgettable experience for myself and to nearly 2,489 moms who I have the privilege of training in their pre/postnatal health.

How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?

My gadgets have been my greatest ally for the past 4 years. I’ve interchangeably worked remotely on my iPhone and iPad when my daughter’s asleep. I don’t sleep when she’s asleep. Being your own ‘mom boss’ comes with sacrifice and strategic planning to decide which 18 hours of the day you choose to work. Personally, I have a penchant for staying awake at night. Being an accidental nocturnal especially when my daughter used to dream feed, the stillness and tranquillity of the night effectively keeps my mind churning to all my greatest ideas. I once read a quote that says, “You may have the best ideas and intentions but it’s not until you take consistent action that your efforts will reap the results.”

Some hacks I used to grow my business: I relied heavily on my Trello board to organise my thoughts, short-term as well as long-term projects; FamCal app for my husband and I to keep track of our working hours and annual leave to plan for a weekend getaway or stay-in activities for our daughter.

I wish I had more time for…

Onsen! I feel like I’m continually making hard decision after hard decision, particularly while pivoting my business during a pandemic and trying to pick up the business slowly!

I always feel saner after….

A 30-minute yin yoga practice. Period.

What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?

I’ve spent my childhood years in Bukit Batok and I love how accessible it is to go enjoy the scenic beauty of nature at Little Guilin. It’s in close promixity to the expressway to Botanic Gardens and to Orchard by car and bus too!

Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?

As a family, we love being outdoors and the scenic adventures we have together while forest bathing. We also love exploring new trails and paths in MacRitchie Reservoir, Bukit Timah Hill and Henderson Waves Bridge.

Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?

We don’t have a favourite. Wherever we are, we allow our daughter to decide what she’d like to eat!

Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?

Banyan Tree Bintan and Ubud! Pretty much anywhere too for its natural sights and scenic beauty!

Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?

Never assume that your spouse’s interest remains the same. Both of us believe in the 5 different languages of love framework and as we grow through parenthood, I can’t deny that there’s a point in our marriage that we feel disconnected. However, I find mirroring helps. It takes practice, but active listening when your spouse speaks to you will clue you into the language of love s/he needs. I’ve read that mirroring causes a flood of ‘love chemicals’, a burst of good feelings that make you feel closer to the other person, strengthening your bond and contributing to the solid foundation a lasting relationship needs.  

Favourite date night restaurants?

More like favourite ‘day date’ when our daughter’s at school! We’re kind of old-fashioned, so we would revisit the restaurants we used to go during our courtship! And staycations!

Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?

Just as water takes after the shape of the pipe, the life principle in you flows through you according to the nature of your thoughts. Think and be, and it will be conceived.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?

Do what you can with whatever you have. Comparison is the thief of joy. Reconcile with the fact that we have our own lives to lead and we might just be more comfortable with ourselves and be enough for your spouse and your child(ren).

Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.

Your body is special, so however long you need to recover from your birth, your journey is yours to tell.

As a mama I wish I were better at…

Saying no. I’m guilty of being a people-pleaser that I keep pouring and giving.

What’s your favourite family ritual?

Sing-alongs in the car!

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….

The Netflix show I forgot to finish!

My favourite moment of the day is…

Smelling my daughter’s armpits and neck when she’s asleep to melt away my stress. Haha!

Thank you so much Nura for your thoughtful and candid answers! Make sure you follow Nura on Instagram @yogawithnura and book a class at Her Tribe studio if you’re in the East. And as always, a massive thank you to Irina Nilsson Photography for the gorgeous-as-ever snaps of Nura and Zia, the Her Tribe studio and the beautiful neighbourhood of Joo Chiat! 

Check out the rest of our That Mama series here!

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