5 healthy habits I picked up from my Europe travels

“Travel is a sure shot way to gain kilos.”  That’s a pet peeve I hear from friends. (This despite my earlier blog on How to travel right? :)) One of whom refrains from long vacations just to maintain her figure. So unfair to the myriad beautiful destinations waiting to be explored, I say! So this time, I had the perfect opportunity to put that theory to test. 

To everyone’s surprise including mine, I came back fitter and definitely leaner(by a kilo) from my 3 week vacation across Europe.

leaner me
Feeling fit and lean…this on day 18 of the trip! 🙂

 

I do realize Europe makes for a skewed destination for such an experiment. Nonetheless, it made for some great observations and learnings.

So here’s my harder look at why French (well, err..generalize it to European) women (or men, for that matter) never get fat…(besides their sworn allegiance to fit into French designer coutour!) and what can we learn from them! 

1. The world, your gym!

What do you notice as soon as you step outside your hotel in Prague or Paris? Well, what I noticed even before the medieval marvels that these cities have to offer, was the fact that the entire city is on its feet, literally! On close consideration, I figured that the cities are actually designed such (with its picture-perfect town squares, beautiful bridges, and cobblestone streets) that they inspire everyone to walk. And so everyone does! In fact, most of the working population in Europe commute via public transportation, which again involves significant walking or biking.

cycling-traffic-copenhagen-3-large
The bike-to-work culture in Europe!

In many cities esp. Paris and Copenhagen , they have fancy open gyms alongside river banks, parks, and just about every open space. Come evening, the young and the adult, locals and many non-locals, are all  seen bench-pressing, squatting, pulling and pushing-up together, pumping each other up. 

 

Iceland has taken it to another level…with an average of 2 public free-for-all swimming pools for every 500 residents (which to my surprise, were full even on rainy days)! 

swimming pool

Btw, in Europe even grocery buying can add to one’s fitness quotient! Instead of the weekly supermarket trip, grocery buying in Europe involves daily rounds to local in- or outdoor market, bakery, or butcher, scouting for and picking up fresh ingredients for the next meal. This ritual, followed by one and many, invariably lends to significant walking carrying bagful of heavy groceries home everyday. Quite a synonymous equivalent to the weights and walkers in the gym, I gather! 

grocery bags

Well, and even as a tourist, you are not spared from your daily dose of exercise..i.e. if you haven’t averaged between 5-10 kms of walking and climbing everyday, you cannot do justice to the centuries-old architecture, medieval facades and hidden alleyways, so quintessentially European.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-10 at 11.27.07 PM (1)
Stroll and stride with uphill climbs, if you want to conquer all the hidden sights! 🙂

In short, even if you are not exercising in a fancy, fully-equipped gym everyday, you are getting fitter with the European way of life. 

Indulge in the European way of life ! Be active and start walking! 

2. Little goes a long way!

Moderation begins with portion sizes in Europe. Just like their clothing and shoes, their food and beverage portions are also a size smaller.  A point in case is the European version of a coke can available on British Airways. This can is 150 ml, 32% smaller than the U.S. Coke Mini and 58% smaller than the standard U.S. can.

coke can

The miniature frenzy does not end there. During the course of the trip, I encountered miniature versions of Magnum ice-creams, Lindt chocolates and even gourmet burgers! In fact, I found out that the average portion size in general is 25% lesser than in the USA.

mini burgers

 Even the size of their fridges is smaller! No wonder there is little chance of storing and preparing food in big quantities! No wonder, they make less and they eat less.  But in somewhat strange contrast, you do notice those quaint lil street-side cafes always full of people enjoying a bite, anytime of the day! So what gives?

Outdoor cafe, Piazza Navona, Rome, Lazio, Italy, Europe

That is when I figured out that little goes a long way in Europe. I believe they compensate for their small portion sizes by eating slower! While the Americans are getting excited about super-sizing their fast foods and gulping it down even faster, the europeans seem to savor their diet-sized servings with cleansing swirls of vino, overlooking the beautiful rivers and vistas, in the company of their loved ones! Beyond the health benefits of the food itself, the ritual of eating is a source of pleasure and an important social experience. This leads to more mindful eating practices, and is better for the overall digestive system.

Cook little, Make fresh, Eat slow! And with good company! 

IMG_20180706_000815
Indulging in the European way of eating…with a smile and some friends!

 

3. Eat like a European

Europeans, like Indians, have a knack of drawing on the best of what is in season to produce regional delicacies. Thanks to the abundance of local markets offering everything fresh and seasonal one can think of!

Well, and they seem quite religious about their regional diets…Take for example, the Italians, Greeks and Spanish who live off their Mediterranean diet and in turn enjoy long healthy lives…Their diet includes mostly locally available foods such as tomatoes, avocados, olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables,  fresh fish and even pasta. pasta-fat

Even though some seasonal/locally available foods may not always seem the most nutrient-dense option…in effect, can still prove to be more beneficial. First, they typically contain what we require at that time of the year and environment. But more importantly, they are part of one’s food heritage making these foods closely attuned to one’s genetic predisposition.

Their diets also include comparatively more raw and unprocessed foods. I couldn’t help but notice the well-stocked aisles of colorful salads, mueslis, fruit pots, cold-cut sandwiches, cold-pressed raw juices at the pret-a-manger store at the Heathrow airport. The fact that it was the most crowded hangouts at the airport say a lot about the locals’ affinity towards natural and unprocessed food choices. In fact, I found this trend across European airports…Each one had many options, whether it be a salad or a sushi bar, fresh sandwich delis or even organic raw presseries. Needless to say, I indulged in these locally available, fresh food options where ever I could lay my hands on them. 

pret-a-manger
Pret-a-manger food aisles- Putting those aisles of chocolates and chips  to shame! 🙂

You cannot go wrong with local, seasonal or fresh foods.

4. Eurosize the breakfast

In Iceland, the staple breakfast is skyr(local greek yogurt with fruits) and rye bread. skyr

In Prague, the hotel served us hot porridge, salads(yupe…with tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce), and eggs as the main breakfast items. prague breakfast

Well, interesting deviation from the plateful of pancakes, bowlful of sugary cereals, or platter of processed meats, the hotels in the other parts of the world serves as breakfast!  For lot of Europeans (esp. the French), breakfast is nothing but a slice of freshly baked bread/croissant, some fruit with tea or coffee. The Spaniards will usually have tomatoes and olive-oil on bread for breakfast. And the English seem to love their porridge in the morning. Now this may seem small and boring but seems to do the trick for them.

 Don’t treat breakfast as dessert. A basic breakfast (Think bananas, eggs, porridge, or any locally available fresh breakfast option) can serve you better!

 

2018-09-11_13-42-07_670
My version of an eurosized breakfast – Egg, avocado and tomato on a slice of bread!

5. Indulge in some Vegan Vibes! 

Europeans seems to be leading a covert vegan revolution. In the most popular of town squares in Prague, I found a farmer’s market selling vegan stuff…local fruits(helps that they are a “fruits heaven”), berries, vegetables, desserts, and even vegan black ice-cream.

prague farmers market
Selling Veganism as a concept!

 

black icecream
the frightfully black vegan icecream! 🙂

 

Eating vegan has never been easier in Europe, with its top cities boasting of variety of top Tripadvisor recommended vegan eateries. Berlin even has a Vegan Avenue which is lined with vegan restaurants, bars and cafes, alongside  the world’s largest vegan grocery store. 

vegan avenue
The famous Vegan Avenue in Berlin!

