The Body Chal­lenge

Body­build­ing is be­com­ing a popular sport in Bhutan – and con­tribut­ing to na­tional unity.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sarah Ba­tool Haider

Body­build­ing is a fa­vorite sport in Bhutan and

has cre­ated fresh in­ter­est in re­cent years.

Sports are an es­sen­tial part of the na­tional cul­ture of Bhutan. As a mat­ter of fact, the Bhutanese peo­ple en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion in a va­ri­ety of sports since child­hood. Due to this en­thu­si­asm at all lev­els, pro­fes­sional sports in Bhutan have be­come a part of every­day life. Body­build­ing is the lat­est rage in the coun­try along with other sports.

Body­build­ing is all about de­vel­op­ing the physique through ex­er­cise and diet, of­ten for com­pet­i­tive ex­hi­bi­tion. It aims at dis­play­ing pro­nounced mus­cle tone and ex­ag­ger­ated mus­cle mass for an over­all aes­thetic ef­fect. Weight train­ing is the prin­ci­pal ex­er­cise whereas high pro­tein foods and vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ments con­trib­ute to the diet. Bodybuilders of­ten take part in com­pe­ti­tions which are held across the globe and are now con­sid­ered a sport.

Body­build­ing grew largely out of the 19th cen­tury Euro­pean the­atri­cal and cir­cus acts. The first im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion was the Mr. Uni­verse contest, which started in 1947. It was fol­lowed by the even more pres­ti­gious Mr. Olympia contest in 1965, while com­pe­ti­tions for women be­gan in the 1970s. In 1998, body­build­ing was granted provisional sta­tus by the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee. Since then, ath­letes from all over the world par­tic­i­pate in body­build­ing and weight lifting com­pe­ti­tions which are held at lo­cal, na­tional and global level.

With the sport gain­ing im­mense pop­u­lar­ity among the Bhutanese, more and more young peo­ple are com­ing for­ward and par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­fes­sional body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Bhutan Body­build­ing and Weight Lifting Fed­er­a­tion. The num­ber of bodybuilders, fit­ness and cover mod­els who join gym­na­si­ums both for the pur­pose of be­com­ing pro­fes­sional ath­letes as well as hob­by­ists is in­creas­ing with time.

Ever since Bhutanese ath­letes started rep­re­sent­ing their coun­try at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, the sport has be­come ex­ceed­ingly well-liked by the masses. See­ing sports­men mak­ing Bhutan proud with their fit­ness and weight lifting skills, many young peo­ple have be­come in­ter­ested in the sport and have joined var­i­ous fit­ness clubs. The most in­ter­est­ing part of this grow­ing trend is that most afi­ciona­dos come from dif­fer­ent walks of life and may not nec­es­sar­ily have ath­letic ten­den­cies in their child­hood.

Ac­cord­ing to San­gay Tsheltrim, an ex-armed forces of­fi­cer, ath­lete and ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Bhutan Body­build­ing and Weight Lifting Fed­er­a­tion, some of the par­tic­i­pants show ini­tial wari­ness but as they con­tinue with the train­ing and the re­quired diet, they be­gin to de­velop in­ter­est. See­ing other ath­letes work­ing out in the gym also mo­ti­vates young men to at­tain the ideal fit­ness level to par­tic­i­pate in the com­pe­ti­tion. How­ever, there are many body­build­ing en­thu­si­asts in Bhutan who do not nec­es­sar­ily want to take part in com­pe­ti­tions, but want to pur­sue it as a hobby. After all, who doesn’t want to look good?

In Bhutan, the first na­tion­al­level body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tion took place in 2008. Since then, ath­letes from Bhutan have been par­tic­i­pat­ing in var­i­ous na­tional and in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. Re­cently, four Bhutanese ath­letes, in­clud­ing a fe­male, par­tic­i­pated in the 48th Asian Body­build­ing and Physique Sports Cham­pi­onship and An­nual Congress in Ma­cau, China.

