And Ashley and Rachel Boddy knew what that was like. Everyday they saw the result of land mine explosions – the amputees who lived in the poor villages on the Cambodia-Thailand border, the victims of a war 25 years in the past, but still suffering from its deadly legacy buried in the ground.
Working with the Scottish charity, the HALO Trust, they were in the south-east Asian country working to help clear Cambodia of land mines and growing increasingly stressed by the job.
Today, more than 6000 miles from the Killing Fields, the pair are decidedly more relaxed. The scent of lemongrass is in the air and their rather cosy, mirror-less, gym is, for a short while at least, empty of a groaning client being put through his or her paces.
They may have stopped their work with land mines but now they have another fight on their hands as they introduce a new, American-style health and fitness regime to Edinburgh.
The couple have opened the first CHEK clinic in Scotland, at their Boddy Language studio in Leith. Devised by Paul Chek, a specialist in human kinetics, it adopts a more holisitic approach to getting fit, offering one-to-one personal training as well as advice to improve people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. “When we came to Edinburgh we knew that we had to start looking after ourselves,” says 28-year-old Rachel, a former Mary Erskine’s pupil. “We had seen what happened to people who worked in humanitarian aid for a long time and we didn’t want to go that way. Our health was already deteriorating.
“We retrained as personal trainers and then worked within the Edinburgh Leisure gyms for a year before we discovered Paul Chek. We knew his regime was right for us, because we knew that there was more to being fit, well and happy than just exercise.
“When we were in Cambodia I met a lot of people who had nothing, but they were still happy. I wondered why that wasn’t the same here even though people have so much. The CHEK approach means that we can try and help people change the way they look and feel forever.”
Ash, 32, is originally from Australia and spent nine years as an officer in the Royal Australian Infantry, including a tour with the United Nations in Southern Sudan, before joining HALO and meeting Rachel.
He is now qualified as a level 1 CHEK practitioner as well as a CHEK holistic lifestyle coach, as is his wife. “I’ve always been interested in fitness,” he says. “Even when I was in Cambodia I made a gym with chin-up bars and other rudimentary equipment, so when we looked for something to do for ourselves, then fitness was the answer, and working with Edinburgh Leisure was great to gain experience and work out exactly what approach we wanted to take.
“We had realised that some things worked with some people and not others, so we wanted to be able to offer more than just saying do more sit ups if you want a flat stomach. The human body is an incredible thing and the CHEK system gives us a great framework to help people get the most out of it. It just makes a lot of sense.”
From the initial assessment, clients are aware they are embarking on a fitness programme unlike any other. For while most gyms ask whether you’ve ever had heart problems or suffer asthma, the CHEK approach asks clients to list the five most stressful events in your life – and may even ask if you were breastfed and when you started to walk.
The answers, say the Boddys, can be linked to the way an individual person’s body works. “Our approach combines principles of orthopedics, chiropractic, massage therapy, physical and alternative therapies, and strength and conditioning,” explains Ash.
“We are interested not only in the physical needs, but how that impacts on people’s mental, emotional and spiritual needs. We look at posture, how that relates to stress, how that relates to diet, how that relates to staying up late watching TV and so on, It’s a comprehensive assessment of a person’s health.”
Rachel adds: “People may have been suffering pain for years and we want to get to the bottom of that, because otherwise they’ll never achieve what they want.”
Mum-of-two Nicky Mowat says she’s proof that the system works. Having suffered more than ten years of pain after breaking bones in her back in a snowboarding accident, she had got to the stage where simply lifting her children, Daniel, four, and Chloe, aged three, was becoming dangerous.
“My right leg gave way as I was carrying Daniel upstairs,” says Nicky, 41. “I’d been in pain for so long that I’d decided it was just a way of life. The pain was always there. But when that happened I thought I had to try to do something about it.”
Nicky, a fit and active stay-at-home mum, embarked on the CHEK system at the start of the year and was initially surprised to be asked to keep a food diary. “I thought ‘I’m not doing a diet’, but it wasn’t a diet, it was to look at what I was eating and see if simple changes might make a difference.
“Rachel said I wasn’t eating enough protein, which is needed to repair the cells and repair damage that I’d done to my back, and I needed to drink more water.
“I changed breakfast from cereal and toast to a continental style one of fish and meat. And I cut back on gluten in food – natural carbohydrates like potatoes and rice were fine, but I started to avoid processed pasta.
“A big element for Rachel was the amount of sleep I was getting, so to help I had no caffeine after 3pm. They were subtle changes but they made a big difference and within four or five days I felt I had more energy.”
The exercise regime was subtle too, she adds. Having been used to hard workouts with a personal trainer and half marathon training sessions, Nicky was advised to stop running for five months to allow her body to relax and concentrate instead on a short daily programme of stretches.
“Ash looked at how I stand, where the flexibility was and where there were problems. I started doing specific targeted stretching every day then the programme changed every six weeks so the body didn’t get used to it. My flexibility went from eight per cent to 25 per cent, which really surprised me.
“Now I’m getting closer on all the measures to being ‘normal’. I’ve learned how to pick things up without hurting myself and I’m pain-free for the first time in nearly 12 years.
“It’s enhanced my whole family life – we all eat better for a start.”
While Nicky’s sports injury appears to be resolved through the CHEK system, Ash and Rachel believe it could have benefits for us all. For they argue that, while the human body hasn’t changed much since cavemen times, technology and lifestyles have and as a result we’re all getting fatter and more ill.
“People are eating the wrong foods, and not using their bodies in the way they were designed,” says Rachel. “We want to change that and to make people want to get out of bed in the morning.”
* Boddy Language at 54 Timberbush charges £150 for an initial assessment then £60 an hour for personal training.