 

They have mastered the art of making meat-substitute products such as sausages and chicken nuggets out of plant proteins such as soy, wheat or tofu…Their cashewnut gravies, pumpkin curries, quinoa meatballs all boast of how beautifully they have adapted the vegan principles to regional cooking. The proof of the pudding was that not once did we have to resort to Indian food in our three week travel! In fact, the options at the vegan restaurants spoilt us for choice.  And the vegan meals turned out to be some of our fanciest and most enjoyable meals.

 

Try being vegan for a change. You will surely discover new food options that are healthier, tastier, and more importantly, environmentally friendly.

Actually, travel is what you make out of it. It is not the place, it is how you look at the place that makes a difference. In my case, I allowed myself to look at Europe (or my trip) through my “fitness and well-being” glasses, and that is what it offered me.

But I’m not saying that if you are going with all your health-consciousness, you shouldn’t be indulging in the local dessert (like the delicious trednik) or a locally brewed beer during your travel…(in fact, we did it too) but let your gut drive you! Its a very self-regulating system if you give it a chance.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Some things in life are meant to throw caution to the winds…Trednik is one of them! 🙂

ps. Still, who would have thought that a trip to Europe could also offer in(sights) of personal well-being?!  But now I know why…Europe is always a good idea! 🙂

 

 

How to lose fat and gain muscle without supplements? The 3 simple truths that International Ironman Triathlete-Madhurjya Borah endorses!

Madhurjya is the most loved and respected swimming instructor in our part of town.

whatsapp-image-2018-05-09-at-3-00-09-pm.jpeg  But to the world, he is popular as the Indian 70.3 Ironman triathlon champion.  He has represented India in multiple international triathlon events.  And at 37, just a few weeks ago, he secured another podium finish at the Vietnam 70.3 Ironman triathlon.

whatsapp-image-2018-05-09-at-3-01-28-pm.jpeg

whatsapp-image-2018-05-09-at-3-57-13-pm.jpeg

Very coincidentally, I first met him during my son’s swimming lessons.  The one thing that is hard to ignore about him is his ripped body. Seems straight out of a sculpting mold. 🙂 A budding fitness enthusiast myself, I got curious to find out what it takes to build a body like that.

 

borah

He gave me his secret sauce over our occasional chats (not a very talkative fellow, I must say :)) I have mulled over that for weeks and presenting you his insights in a manner that can be consumed as 3 simple nuggets of body-building (and fat loss).

Being an international athlete, he does train very regularly. But attributes most of his body-building success to his diet.

“Well, you can exercise, but you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet…You eventually are what you eat..”

1. How much are you eating?

Its very important to balance your calories if you want to lose fat and build muscle. Your ideal calorie intake depends on your height and weight, your activity level, your age, and your goal.

Being a high performance athlete, Madhurjya maintains a diet of about 2500-3000 calories per day sustaining his BMI level between 15-18%.

But if you are looking to lose weight/build muscle, you must create a caloric deficit. Now there are lot of sophisticated apps (namely My FitnessPal and HealthifyMe (Indian diet specific)) that will help you to count your optimal calorie intake based on your goals. There are diehard fans of such apps but my personal experience says it is a bit too much work to fill in each meal, snack, and nibble everytime unless you have a professional  mindset like Madhurjya. Of course, there are nutritionists who can help you at a premium. But if you are looking for simple hacks on how to control calories, here are some of mine:

Eat till you are satiated, not full This is a very time-tested principle followed by Okinawans(world’s highest centenarian population)  in Japan: the hara hachi bu principle which is to eat until you are 80% full.

1042679.large
Okinawans centenarian couple

What it translates to is eat meals, until you have space left for a snack.

If you normally eat 3 rotis/flatbread, take two first. See how full you feel…often times you may actually feel satisfied with just two. The signal to stop eating is when you feel satisfied: no longer feel hungry, but not full.

“How do you even know it is hunger?” This is one of the transformative questions my husband’s nutritionist asked him. Often times, we mistake cravings, social settings, or stress eating for hunger. Listening  to your body for real hunger cues can help you reduce your calorie intake. Real hunger means that you will eat anything thats put in front of you, even if its that lauki sabzi (bottlegourd curry) that you’d normally hate to touch.

It doesn’t have to be eaten just because its served. When food is in the plate or in front of us, we get tempted to finish it. And that invariably leads to overeating. But I always remember my friend Sapna Chawla’s favorite quote: “Waste it or waist it”. Remember this, when you are stuffing that extra helping of rice down the gullet just so that your fridge won’t have to bear the load. 

2. What are you eating?

Food we consume is primarily a balance of three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fat.   The tricky thing about macronutrients is that the amount each of us should be eating can vary from person to person. Generally, for adults, the macronutrient breakdown recommendation is 45-65% calories from carbohydrates, 10-35% from protein, and 20-35% from fat. Fo example, Madhurjya tries to maintain a macronutrient ratio of 50-35-15. MyMacros+ app is a good start to calculate your daily macronutrients ratio. It will also give suggestions on what foods to eat to maintain the macronutrients balance as well as the micronutrients needed.

Love Food that love you back!

Btw, a big myth that Madhurjya busts is that you need supplements to get a six pack or to win medals. Madhurjya does not take any supplements, pills or protein drinks.  Just real food. His diet includes lot of  eggs, vegetables, fruits, cereals, legumes, rice, chicken, fish, and nuts/seeds.  

On a typical day, this is what he eats:

Early morning : Custom pre-workout fruits and vegetable drink*/one fruit, steel cut oats with dry fruits/seeds and honey, 1-2 eggs, black coffee

After workout: 2-3 egg whites and banana

Morning snack:  cereal bar or rava idli

Lunch: rice, dal and vegetables

Afternoon Snack: boiled egg, bananas with nuts/seeds or cereal bar

Pre-work Snack (Evening): curd with fruits, nuts and honey or a pre-workout vegetable juice

Post-work out Snack: Drumstick mushroom soup or boiled seasoned legumes/beans

Dinner: Grilled chicken or fish with salad or quinoa

After-dinner snacks (if needed): dry fruits and yogurt

And lots of water, in-between.

*Instead of whey proteins, he creates his own pre/post-work drink out of fruits and vegetables. He also creates his own dinner salads which are a visual delight. And since you have all been kind enough to read till here, I will share his secret recipes at the end. 🙂 Btw, If you are looking to get creative with fruit and vegetable drinks, please check out this book “Juicing For Healthier Families”  authored by a dear friend, Parul Agarwal. 

According to him, Indian diets invariably lack in protein…A simple tactic is to ask yourself “where’s the protein?” with each meal. And believe me, Its not hard to compensate the shortage of protein (if there is)…You can easily add a bowl of (greek) yogurt, some tofu/eggs/chicken, or even handful of nuts or hummus to any meal. Madhurjya packs boiled eggs in a tiffin wherever he goes. He will pop one in, whenever he feels hungry. 

But if all that seems complicated to follow and you still want to achieve results, here’s my take:  Instead of focussing on what to eat, start first with what not to eat.

No Processed foods            No added Sugars         No Saturated/Trans Fatty foods

thank-you-7.png

3. When are you eating?

Nutrient timing may be important for elite eaters like Madhurjya but frankly not so much for most other folks. 

Madhurjya eat lots of small meals/snacks each day (i.e. every few hours). But frankly, there are only a couple of important considerations when it comes to nutrient timing.