Their en­thu­si­asm has also in­creased be­cause Bhutan will be host­ing the 2016 Asian cham­pi­onship, which will def­i­nitely pro­vide more op­por­tu­ni­ties to the peo­ple of Bhutan. This is be­cause the event will not only at­tract more par­tic­i­pants to take in­ter­est in body­build­ing but those par­tic­i­pat­ing will re­ceive more ex­po­sure in­ter­na­tion­ally, which is much needed for the pro­mo­tion of the sport in Bhutan and for the coun­try’s im­age.

“It is not only about par­tic­i­pat­ing and win­ning, but it is more about rep­re­sent­ing your coun­try,” Tsheltrim says.

On the chal­lenges faced by bodybuilders in Bhutan, he adds that in or­der to suc­ceed, ath­letes need a lot of time, ded­i­ca­tion, dis­ci­pline, ef­fort and support from the fam­ily to ded­i­cate them­selves to this field.

Some peo­ple, who might not have an in­ter­est in com­pet­ing on stage, still take up body­build­ing as an ac­tiv­ity. For all such hob­by­ists, pro­fes­sional ath­letes are al­ways there to give tips.

Ear­lier, body­build­ing and weightlift­ing was solely con­sid­ered a male-dom­i­nated field and fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in body­build­ing was con­fined to the west. How­ever, with the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the sport, women from Asian coun­tries have also started par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­fes­sional body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tions.

In Bhutan, par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in the sport was un­heard of in the past. In 2013, how­ever, the first ever Bhutanese fe­male ath­lete took part in the World Body­build­ing and Physique Sports Cham­pi­onship in Hun­gary. The ath­lete, Yeatoeh Lhamu Pen­jore, aged 22, was a school teacher by pro­fes­sion. She won a medal of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for rep­re­sent­ing Bhutan for the very first time in the cat­e­gory of model physique. Owing to her pas­sion for fit­ness and

for be­ing the first fe­male to take such an ini­tia­tive, Pen­jore is seen with re­spect by the masses as well as her male coun­ter­parts. Par­tic­i­pa­tion of a fe­male in body­build­ing is a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult task be­cause in Bhutanese cul­ture a fe­male with a body­builder’s physique is not con­sid­ered fem­i­nine and de­sir­able.

More­over, due to cul­tural in­hi­bi­tions, many women in Bhutan do not feel com­fort­able in ex­pos­ing their bod­ies on stage. How­ever, the love of sports and fit­ness among the Bhutanese peo­ple can be gauged from the fact that they whole­heart­edly sup­ported Yeatoeh Lhamu Pen­jore when she com­peted and rep­re­sented Bhutan at an in­ter­na­tional level. This year, she again par­tic­i­pated in the 48th Asian Body­build­ing and Physique Sports Cham­pi­onship and An­nual Congress in Ma­cau, China.

Although body­build­ing has be­come quite popular in Bhutan, there are many peo­ple who want to par­tic­i­pate in the sport but are held back be­cause of some preva­lent myths.

It is be­lieved that bodybuilders use steroids ex­ces­sively to gain weight. When peo­ple hear about body­build­ing, they im­me­di­ately as­sume all kinds of neg­a­tive things about bodybuilders but their as­sump­tions are mostly wrong, es­pe­cially with re­gard to nat­u­ral bodybuilders.

Peo­ple have a limited un­der­stand­ing of what is pos­si­ble to achieve with their own bod­ies and even when some­one has an im­pres­sive nat­u­ral physique, peo­ple con­sider it fake. It takes a lot of ded­i­ca­tion and train­ing out­side the gym that con­trib­utes to nat­u­ral body­build­ing and not all ath­letes use steroids.

Though per­for­mance en­hance­ment sup­ple­ments are al­ways re­quired but what is more im­por­tant is that it ac­tu­ally takes a lot of hard work and in­tel­li­gence to learn about nu­tri­tion and to ap­ply dif­fer­ent ex­er­cise tech­niques in the gym.

“It is im­por­tant to re­move some myths so that peo­ple can make in­formed choices if they want to take up body­build­ing and weight lifting as a pro­fes­sion. Young peo­ple un­der­stand this fact and I can see a bright fu­ture for all ath­letes in Bhutan,” Tsheltrim said.

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