Wabi Sabi & Dichotomy of Control

Wabi Sabi is a fascinating Japanese ideology. It implies a very simple philosophy:

Nothing is perfect, Nothing is permanent and, Nothing is finished (But….. you make your peace with it.)

I think this is quite relevant to health, weight, fitness and wellness. One could of course interpret those words to imply that you simply accept the inevitable deterioration of your body or consider obesity, ill health and lifestyle disease a natural part of ageing and make peace with it. Since nothing is perfect, why bother trying to make it so? Since nothing is finished, why bother starting? And since nothing is permanent what is the point of attempting to stay fit or improve health?

I think however, it embodies something slightly different. It signifies the very essence of taking care of oneself for the right reasons and by using the right methods.

Nothing is perfect

Life situations are never perfect. You make the best of them. You may believe you don’t have the time to exercise, you may have a hectic travel schedule or sick kids to contend with. You may work long hours, be highly stressed and living under the duress of deadlines.

You don’t always have the time. You make the time. That’s just what you do when something is an important priority in your life. Even a twenty-minute workout at home (like a HIIT routine), is better than nothing at all if you can’t get to the gym. A quick run on the treadmill or a swim in the hotel pool is better than sulking in your room about your endless travel and how it impedes your fitness.

You may be obliged to (or want to) attend social lunches and dinners. This certainly influences your diet resolutions, but instead of sampling everything on the menu and living with the guilt, strategize how to eat out sensibly. Weigh your food options and make reasonable choices at every meal. Compensate for an indulgence by having a few light meals and making sure you workout. These are coping strategies that the clever people use to stay on track.

The myth of perfection – We are also confronted with another kind of perfection that often gets in the way of regular humans exercising for themselves and to improve their own health, mood and quality of life. We have been programmed into believing in perfection. More importantly, the kind of physical perfection portrayed by the media. Not everyone can look like the model on the cover of a magazine, not even the model on the cover of the magazine!! And neither should we try. Trying to look like somebody else is simply a wasteful exercise. Trying to adhere to the dictates of society to be certain size or appear a certain way will not necessarily get you a healthier body. Likely it will get you on the roller coaster ride of binge eating, starving, yo-yo-dieting, over exercising coupled with a lot of angst and frustration. Instead of watching your weight, counting calories, exercising maniacally, talking endlessly about it and worrying about not losing weight…..spend that time establishing healthy, sustainable LIFE HABITS.

Nothing is finished

The human body is a work in progress. We usually start exercising with simple goals like

  •  Lose ten kilos
  •  Get into that dress/those jeans
  • Run a marathon
  • Trek to the Himalayas
  • Control my diabetes

Once we achieve those goals, then what? Ideally,  we need to continue to include fitness into our day. Change our routine to make us better. Try new forms of exercise. Mostly, we are in a hurry to perfect and finish a process. We forget that the process itself is part of the journey and is more relevant than the end-point. The journey is the ‘now’ the destination is the ‘future’. We are in a hurry to lose weight, to reach the destination faster. We find ways to do it quickly, shabbily and with no regard for the true physiology or functioning of the human body or how to truly support its wellbeing. We fail to understand that we as humans can never be a finished product, perfect or permanent.

Fitness is a journey, not a destination – In our quest for weight loss or a better physique we tend to lose perspective. Understanding the larger picture, that losing weight is not the one and only objective of fitness, is what keeps us from falling off the wagon. If we spent half as much time focusing on our overall health, emotional wellbeing and level of fitness as much as on our physique, we would be much better off and more successful at it. Feeling defeated by a few setbacks and giving up at the first signs of difficulty is a sure way to take two steps forward and three steps back. Pick yourself up and move on!

Nothing is permanent.

Life changes. We change. Nothing is permanent.

We age. This is the normal physiological process. Yet, youth is revered. Even when we know it is never permanent, we strive to hang on to it with our teeth and the tips of our fingernails. The tremendous surge in clientele for botox, laser, face lifts, tummy tucks and so on are testimony to our infinite yearning to stay young and beautiful. This is a personal choice of course. There is no moral judgement against it. Ageing gracefully however is a science and an art. Keeping your body strong all the while growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually is not the same as trying to hold on desperately to ones youth. Work with the flow, rather than against it. Build strength, maintain stamina improve flexibility. Understanding that nothing is permanent is what should keep us moving forward. Even good health, a great body, astounding intellect or a superior athletic capability is not permanent.  Elite athletes understand that their athletic prowess declines with age. Our bodies change in a myriad ways and we need to design new and more effective strategies of working towards bettering ourselves. We may not be able to run a marathon in our latter years (although I know many who do), but we will be able to continue to exercise, strengthen our bodies and keep ourselves free from disease (or at least manage disease better). We don’t have to succumb to obesity or ill-health resulting form poor lifestyle habits.