The most important thing according to Madhurjya is eating after exercise (or during your most active part of the day), especially within the first 30-45 minutes since our bodies are greedy for nutrients around that time. He typically eats most of his protein and carbs during this time. 

If you are lean and simply want to maintain your existing body composition, consuming more carbohydrates throughout the day will likely be fine.

But If you want to lose body fat, you have to aim to consume a majority of carb dense foods during and after exercise sessions (for about 3 hours after). Outside of the 3 hour window you should be consuming primarily protein and fat, while consuming fewer carb dense foods (25% or less of the meals).

And avoid mid-night snacking if you are looking to lose weight. If you are really hungry, a warm glass of milk or green tea or even yogurt is a better choice.

But my take, if this is too complicated, follow this simple principle:

Eat when you are most active and less when you are not.

Madhurjya’s final advice to all is: If you want your diet to work for you, add discipline to it. That is the most important ingredient!

As promised, here is Madhurjya’s custom pre-workout drink recipe:

thank you

*According to him, the beetroot juice is a god-send for athletes/body-builders. It helps you run faster, pedal harder, and workout longer.

And as a bonus, some of his favorite dinner salad recipes:

Lettuc (4)Lettuc (3)Lettuc (2)Lettuc

Lettuc (5)

And finally my take on body-building: If you strive for progress, perfection will follow! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the home remedies, a mother is the best!

“I get bloated and gassy at night, Mom. Trust me, I have tried everything out there…nothing works!”, I complain, irritated with the irritable bowel syndrome I may be going through.

Being bloated is no fun. So contrary to my gut reaction, I try what Mom suggests. First Night. ok, Not Bad. But it could just be serendipity, right?! 2nd, 3rd, and 4th night also!!! Well, hmm.. who would have thought chewing two cardamoms and drinking warm water afterwards can get rid of the sticky digestive issues plaguing my middle-aged metabolism!

And more importantly, how did Mom figure out what the entire internet could not?!

Well, the only explanation can be that I have the same sensitive stomach she does. So, whatever has worked on her, works for me.

Happy at my obedience, she also prescribed roasted ajwain(carrom seeds), jeera(cumin seeds), and flax seeds powder with warm water. Before meals. And voila, between these two nuskas (home remedies), my gut is sorted.

“Sometimes, the best remedies are just a mom’s call away!”

Growing up, the rebel in me used to scoff at any such old wives’ tales and momveda (ayurveda by mom) gyaan she tried to enforce upon me.  But how the tables have turned!

golden-milk-latte-turmeric-tea-recipe-2A classic case in point is turmeric milk. This bitter tasting concoction (a cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of turmeric in it) was never a preferred choice of drink. The first sound of cough and I knew Mom would be serving this golden milk as a post-dinner dessert. But I have to admit, it has served me right through my bouts of nasty colds all these years- working like a magic potion every single time.

In fact, it has become the go-to drink in my household for pretty much any of the modern day ailments…be it allergies, cough, cold, insomnia, inflammation or indigestion.  

 

Btw, from the yucky yellow paste to the best tan remover in town, mumma’s besan ubtaan(chickpeas flour face mask) has also come a long way.  Mom used to apply this on her face and insisted that I do the same.  But very recently, when my summer tan was no longer cool, I decided to give it a try. Well, haven’t stopped gloating at that glow! I couldn’t have asked for a better exfoliator cum tan remover cum moisterizer. So much so, that it has almost ended my long-term relationship with the regular soaps and showering gels. And except for the fact that I smell like kadhi on most days now, there have been no other side effects!

Mom also tried to inculcate the habit of weekly fasting in me. (The Monday fast (somvar ka vrat) was particularly dear to her since it was done for the longevity of husbands!). Well, of course, I couldn’t be bothered with such onslaught on my hunger, that too on the pretext of some age-old blind faith!

But how I stand corrected!  Modern science has endorsed fasting and how! Fasting has deemed to be a great way to detox as well as to self-heal your body. Fasting is also an easy way to lose weight. In fact, mom’s beloved vrats have been reincarnated as a global health trend esp. in its new avatar called intermittent fasting. (Well, fasting as it has been proven, can only extend your own longevity…I guess our old wives may have just put an altruistic spin to it to make it more popular! ;))   

Well this, and mom’s myriad other tips such as – try and eat the “first steam” food (and by that she means, food thats right off the stove!) , eat mostly seasonal and local produce, always listen to your gut when it comes to how much and what to eat.     

All these years, my over-read, over-informed brain may have dismissed the notion ofMom knows best”. But everything she has said so far proves that she does. At least for me. Part of the answer may well be in our genes. Our body constitution, just like our genes must match, even if partially. How else can her self-engineered momveda work to balance my doshas so well?! Well, Thank God for heredity! 🙂 But more importantly, thank God for the exclusive access to her way of living, her nuskas, and above all, her unconditional love. Mom has clearly been the “Chief Wellness Officer” of my life!

IMG_20180508_144916.jpg

So when you don’t feel alright, try calling your mom…before you call the doctor or scavenge the internet. Chances are she would have already gone through something similar and figured out a nuska!  Something that has a much higher chance of working for you! Even if not, the combination of maternal instincts, experience, and ability to truly care and heal is too sweet to pass up.

ps. Would be really nice to know some of your mom’s home remedies too…Do share them as comments.

Yoga and beyond – A trip along the spiritual spine!

Doing yoga in the lap of mother nature always had its allure. This, combined with the company of friends and fellow yogis felt like a great birthday gift to myself. Thus, I signed up for my first yoga retreat.

Now I have practiced yoga for flexibility, balance and strength. But mix it up with a little spirituality, dance, comradery, and philosophy… and it turned into a truly “yogasmic” experience.

What-Is-Chakra-1

The Root Chakra.

This chakra is associated with survival and safety.

 

30652743_10214027473899283_2662558605134922387_nWhen you pack a bus with 28 yogis of different genders, ideologies, and ability to handle 28 of the nastiest hairpin bends of the Shevaroys range in Tamil Nadu, you expect nothing short of chaos! 🙂 But man, was I proven wrong! Thanks to the collective wisdom, yogic patience, and the ability to lighten things up that made us survive everything – from the excruciatingly slow interstate toll-booths, to the scorching heat, to motion sickness, and the 7 hour bus ride to our destination, Yercaud. In fact, the journey felt more like flying with a non-stop entertainment channel barring the occasional bad weather warnings.

 

The third eye chakra. This chakra is associated with our intuitive wisdom and ability to relax and focus at the same time.

Our resort, with scattered lotus ponds and hilly terrain full of wild flowers, and lined with native tall trees, provided a perfect setting for our yoga session.

Yoga is not about touching your toes; it is what you learn on the way down – One of which is the realization that yoga is a practise that cannot be easily perfected (somewhat like life itself.) You have to always be open to receiving and grasping the wisdom around you…whether it is a new asana or an old one with a new style.

touch your toes30595221_10214027481539474_6288077915514134825_n

But you have to be kind to yourself too. Go with your own pace and style. Albeit, enjoy your own pace and style.

What I realized was, no one is perfect in all the poses but each one of us is perfect in some (even if it is the savasana :)). If each one of us learns something from the other, as a whole we all seem perfect. The partner stretches we did, stressed this fact ever so convincingly.

yoga partnerbent backwards roshni

Don’t just accept others as they are; seek out the greatness in each one.

Even though we were like 28 different energy forces, we all felt in sync that evening, not just with one another, with nature, with the melodious voice of our guru, with the chirping of the birds, with the smell of the grass beneath us, with the filtered shade of the tall trees above us, and above all, with ourselves.

