Writer Melena Estella talks to OK! Pakistan about her encounter with the inspiring stroke survivor, Azmat Alibhai


As I walked into an architect’s paradise, I was cheerfully greeted by an über chic girl wearing skinny jeans and a simple well fitted top – understated yet elegant, I thought to myself. This cannot be Azmat?  I was told she had suffered a stroke a year ago. I followed her to the library and we started conversing. It was evident she was an avid reader and had quite an extensive collection of books. She served me her ‘calming’ tea which was a blend she prepared with herbs and spices – and indeed it did have a calming effect. Her life experiences were fascinating. She was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Dubai, Greece and New York, where she studied nutrition and natural medicine. After she got married she moved to London. In London she pursued a Masters in Fine Arts while helping her husband with his work, The Belgian Food Company. Then motherhood took over and they moved to Karachi. Last year she went to the US to become a universally registered yoga instructor and certified yoga therapist. During her training she worked with doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists and chiropractors. “Seems like the Universe was preparing me for what was coming my way.” She laughs. Her energy was infectious – vibrant, graceful, warm, witty with impeccable manners. She is fluent in five languages. In fact she advises everyone to invest in learning an additional language as speaking multiple languages was her saving grace. Apparently that was what helped her regain speech after the stroke.

Lunch was exquisite which she prepared and the dessert was a Greek style cheesecake which was divine. Having travelled extensively she had plenty of entertaining stories to share. It was hard to believe she had had a stroke. She radiated positive energy – an eternal optimist. I was amazed with all that she was doing. Teaching yoga at the Karachi Down Syndrome Program (KDSP), conducting health awareness workshops in schools for the mentally challenged and their teachers and families, devising a comprehensive yoga manual for Special Olympics Pakistan (SOP), working with a team of specialists at Ziauddin Hospital to set up an Aphasia Support Group, conducting corporate wellness workshops, researching and writing articles for various publications locally and internationally, and helping patients heal through yoga.

Needless to say I was impressed. I asked her to reveal her secret, how does she get the energy to do all this? She simply replied: “This is my civic duty. Seeing ‘hope’ in people’s faces makes every second worthwhile. They give me the energy. I am passionate about yoga, and if through yoga I can make a difference in people’s life then it’s a win win situation – yoga in action! I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to work with awesome people such as Ronak Lakhani, Asma Hasan, Seema Zuberi and Dr. Amina Siddiqui.  I think my secret is my gratitude meditation that I practice daily without fail. As I wake up every morning, while still in bed, I say a prayer and then move my hands and legs. I scan through my book, A year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations by Daniel Ladinsky, after which, I immediately thank my body, mind and the Lord that it all works! I remembered the days when I could not read nor process what I was reading. I used to cry myself to sleep wondering if I would ever function normally again.  I try and carry the feeling of gratitude throughout my day.”

Usually when a person undergoes a life altering experience it changes their perception of life. I asked Azmat how this changed her. “Of course I was angry at first. How does a healthy person like me have a full-blown stroke and doctors cannot seem to determine the cause? I wanted closure. Then fortunately sense prevailed, there was no point in being angry. I needed to conserve my energy and focus on getting better. Doctors diagnosed it as a Cryptogenic Stroke, which means there are no known causes. As far as I am concerned it is a Stroke of Bad Luck. The only thought that consoled me is Aristotle’s belief that everything happens for a reason – always! And that every experience in our lives, was designed to shape us and reform us into the ultimate and greatest version that we could ever imagine ourselves to be. The only thing that prevents this is having the wisdom to see it.”

My last question was about the recovery process.  “The recipe for recovery is simple. You need three basic ingredients – timely treatment, a fantastic support system and a great neurologist. I was fortunate that I had the best of all three! Tons of people prayed for my wellbeing and thankfully God listened. My neurologist was brilliant – in fact other neurologists all over the world were baffled by the recovery. One of them asked me if the reports were actually mine. I can never thank my meticulous and patient neurologist enough for setting the benchmark for recovery so high that it left me with no other choice but to recover!  A super big thanks to Dr. Nadir for giving me a new lease of life.”

Although petite, she exudes sheer strength and determination. I had the opportunity to watch Azmat conduct a support group meeting and then her yoga class. The connection she had with her students was priceless. According to one of her students, “Azmat is a true living star! She has been created to teach yoga. She has challenged the way I view yoga and my world. Honest and selfless – a true yoga angel.”

Clearly when life hands you lemons, you can make lemonade or you can become the best bartender on the planet. Azmat is serving awareness for stroke at her bar she calls “Life”. After suffering a stroke, she took it upon herself to educate herself and everyone around her. In doing so, she will indirectly be saving lives. She continues to amaze and inspires me to always take the good from the bad, celebrate life, and help others. Behind that beautiful gentle smile resides a truly remarkable woman.