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.

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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. 

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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!

 

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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.

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Selling Veganism as a concept!

 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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. 

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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!

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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 40 signs of getting older!

Recently, when everyone else just turned a day older, I turned a BIG milestone older.  Sort of equivalent to Armstrong’s moon-walking feat: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”!  And to top it off, someone had the audacity to ask me the dreaded question, “So how does it feel like?” 



I guess when you are younger, you are curious and stupid. So this is to satisfy her, and the rest of you who are smarter but still curious.  

Here’s what getting older is all about:
1.      You spend your birthday braving Grade 3 and 4 whitewater rapids to prove to yourself that you are still young. (trading in the lavender oil massage for a Bengay one, post facto.) 

2.      You don’t reveal your birthdate on Facebook so as to avoid responding to the “So how old are you today?” question.

3.      You start believing in the “40s is the new 30s” adage.

4.      You are either undergoing a mid-life crisis or starting an alternate career (or both).

5.      You eat healthier but are bigger than you ever were.

6.      You blame your weight gain on hormones or convince yourself that bigger is better.

7.      You get a hangover just by looking at the alcohol and an upset tummy by looking at the French fries (and avoid them under the pretext of detox).

8.      You don’t miss any chance to make intelligent conversation or Facebook comments about economy and politics.

9.      Your profile pictures always get a photoshop makeover. (And you consider apps like makeup.pho.to, and Facetune real innovation!)

10.  You are receiving Botox and Viagra ad mailers in your inbox. 

11.  Your friends are discussing their sex lives and all you do is nod.

12.  It feels like the morning after, but you’ve not done anything the night before.

13.  Your secret luggage pouch most likely just has your daily multi-vitamins.  

14.  You actually sign up for the “Art of Living” course. (Better still, you don’t mind spending your hard-earned vacation on a yoga or a vipassana retreat.)

15.  Yoga becomes a cardio workout for you.

16.  You start taking your laugh lines seriously.

17.  You say things like, “You know that guy who was in that movie we watched that day”.

18.  You struggle to keep up with all the chat acronyms and emoticons (your most popular emoticon is a smilie, cos making sense of other emoticons is like giving an eye exam.)    

19.  You can not bluff in poker because everyone knows what your poker face means and you can’t change it, even if you try. (even withstanding Botox!)

20.  Your friends call you a buddhi (oldie), and you don’t have a good retort back. 

21.  The time it takes to make up your face is more than the time it takes to make up your mind about the dress to wear.

22.  The clothes you had put away until they come back in style, have actually “COME BACK” in style.

23.  Your ideal vacation spot becomes that relaxing beach resort in Florida. (with lots of books to keep you company.)

24.  You miss the ladies night out to tuck in your child into bed. (without feeling sorry for yourself.)

25.  Your optometrist tries to convince you out of the lasik eye surgery. (And her rationale being c’mon, you’ll be needing bi-focals soon.)

26.  The Body Shop salesman insists that Nutriganicsis the way to go.

27.  You have started using phrases like “Yeh baal dhoop mei safed nahi hue hai”* cos you actually can.  

28.  Your shades are more for your eye bags than for your eyes.

29.  At a family gathering, you find more people touching your feet**  than hugging you.

30.  You nudge your spouse about things like life insurance and will.  

31.  You don’t start your resume with “x years of experience”.

32.  You fantasize about owning a farmland and actually farming on it.

33.  You actively seek out NGOs to volunteer at (even without the CSR mandate.)

34.  You start making fun of your age. (Cos everyone else is scared to!)

35.  You forgive and FORGET (more easily).

36.  You care less about how you look but care more about how you’ll be looked upon.

37.  You start treasuring the people in your life more than the money in your bank.

39.  You start accepting people the way they are (and more importantly accepting yourself the way you are.)

39.  You worry more about how you’ll make an impact than about how’ll make more money.

40.  And of course, whatever you do, you do end up getting wiser.
If you are not experiencing this, thank your stars and party hard.  The rest, make peace with it. 
Think about it this way: You are just ahead of the game. The others will follow you soon. 


*A popular Hindi quote meaning “Experience is what has made my hair white”.

**a Hindu tradition of paying respect to elders.

Saga of my Smartphone Screen and Everyday Indianess (aka desigiri)