30688390_10214027480979460_3973989496750170493_n

There were lot of such moments where we inhaled in this bliss while exhaling out the toxicity within; relaxing and focusing at the same time…

The Sacral Chakra.

This chakra is associated with pleasure and harmonious exchange.

That evening saw us practicing a different asana. The asana of letting go…While some did it through engaging in some “satvik” drinking, the others let loose with some bollywood dance moves. But the real letting go happened by the camp-fire when we shared personal incidents that we have been embarrassed or guilty about. Well, I’m not sure how many grams of body mass got shed that day, but I’m certain that we shed loads of prejudices and inhibitions that night. Certainly, a tougher load to offload!

The crown chakra.

This chakra is associated with liberation and higher consciousness.

The next morning was all about awakening our spiritual self as we started our practice with pranayama and ended with meditation. The “so hum” meditation and the chanting intertwined our energy forces with the gentle morning breeze in a beautiful harmony, leaving us in a state of higher consciousness and calm. That falling drop of tear was quite reflective to our liberated state…Ah, and the sublime after-glow on our faces…I doubt if the effect of the fanciest of creams and lotions could match up to it!

so humbrahmri

The Solar Plexus Chakra.

This chakra is associated with self-discipline and taking responsibility.

Most surprisingly, the effects of our yogic capability seem to have manifested in our time consciousness and self-awareness during the trip. Even with the jam-packed itinerary and just a few hours of sleep, all our major events from leaving in the morning to getting back on time were completely self-monitored and dot on the schedule (barring the unavoidable circumstancial delays). So proud that as a group, we completely busted the Indian Standard Time perception. Much in the same way we follow traffic rules on foreign roads! 🙂

The heart chakra.

This chakra is associated with love and compassion.

When your heart is full of bliss, it will eminate love.

The random acts of kindness and compassion that we witnessed were the most endearing part of the trip. Like one of us bending over backwards (literally) to help her partner regain her confidence in doing the seemingly impossible yoga poses.

30698281_10214027477819381_2096766722810542588_n

 

Like all of us cheering for everyone’s shirshasana moments.

Like the surprise birthday cake and the heartfelt personal notes from friends.  

Like one of us convincing the whole group to forgo the sight-seeing to get back in time to attend to a fellow yogi’s sick child.

Like some of us, getting their hands dirty with the bus driver to get us back in time after the bus breakdown.

It is great to live a healthy life..But I realized it is more fulfilling to live a humane life.

The throat chakra.

This chakra is associated with self-expression and communication.

The ride back saw all of us being extra expressive. (something to do with the realization that all good things have to come to an end!) The bus was abuzz with our healthy banter (we could have given tough competition to any punjabi baraat that day. :)) Interestingly though, we were able to squeeze in some insightful discourses on the philosophy of yoga and of life and on all things in-between. This chakra definately got awakened amongst each of us. 🙂

bus inside

Needless to say, the yoga retreat offered ample opportunities to awaken all our kundalini chakras, to experience yoga more profoundly and to be a little more wiser in the process.

I’m sure lot of you do yoga as a routine practice…but try changing the context once in a while.

Even if you cannot go to a retreat, you can go to a nearby park or do it with friends or do it with a new guru.

And if you can, make it an annual ritual. Go away on a retreat (yoga or otherwise) that is dedicated to rejuvenating your mind, body and soul.

ps. A special mention to our yoga guru…LD (as we like to call her), the force behind the whole effort. 

ld

She is an unique combination of an accomplished yogi, a disciplined guru, and a well-rounded human being. She teaches yoga in our community but spreads her knowledge via her Facebook page

A marathoner with a message!

Once in a blue moon, when I land up in the gym at an insanely early hour, I find him running on the treadmill at godly speeds with ungodly grunts…

Well, you may expect that out of a seasoned marathoner.  But what I did not expect was  the news he broke to me: that he had recently finished an international sprint triathlon at 14th place. And he is only 44! But his age was not my only cause for concern! 🙂 Not very long ago, I had seen him starting to learn swimming! From swim lessons to completing an open sea 500 mts stretch at the triathlon on an abnormally windy day… now that got me awestruck!

Amit Gupta, the man in question, is the CEO of Asianet News Network. He is a gifted vocalist, a weekend chef, a mountain-trekker, a self-proclaimed workoholic, besides being a father of two equally talented teenagers. He is also fit as a fiddle.

 

 

 

The great thing about blogging is that I get to uncover stories of real-life heroes like Amit.  More than fitness, his tale is about his personal transformation and personal learnings. I decided to pick out some pearls of wisdom around his passion of racing, marathon running, fitness, and more. 

A boss can make you run…(literally!)

His journey of running started in childhood with him trying to outrun the last couple of runners in his school running competition. 🙂 But took a sharp turn when he entered the workforce.  Well, we all know that a boss can make you or break you. In his case, his boss made him run.  A decade ago, the motivation for running got rekindled when his boss (a marathon runner himself) pushed him to try it. He has never stopped running since. 

As you can expect, there have been lots of ups and downs in his run.

“Darr ke aage jeet hai”…There is victory beyond your fears.

AIRG1032-dl_cert20x30[1].tmplAt the 18th kilometer into his first marathon, his knees started cramping. He somehow managed to finish but if he wanted to run again, he would have to go through an arduous knee surgery. (it was not due to the running per say, but due to a prior untreated injury.) He had almost succumbed to the fact that his running would have to be stopped before it could even start. But thanks to his wife, Shivali, who couldn’t see his dreams go unfulfilled and made sure he went through the surgery.  He went on to run 11 marathons after that. But the incident made him very diligent in listening to his body. 

 

Don’t stop when the pain starts….Stop when the pain gives up.

At another marathon, many moons later, he got severe stomach cramps and threw up at the 16th km. But he pep talked his way into finishing the race, even though he was completely dehydrated and overdosed on salt.  He surely learnt the importance of electrolyte balance that day. 🙂

It’s not about winning; it’s about finishing the race!

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-02 at 10.51.11 PM

 

There was also the life-threatening feat at the recently participated triathlon. Having never swam in open sea before, he almost lost his sense of direction during the race. The drift of the wind was not in his favor either. He had gulped too much water and was almost hallucinating directionless. But something in him did not let him give up.  Not only did he manage to complete the swim, he finished the race at 14th place.

 

 

Now, you’d think he’d slow down after the last episode?! But he tells me that he is already training for the Olympic distance triathlon next. Clearly, his passion of running/racing goes beyond fitness and goals.

“My passion for fitness/running has by far been my best personal teacher!”

According to him, It has made him a better person overall…more organized, more time-conscious, empathetic, and much more open to new experiences and learnings. But most importantly, it has taught him a great deal about failure…

“I have realized that failure is just a self derived definition of your outcomes being a tad short of the expectation. So now, I focus on the cause and not the consequence.”

To me, Amit’s account signifies that fitness, above all, is a state of mind.  Your own drive and commitment is the most important gear in your journey towards fitness.  And whatever your marathon…(and no, it doesn’t have to be of the running kind, it can be of a body-building kind, or the yoga kind or any other fitness activity that you entail) shed your inhibitions; drop your fears; run that extra mile and see where it leads you.


If his story has inspired you to try running, here are few tips and advices from him to get you started:

Firstly, can anyone do it?

He quotes from his favorite book,  ‘Every Human is “Born to Run”’ by Christopher McDougall. 

So…absolutely (as long as you don’t get sweaty palms or palpitations while running).

What are the basic requirements to start training for a marathon?

First and foremost, you have to commit to drinking lots of water, maintaining a good enough BMI and taking care of your legs (he is gungho on ghee and oils his knees like a bicycle chain every Sunday :)) .

Before you start training, you need to get to a proper warm up and cool down routine and start sleeping for 7 hours.

He suggests to start running at least 3-5 times a week to test yourself. This is also the time you need to train your brain. Positive affirmations, self-talk, visualization, music,  running buddies….you can try any or all of these to prevent the cliched motivation fades. Once you get comfortable, you should try longer runs (more than 10K)  once every week. If you are consistent in this approach, you should be ready for a half-marathon in about 12-15 weeks.

Any diet restrictions?

Absolutely none.  According to him, dieting is criminal when you are burning up so many calories. Over the recent past though, he follows the V-figure when it come to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And of course, minimal junk and processed foods.

Some of the biggest myths about marathon running?

That running is bad for knees! You need overall fitness, not strong knees to race. You need to focus on your running style, muscle strength, and endurance if you want an injury-free run. The secret to happiness is right at your feet, once the overall body runs in sync.

What kind of shoes would you need to invest in?

The general rule of thumb is that your shoes should match your current fitness level and your future aspirations. You should ideally get a shoe expert to help you with the right fit…basically they should nicely hug the entire feet while leaving some headroom to move your fingers up down and sideways. Nike Vomero,  Adidas Ultra boost and Barefoot Vibram are all good choices. 

How do you weave this into your already busy lifestyle?

You have to act like a petty time thief i.e. steal a few minutes from each of your daily routine: getting up, getting ready, breakfast, etc.  Plan, Plan, Plan! Every aspect needs to be planned in advance, from taking work calls during your commute to planning your workout the nite before. His biggest time-savers come from a very minimalist and disciplined approach to social media usage and devices.  If you let go of your FOMO (fear of missing out), you will be gain back your MOJO 🙂

Any parting advice for non-marathoners and wannabe marathoners?

Before every run, is a race between your mind and an excuse. Your motto should be to make your mind win. Your body will follow. 

And he signs off with one of his personal favorite quotes:

Everything in life is a marathon of different time, distances and tracks; don’t dash it. Run it per your abilities while improvising it in style and form constantly.


 

 

 

Flaunt the white dot: Now is the right time to get tested!

Yesterday, in the gym, a friendly gym instructor couldnt resist asking me, “Is everything alright, Mam?”.

“You look healthy and fit, what happened?”. 

“Oh, this…”, I inquired, “yeah..I got my blood IMG_20180312_133434test done”, realizing he is referring to the white dot (the blood draw bandage) on my elbow crease. “Thats why I ask!”, he repeated, still concerned.  Which made me realize that he’s probably in the category of folks who think a blood test is not something you would do unless you are sick or suffering from some mysterious illness.  And based on what I found out, there are many more who think that way. 

In fact, I recently did a survey on Facebook to find out about how many people get a regular blood test done?

Well, a good 76% of my friends do it. (Good stuff, folks! Just means I have sensible, health-conscious friends :))

But for the remaining 24%, here are my 2 cents:

When it comes to health, ignorance is not bliss….it can be deadly. 

If this sounds like paranoia, just remember what Andy Grove said:  Only the paranoids survive! 

Tell me, is it just me being overtly inclined towards grave news, or is your grapevine also abuzz with news about seemingly normal and fit folks dropping dead or catching chronic ailments at early ages?! (And no, I’m not even talking about the Sridevi episode).

Being in great physical shape is not necessarily an indicator of one’s health.

The truth is…We live in precarious life”styles”.

At work, we are stressed out. Enroute to work, we are smogged out.  And to escape it all,  we socialize…invariably involving shots and samosas! Add to that, the toxins we ingest in the name of food these days!

No wonder, India is the world capital for all popular lifestyle diseases (namely diabetes and coronary heart diseases, but even cancers). And the tricky part is, unlike infectious diseases, these don’t manifest obvious symptoms for years.

So, there you go! This is why I do annual blood tests. And you should too! Regular blood work is your first line of defense towards these deadly chronic lifestyle diseases. A baseline to see where you stand and a roadmap for you to navigate through future health risks.

If you don’t measure it, how can you manage it?

Of course, your blood test report looks all latin and greek when you first see it. After a good amount of talking to my doctor/nutritionist friends, and researching through pubmed articles,  here’s my attempt at a dummies guide to the most important tests and what they mean, very broadly speaking. (But if you are smart, you’d let your primary care physician aka family doctor decipher them for you-making sure they have a complete record of your family history.)

The Blueprint – Complete Blood Count:  CBC tells you what your blood is made up of: how many red (oxygen-carrying) blood cells, white (infection-fighting) blood cells, platelets (clotting particles), etc. Too many or too few of these indicate you have a problem…like anemia, infections, certain types of cancer, and so on. The hemoglobin count is especially important as it is usually indicative of iron-deficiency anemia, a common condition with Indian women. Note: And no, pumping iron does not increase the iron levels in the body (This one, tried and tested. :()

Ah, The sweet taste test of blood: The blood sugar test measures your sugar level typically after a 12 hour fast. A higher than normal rating typically means your body is unable to handle the carbohydrates in your diet.This is usually combined with the HbA1C test. It is an assessment of your glucose levels over the past 60–90 days and indicates your risk of being a pre-diabetic or diabetic.

How good, bad and ugly is your Cholesterol?: Its not so much about the total cholesterol, as it is about the good, bad and ugly cholesterol in your blood. The complete lipid profile measures the HDL (aka good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (the “ugly” fat cells in our blood).  All these, including your blood pressure level should be in optimal range if you are looking to avoid clogging of your arteries (aka heart diseases).

Vitamin D Test: Despite being in the land of sunshine, our suburban lifestyles lend us short of this sunshine vitamin. All sorts of strange ailments (cancer, heart disease, fractures and falls, autoimmune diseases, type-2 diabetes, and depression) are linked to vit-D deficiency. The only way you can track it accurately is via the 25(OH)D test.

Vitamin B12 Test: If you feel fatigued all the time, chances are you are one of the 4 out of the 5 Indians, suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency.  Yes, we are particularly prone to this deficiency because of our Indian vegetarian diet.  Again, only a blood test can tell you where you stand wrt this.

Thyroid panel: Thyroid seems to be the silent epidemic of our times. A sluggish thyroid can slow down your systems and lead to unexpected weight gain and hairfall (two most dreaded symptoms, if you are a woman!) . Though thyroid disorder is said to run in families, it is triggered due to toxins in our air, water and food. Thyroid condition is tricky to diagnose and can only be detected by a blood test.

Kidney and Liver function Tests: To check for any damage to these vital organs. These tests  can help detect ailments like fatty liver, kidney stones, etc.

These are the most essential tests but a more comprehensive blood work could also include C-Reactive Protein test for tracking inflammation, Estradiol test for osteoporosis risk, testing for iron deficiency, and testosterone levels.

Clearly, your blood has all the answers (well, the questions too).

And the way I look at it – Your periodic blood test can either reassure you that you’ve been on the right (health) track. Or it can empower you to make changes to get back on the right track.

I realize when there are thousands things trying to compete for your time, I’m asking you to add one more. (And yes, the long lines at the labs are not particularly inviting, unless of course thats your only time to watch Prime Video on your high-speed data plan!)