I had assumed it was as strong as it was smart. Maybe a notion borne out of the fact that its shining armour seemed undettered to my sudden assaults and callous falls. Well, but one fine day, just like that, it gave in; shattering away my foolhardiness along with the touchscreen.
For a moment, my whole world collapsed. (Well, if you can’t imagine why, read about my obsession with the phone!).  But like a sensible desi girl, I quickly got thinking. I asked my go-to facebook group about where to get my smartphone screen fixed. Folks refered me to the authorized service center and some to their trusted repair shops.
You never realize the value of a phone screen until it’s broken! They all quoted me ridiculous amounts to get it replaced. My desi self couldn’t digest this! In fact I asked them why, and the responses ranged from:
You will need to replace the whole display unit. Of course it will cost you 8500Rs.
The service center is going to charge you 8500 Rs., I’m only charging 6500 Rs.
Well, one jaat dude had the audacity to jhaado the famous Radio Mirchi dialogue…”Paise bhi to kamane hai!”
The range of the responses aroused my new-age desigiri: “Don’t Trust, Verify” and “When in trouble, go to God, I mean, the Google God!”  And like with God, if you ask him properly, he will alleviate your troubles. The right keywords and google spit out the youtube link to “replace your smartphone screen at home ” followed with ebay links selling screens from Rs. 500.
Coupled with this Google-backed wisdom and my innately desi convincing powress, I eventually got the screen replaced for Rs.1500. (Of course, I was smart enough not to take the youtube video advice too seriously..it did involve a hair dryer and a blade, after all!)
What I achieved that day was not only the satisfaction of saving some moolah but that of earning those rare-to-come-by moments in a desi’s life when you get to outsmart the oversmarts; something similar to:
When a Haryanvi driver overtakes you aggressively, only to be eye-to-eye with you again at the next traffic light!
Or when some auntyji types slyly scoots ahead of you at the super market checkout line, only to find out that you checked out ahead of them at the newly opened counter!
Or when you haggled the free dhaniya-mirchi out of the sabziwallah, only to find out that he gave you less sabzi for what you paid for!
But what I learnt was:
  • A smartphone screen replacement service is a very lucrative business opportunity (where else would you find such a combination of information arbitrage with a big market size of impulsive buyers)…provided you don’t attract smart-ass, nothing-better-to-do, internet-obsessed, desis as your clients.
  • When in doubt, google it out!
  • Finally, you always pay a price! (i.e. if you consider time as your currency)
    • Time taken to do online research = 30 mins
    • Time taken to order the screen from ebay and wait for the delivery = 4 days
    • Time taken to convince the repair guy to replace the screen (and not the whole display unit) = 1 hour 
    • Time taken to write the blog article = 4 hours
    • Money saved = 5000Rs (What was priceless though was the look on the repair guy’s face when I showed him the youtube video!)

  QOTD: You can take an Indian out of India, but you will not be able to take the Indianness out of an Indian.

A full circle!

“You know, microwave causes cancer?!  I have decided to stop using it.” This got a bemused, almost sneered look on my mom’s face, the first of it’s kind, especially considering she had come to visit me after a year.
Over the course of her trip, I kept showing off all my latest lifestyle changes…organic eating, the boycott of processed foods, the stainless steel additions in the kitchen,  my yoga routine, the all-natural beauty regime, and even the reincarnation of the balti-bath (well, the water campaign by Shekhar Kapur combined with my clogged shower head sealed that deal!).
She didn’t say much, but couldn’t hide the “Havent you come a full circle?” look on her face.  
She left a few days later, leaving me behind with the thought to ponder on.  
The truth is, not very far ago, my arguments with my mom were around these exact things…
“Why would you heat on a stove, when you have a microwave? It’s like living in the dark ages.”
 “Why don’t you give the new Maggie a try? It’s now fortified.”
“Yoga?!  Anything that boring cannot be healthy!” 
“High time to chuck the stainless steel, Mom. Everyone in the US uses non-stick cookware. And trust me, they are more health conscious!”
“A warm shower is the only way to really feel clean.”
Ironic, it may seem!  But the fact of the matter is, aren’t we all trying to come to a full circle in some way or other?
  • How come natural healing practices are taking center stage, when we have advanced so much in allopathy?
  • Aren’t we at the onset of an organic farming revolution, after having spent millions in research of chemical fertilizers?
  • Why are we starting to bike/walk to work, when we now own multiple cars?
  • Why are some of us so excited about those new flour mills in the neighborhood selling fresh chakki-ka-atta when we can readily get it in grocery stores?
  • What about that daily dose of sun we now feed our vitaminD-starved bodies, having refrained from it for the fear of skin cancer?
  • What about the resurgence of the eastern-style squatting toilets now being popularized by the Westerners?
  • And isn’t simplicity the ultimate sophistication these days?
  • And isn’t the appeal of being an “Aam Aadmi”, an endorsement of our back-to-basics mindset?
So all this advancement, inventions, systems, and gadgetry! Should we have really bothered? It’s as if everything we created has had an evil side-effect that we are now striving to compensate for.  Have we really progressed then, if we are constantly trying to fight the evils of our own progression?
If better sense prevails, looks like I may wind up where I started off. In a household where there wasn’t a microwave or non-stick cookware or a cupboard full of processed foods; only squatting toilets, balti-baths, fresh chakki-ka-aata, and lots of sunshine.  
And here’s how we may wind up:
How about that for a full circle of evolution?J

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 This post is dedicated to my Mom; the force behind me restarting this blog and the inspiration behind my full circle of evolution.