Well then, how about getting it done with just a few taps and a prick?! I recently discovered these time-saving diagnostic mobile apps…Thyrocare, DoctorC, and Dr. Lal Pathlabs in particular. These folks collect blood sample from your home and deliver the test results in your inbox!

Ever since, I have found no excuse to miss out on this annual appraisal of my health.

Hoping to see you flaunting your white dot soon! 

Somethings are better left as unknowns! 

For the rest, there exists an answer.

ps. Besides the blood test, some physical examinations, particularly the breast exam, cervical cancer screen (pap smear and HPV), bone mineral density test for women and colorectal cancer screen for men, are also essential after forty. But these are based on your predisposition towards these ailments and specific advice from your doctor.

ps2. For folks who need-to-know-it-all,  here’s a complete guide to blood test reporting.

10 hacks to eating right, while still living your life!

After reading the blog on my health nirvana, one of my neighbors, Amitabh Saxena, got inquisitive, 

“You write about eating right, but I travel for work for most part of the month. I’m in a different country every few days. This is my life. Now, how do I eat right while living it?”

Well, eating healthy shouldn’t mean you have to stop living your life. You just have to find some hacks around it.  So here are 10 hacks for you, Amitabh! I think they will be equally useful to everyone else.

Eat breakfast like a king…

Always book hotels that offer a good breakfast buffet spread. And by good, I mean the ones where you can see lots of colors and a live egg station. Load up on your macro-nutrients during breakfast and you can be less guilty of those less balanced lunches or dinners. 

This is my typical “travel” breakfast:

  • breakfast2 servings of fruits
  • 1-2 eggs (I would replace eggs with plain yogurt, If I feel like going vegetarian)
  • 1 piece of multigrain bread
  • 1 serving of oatmeal with some nuts, dates or seeds (if traveling in India, I would probably replace it with a idli or poha or upma)
  • And lastly, some warm tea (with a tinge of milk)

I’ve found this breakfast doable in India as well as while traveling abroad.

As they say, well begun is half done.

Drink (right) before you eat (right or wrong)!

My friend, Kaushal Dalal, MD of FireEye India, a frequent work and leisure traveller himself, can be seen sipping water every half hour.  His mantra is to drink water before meals, esp. when he is traveling. (If you cannot eat a healthy meal, well, just eat less of it!) Water does make you feel full, so you automatically eat lesser.

My personal hack to that is to drink hot water. (It seems to be China’s go-to beverage and I have yet to come across an out-of-shape Chinese! :)) Hot water stimulates digestion and flushes out toxins, amongst myriad other health benefits.

So, next time before you ask for the menu, ask the waiter for hot water. Don’t worry…the waiter will not look at you weird, unless you are in the US of A! 

“Healthy Snacks” does not have to be an Oxymoron

Deepak weights
Deepak, doing 400 pounds of deadlifts!

Another friend, Deepak Balakrishna, Founder/CEO of Adya and a bodybuilder by passion, swears by yoga bars as an anytime snack. He carries them to office, to his business trips, to family outings..basically everywhere. These pocket-sized packs offer a nutritionally balanced snack option.

But what if bars don’t tantalize your desi taste buds?! carry chikkis instead. Try these individually wrapped PaperBoat chikkis!

Or try roasted peanuts, chana or makhanas (lotus seeds)!  Thanks to the nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar, these old-time classics are back in vogue. And rightfully so!  Hmm..but what if you are allergic to nuts? Well, nothing like a cup of yogurt with local fruits or dried fruits.  Btw, some dark chocolate now and then, never hurt anyone.

Plan your food (like your itinerary)

Abhishek Goyal and Neha Singh, co-founders of Tracxn Technologies, tell me that they shamelessly carry a 12X12 dabba(lunchbox) to office everyday. It caters to every whim and fancy of their taste buds and nutritional needs throughout the day. Yes, this does need planning and flawless management. (Given how successfully they manage their start-up, I’m guessing it is in their DNA!)

But what about the rest of us, the not-so-meticulous planners?! Deepak recently started ordering his office lunches from a food service called cure.fit. He prefers their athletic lunches which has the right quantity of proteins, carbs and fats, suited for his needs. So even if he misses lunch from home, he doesnt have to miss out on the right lunch! 

restaurant guideWhile you can’t carry your dabba when traveling overseas, you can always follow the Fafat! By that, I mean my cousin, Priya Fafat, who makes digital notes of nearby grocery stores and restaurants (based on type of cuisines, food options(organic, veg-friendly),menu choices) as part of her travel itinerary. The point is…you cannot go hungry or not eat according to your needs, if you travel like her.

When in doubt, fine-dine!

Not just because you want to spend your per-diem in style! 🙂

There are health benefits to eating your dinners at fine-dining restaurants.

  • For starters, they are more open to custom orders and special requests. You can ask them to go easy on the oil/cream, replace white rice with brown or even create a new dish per your dietary needs.
  • A fine-dining experience inherently involves eating slower and having gaps between your courses. A great way to digest your food!
  • And God willing, you should land up in a French restaurant, they take extra care of your health by presenting you with the smallest of portion sizes (Even their menu-pricing is prohibitive to you over-eating!) 
  • And finally, the setting does add to the joy of dining…releasing your “happy” hormones.

ps. If you can’t fine-dine, go local. Krishna, Kaushal’s wife, insists on eating local cuisine during trips.  It invariably lends to a fresher meal; you experiencing different food groups, and opening up your mind to newer tastes…all good for your overall well-being!

Don’t drink empty calories

empty caloriesAny beverage pre-packaged in a bottle or a can (except water) is generally not a healthy drinking choice. Instead try and stick to green teas, black coffee, coconut water or freshly squeezed juices.

But what about those adult drinks? Well, IMO, the above rule of thumb should still apply. But if your business rituals revolve around alcohol, here are some dos and donts:

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. (There’s a reason why they hand out nuts and olives before your beers! )
  • Show a little compassion to your liver…Don’t mix junk food and drinks.
  • If you cannot do anything of this, please drink water between your drinks.
  • Finally, don’t treat the corporate card as a license to binge drink! (This will serve good for your professional and personal life! :))

Out-Exercise your dinner

According to the Calories in, Calories out (CICO) principle, balance your calories by offsetting your big meals by an equally burly exercise routine. Check out this exercise routine from Ruchika Choudhary, the fitness trainer and nutritionist in our apartment complex. It has been specially designed for busy professionals who may not have access to a gym or lot of time on their hand, during their travels.

Note: Do 5 of these sets in 15 minutes and you should be home free for the rest of the day.

Pack your Vitamins

All said and done, its difficult to always get nutritionally balanced meal when you step outside.  I always pack my multi-vitamins when I travel. VitaminB12, Vitamin D3 and Omega 3 supplements are my staples. (alongwith pudinhara for when the meals get too out of balance! ) BTW, “if you are a gym junkie or a serious athlete, make sure you carry your protein powder along with your trainers,” recommends Ruchika.

The secret to “staying” fit: Location, Location, Location

locationIMO, the best location for a hotel is within walking distance to a grocery store and a jogging track. 🙂

The best place for a longer stay is at an airbnb home or at a friend’s pad.  Basically, where ever you can have access to a kitchen.

 Btw, If you frequent the same city, you should try and stay at the same hotel every time. There are covert benefits to making yourself familiar with the hotel staff. For one, they can get you off-menu items!   

Also, it helps to be savvy about local food-tech!  Instead of constraining yourself to hotel room service, you can usually order a healthier meal from a freshmenu or a swiggy or even a bigbasket equivalent.

Finally, go easy on yourself!

If you stress too much about eating right all the time, even the right foods will not serve you right. So, enjoy your food and eat in moderation, and it will all work out (with some workout! :)). 

 

A parting note: I wouldn’t have been able to compile this without the tips from my friends. So thank you Kaushal, Krishna, Deepak, Abhishek, Neha, Priya and Ruchika. It seems each one of us has figured out some hack to healthy eating…while traveling or otherwise. So next time, you are having a business dinner, why not use the topic as a conversation starter?! I’m sure it will be a win-win discussion.

The secret supplements for great health!

If you have been serious about your health and fitness, chances are that you’ve been skimping over myriads of those magic pills and powder ads on your Facebook wall – and getting equally baffled by the choice available and their claims!

Well, I’m going to make it easy for you. I’m NOT going to talk about any of them.

Instead, I’ll focus on those supplements that you got to have but don’t have to buy or ingest.

Motivation is like multi-vitamins! A small dose everyday gives.png

70% of folks who say they want to “get fit” or “lose weight” don’t end up doing so. WHY?

Because they are not motivating themselves correctly!

From Katrina Kaif to my dear friend, Juri Dutta, who lost 28 kgs of pregnancy weight in 9 months, many moons ago, suggests:

“You have to set very specific fitness goals, albeit small, achievable, and specific – My target was to lose 1 kg every 10 days.”,  A Program Manager at Juniper Networks, mom to a 10-year old, and wife to a serial enterpreneur, she recollects going to the gym at nights after gruelling work-days, even amidst quibbles from her family.  She achieved her target weight loss in less than 9 months. And there has been no stopping her ever since!

“And then, let the results take over. There is nothing more addicting than seeing the results of your hard work. It puts you in motion.” 

From Baby Fat to a Marathon Mom!.png

She is a serious runner today. She sets fitness goals every year. Her current goal is to run a full 42 km marathon. (May you beat this goal with the same vigour, Juri!)

Actually, you know everything there is to keep you healthy and fit. The supplement you need is the right motivation. 

Begin by setting the right goals. Goals, that scare you a little but excite you A LOT. 

Motivation may get you started.... (1).png

Last year, my husband, in front of a roomful of family, announced his resolution to meditate everyday in the new year. (Such an emphatic public announcement when he had never ever meditated before, felt like an act of drunken exuberance to me!)  But the next morning, when I was woken up by soothing meditation music on our Google Home, I realized that he was not kidding.  Over the next few months, I saw him experiment with various meditation apps, styles, groups, even buddies.  Everyday, his phone buzzed the meditation reminders. There was a meditation ringtone. He even got our 10-year old into meditation. Spending quality time has a a new meaning for him now.

But lo and behold, he did end up meditating for about 320 days last year!

(Yes, we did present him the Salman Khan award in the commitment category of our household, for his apt exhibition of “Ek baar jo maine commitment kar di, uske baad to mai khud ki bhi nahi suntaa..!” (Once I have made a commitment, I don’t even listen to myself!))

The moral of the story is: Its tough to follow through, on new goals. Esp. since your brain is wired to resist new routines in favor of what its programmed to do. So you have to use all the arsenal at your disposal and persist. Eventually, the new routine turns into a habit. The brain operates on auto-pilot after that.  

Lets talk about my other friend, Puja Singh. You’d have no dearth of excuses to be lax on your fitness routine if you are a globe-trotting businesswoman/restaurateur, a full-time mom, and living in three different timezones!  But Puja is on auto-pilot, when it comes to her daily fitness habits. For her, whether she is in San Francisco or Singapore or Bengaluru, the day cannot start without yoga and HIIT or kick-boxing. A few years ago, she probably hadn’t even seen a deadlift…Now, on a bad day, she’d lift about 93 kgs. 

puja collage.png
Any guesses on her age?! To me, she does not look a day older than 25!

 

Here’s one way to inject a daily dose of discipline:

Announce your goals to the people in your life.  Post it on Facebook, if thats your thing. Let the force of social pressure keep you disciplined.

 

Making Ideas Happen (5)  

What is your reaction when confronted by pretty-looking servers nudging you to try sinful starters at parties? I bet most of you oblige without much ado!

Being mindful is to train your mind to be vigilant of these indulgent impulses. It starts with paying attention to yourself; putting awareness to your thoughts.  

What are your indulgent impulses?

After some soul-searching, I’ve figured out mine. I love to waste time on random minutiae. Now, how does that affect my fitness and well-being? Lets take last night as a case in point.  I had a deadline that I couldn’t finish in normal daylight hours. (Damn you, social media!) That made me sleep late. (And you know, I need my 8 hours of beauty sleep!) This made me miss my early morning yoga session. I dragged myself to the gym, much later than usual. By the time I came back, breakfast turned into lunch….You get the point, right?!

Mindfulness is the link that can can bridge the gap from our mobile, digitally-frenzied lifestyles to a state of well-being. 

For starters, try taking this daily dose of “mindfulness” supplement:

Have one meal a day, just by yourself. No Screens. No newspaper. No talking.

And finally, Oxytocin!

For all the folks, who think I’ve relented and am finally going to talk about a “real” supplement, I’m sorry to disappoint! 😦 coz Oxytocin is nothing but a hormone our body produces.

But why do we need a daily dose of oxytocin? Strong empirical evidence suggest its unrefuted role in our overall well-being and longevity. It also reduces the effects of cortisol(the stress hormone) and leads to the release of serotonin (the happiness hormone).  So, a magic potion for health and happiness really! 

And the great news is, it is the easiest of them all. Our close relationships, strong social bonds, and even altruistic acts – all contribute to promoting oxytoxin in our body. 

So, go ahead, folks…get  your daily oxytocin supplement:

Give a hug. Love your family.  Hang out with your friends.  Get social…(not just through social media).  And help someone. You are indeed helping yourself. 

 

ps: Now, if you’ve come till here, and still feeling cheated to have gotten lured by a “catchy” title, you can comment, holler, or shoutout! If you make enough noise, it may just inspire me to write a post on supplements of the popping variety! 🙂 

   

Health Nirvana in a year!

3d7f4-blog2btitle2bimageLast year was quite transformational for me!
 
Up until last year, I had been leading a life of a normal, middle-aged, Indian working mom.  Life revolved around my family, work, home and my passion for traveling, writing, and socializing. Personal health and fitness remained a nagging thought but never had the audacity to move from the 2nd to the 1st quadrant of my important-urgent decision matrix.


ccdb6-untitled2bdesignBut how things change in a year! I’m 44 this year and feel like I’m in my best shape ever! I have dropped some weight; I have dropped two sizes and all my key body numbers (from BMI to cholesterol to glucose levels) are in the ideal range. Even the body composition monitor(fancy weighing machine) indicates my body age is 5 years younger than my actual age. It does feel like some Health Nirvana, that I never thought existed for an oldie like me!



So how did this happen?! – I see the question in the eyes of lot of my friends and family members who see me after a long time.   

 
Therefore, as my 2018 resolution, I have decided to share some nuggets of wisdom around fitness, nutrition and general well-being that I have uncovered or received from some phenomenal folks that have been instrumental in this transformation. And hopefully, over the course of the year, I aspire to bring forth more of these, as I continue to learn new ways of keeping fit and healthy.

Be Lean and Mean, Eat Protein

Everyone seems to have their own theory around food and nutrition.  But I will focus on the 80/20 rule that worked for me. I’ve always been a believer of a nutritionally balanced diet. But alas, our great Indian diet, as balanced as it seems, does fall short on protein. Shona Prabhu, a nutritionist that I met last year, introduced me to the concept of having protein in every single meal. You have to strive to get close to 1 gm of protein per every kg of your body weight.  But how does a vegetarian like me fulfill this requirement? Though I eat eggs, which are a great and complete source of protein, Shona introduced some excellent vegetarian sources of proteins like tofu, greek yogurt, locally available millets(jowar, ragi, bajra), peanut butter, sprouts, seeds like chia seeds, amaranth, pumpkin seeds and some interesting supplements like spirulina to my diet. Even my favorite Rajma-chawal* and chhole-chawal* has made to the list, so I get to enjoy them guilt-free!  FYI, here’s an useful chart I found on the net for vegan protein sources:
Btw, I’m not a big fan of milk or milk products for my daily protein requirement, esp. after what you hear about milk adulteration. But that’s just me. 🙂

The only bad workout is the one that you didn’t do! 

I started going to the gym as a curious bystander(getting inspired by my gymmer friends, Rahul Agarwal and Manisha Agarwal) and now it have become an addiction. Yes, this is proof you can get addicted to good things! But I know workouts can get boring over time!  My trick is to finish them in the mornings before my brain starts to make excuses. Nonetheless, I envy folks who can get their exercise through fun things like dancing, sports, kick-boxing, heck.. bike riding. Whatever you do, the key is consistency and to keep it challenging and fun. That’s when you see results! Group classes or buddying up are great ways to overcome exercise inertia. Trust me, peer pressure just doesn’t work in offices! Btw, if you are looking to lose those kilos or get to a size closer to zero, I find yoga with short-interval, high-intensity, strength-training to be the most effective. 

The first step towards change is awareness!

Being mindful of what you eat, how you eat, what you think, how you react to situations… is a crucial step in transforming your health. It’s a difficult art to master and I’m still figuring it out. But here are some mindfulness hacks I consciously try to practice. 

Mindful Eating

Long before the movie actor, Mahadevan popularized Drink your food and chew your drink, my Dad had been an expert at that art. Dad’s painfully slow, silent and focused food chewing sessions (a.k.a. lunch) were a bemusement to me growing up, but now I realize the science behind it. (They say, 50% of your food gets digested while in your mouth.) No wonder, he’s kept in great health all of his 77 years of life.  There are some other mindful eating tricks I use. Before I put anything in mouth, I always do a mental check. Often times, just the awareness is enough to help me make the right choice. I always eat a little bit (either a fruit or some nuts) before going to a party. That way I’m not tempted by those calori-fried kebabs. Remember, you can always nibble on your drink while others guzzle them up. Better waste it, than waist it, I say! 🙂

Minding your Mind

Stress does kill. But its a given with the kind of lives we lead. Therefore, its very critical that we detoxify and rejuvenate our mind on a regular basis. While there are many ways to do that, I find meditation like a gym workout for the mind. Last year I had the good fortune to try out the Inner Engineering program by Sadhguru. Ever since, I have engaged in their Sambhavi mahamudra. I feel its a great start to a journey towards mental detoxification. But you can pick your own form of stress busters…it could be as simple as deep breathing, a quick prayer, or even sitting quietly for 5 minutes. The point is to let go and reset.  

You need balance across all areas to lead a fuller, healthier   life – a balanced diet, work-life balance, emotional balance and   even bank-balance. 😉 I owe most of my fitness to a nutritionally balanced diet. But if you eat badly one day, you need to balance it by going easy (or even fasting) the next day. Or if you are caught up in a stressful situation at work, balance it out by some relaxing music on your way home or talking to a good friend or engaging in a hobby. The other way to look at balance is moderation. Overdoing work or play or eat or rest is never a good idea…Remember, Guilt is the most fattening emotion!  

A girl’s got to have her beauty sleep (well, even boys for that matter!)

Fortunately, I’ve always been a great sleeper.  I believe it’s the final and yet the most important step of my health routine. Our bodies need sleep to heal itself and restore its chemical balance.  Btw, did you know that you lose weight when you are sleeping? Weigh yourself at night before you go to bed and then again in the morning, you will notice that there is usually a difference of anywhere from 1/2 to 1 kg. Well, instead of beauty sleep, maybe we should call it skinny sleep! 🙂 There are many many health benefits to a good night’s sleep. So, please make sure you are sleeping at least eight hours a day. And try to go to bed at the same time, each nite. Unfortunately, this means you can’t be a regular at the late-nite shows/parties. Neither can you be spending your sleeping hours doing social networking..But that’s a small prize to pay for a longer, healthier life, right?! 

Feel your best, look your best, and get your best body back. That is my wish for all of you in this new year. 

 

Btw girls, trust me when I say this: 

 

ps. I’m sure lot of you have similar stories to tell! Please do share them..It may just inspire someone!  Also, would love to hear about fitness tips and hacks that you have found effective.  

 

 

Success is when Sachin Tendulkar tweets!Parenting a Champ!

I cannot even dream about something like this!, says my dear friend, Krishna, the proud mother of Saloni Dalal, who last week made so many headlines that Sachin Tendulkar tweeted about her. (Sachin’s tweet on Saloni Dalal.)  
For those still unaware of Saloni’s claim to fame; Saloni won a bronze medal in the 200mts breaststroke swimming at the National Games2015 (touted to be the Indian Olympics). But that’s not it, she won this in the Open category, i.e. while competing against athletes twice her age, some previous National Champions, record holders and anyone who’s a who’s who of Indian women swimming, and became the YOUNGEST medal winner in the National Games only falling short of half a millisecond from the Gold medal.  
If you meet Saloni, you’d find her a normal 12-year old, in fact so puny that her coach got constantly mocked upon for enrolling her into the championship. Not to mention, her Gujarati heritage…which is well-known for lot of things, but not sports!  
So what’s the secret?
Of course, you need to have talent and the drive to make such a mark. But it’s not just that.  In fact, it’s not just about her too. It’s about the winds beneath her wings.  It has a lot to do with her parents, my dear friends, Krishna and Kaushal.

I remember the tale when Saloni emphatically announced, a few weeks prior to the championship, that she’s quitting swimming! 

Imagine the tact required to get her out of that negative thought process!  And imagine what it takes every day to keep a 12-year old motivated to swim for 5 hours!  That too, in a Bangalore public pool that is an hour and half away from her house!

I’ve seen both of them make countless personal (and professional) sacrifices to give Saloni the attention she needs.  But again, making sure that the extra attention doesn’t affect their younger son. They had to find her the right coach, the right counsellor, the right diet…And to keep her fed every half hour, because she’d burn up calories faster than a bird! And while doing all this, never letting their expectations or disappointments impose on her!  But these were not even the big challenges.
Their biggest challenges were to find the fine balance between when to hold back and when to push;  to let her swim in the allergy seasons, knowing very well that her allergies could act up and maybe even cause a serious lifelong ailment for her; to channelize her adolescent crankiness and to maintain normalcy around her while she prepares for something extra-ordinary.
A National Games win is an apt reward for the Dalals! More importantly, the tweet from Sachin Tendulkar, the sportsperson Kaushal has idolized growing up. I feel happy success came to people who are worthy of it (and of course, to people close to me J)! But giving an ode to them would be wrong too…

This is really an ode to all those hundred other parents who toil equally for their children, but never see the medal around their child’s neck.