~ When you come to value our body for its uniqueness and for what it can do rather than simply what it looks like.

~ When we start to actually listen to it, give it what it needs not just what we thank we want.

~ When we stop punishing it for not looking the way we think it should.

~ When we use exercise as a way to celebrate and enjoy our body’s capabilities.

~ When we thrill in the aftermath of a long strenuous weight training session or a feel the joy of quivering legs after a run……….

Then Fitness has become a ‘way of life’ and not just a means to an end……… and this in itself is a gift.

On another note, Stoicism, (from ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy) talks about the ‘Dichotomy of Control’ and how one cannot completely control ones body or its deterioration as that is outside of our control. One should therefore be cognisant of this fact. This is certainly true and we’ve all heard of this ‘health freak” who dropped dead (and am sure, told ourselves ‘so what was the point?!). But we do have much under our control. How we lead our existing lives is certainly under our control and will determine the quality of life of day-to-day living  (and not just our demise). The attitude that allows a semblance of peace within us is, I think, one of coming-to-terms with a given situation. Accepting the true nature of everything and all the while staying motivated to continue to improve ones body, ones mind and ones life and the discipline and mindfulness despite this reality is one way we can make our way through this imperfect, impermanent and unfinished business of life.

 

 

 

 

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A Change In Attitude

So you want to lose weight. Half the world does. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic so it’s only natural that every second person you meet is keenly seeking the holy grail of weight loss. Dinner conversations invariably return to feelings of guilt over indulgences. The Internet is flooded with clever advertising to lure vulnerable individuals into buying some product or the other with the promise of ‘losing ten kilos in ten days’ or similar fantastic claims.
You may not be thrilled with your body right now, in fact, you may view it with a good deal of distaste. Let’s ask ourselves a question, how did we get this way? How did we pile on the pounds? Where is that slender teenager? No doubt there are some who struggle with obesity all their lives. Over weight as children and teenagers, they are often faced with ridicule and marginalized. A large percentage of the population however, grows obese with age. A certain amount of weight gain with age is acceptable. But to become obese and as a result develop various obesity related complications like pain and discomfort, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, indigestion and so on, is not.
Take stock of your lifestyle.
– Are you physically active all day or does your job entail a lot of sitting behind a desk?
– Do you exercise regularly?
– Do you stay home and watch a lot of television and do little physical labor?
– Do you deal with an inordinate amount of stress? More importantly, are you one of those people who does not handle stress well? Do you develop acidity, anxiety or insomnia as a result of your stress? Do your work and relationships suffer? Do you become an insufferable boss or mother?
– Do you go on eating or drinking binges?
– Do you starve yourself often with the hope of losing weight only to go back to binge eating?
– Do you get enough sleep? (Six to eight hours a night of uninterrupted sleep is recommended.)
– Do you eat well-balanced meals with plenty of vegetables, fruit nuts, protein and healthy fats or are you loading up on the bread/cereal group (rice, rotis, bread, etc.), refined, processed, packaged food with additives and sugars out of packets as is common and convenient?
– Do you eat home cooked meals or depend on canteens and hotels and takeaways?
– Do you travel a lot, subjecting yourself to different time zones, food, lack of sleep and stress?
– Does your life involve a lot of socializing with indiscriminate eating and drinking?
– Are you addicted to sugar and need to eat something sweet ever so often?
The list of poor lifestyle habits is endless. These are some of the reasons you could be steadily gaining weight. Each problem has to be addressed independently with a combination of life skills, dietary advise and regular exercise. There is no way around it. Whatever the reason for the weight gain, the solution is to eat better, exercise and change your lifestyle.
Here’s the problem – most people think an hour of exercise alone will solve everything. It takes more than that, although that’s a good place to start. Your lifestyle (as shown above) is important. What you do for the rest of the twenty-three hours counts far more than one hour of working out. This means change. A change in attitude towards your lifestyle and not just one aspect of it.
A new mind set and not just a new menu is what is required.
The real secret to losing weight and more importantly, keeping it off is your attitude. The ability to look at your lifestyle with a certain amount of objectivity and a critical eye and then take the necessary steps to change what needs to change. The ability to get the necessary professional help when required. It’s not easy to change a whole lifestyle. There are other people involved – family, friends, colleagues and boss who are probably helping you preserve the current lifestyle. Change may involve others and this is not always welcome. For change to be sustainable however, it has to be holistic.
Adopt a slow and steady approach. Help your body and mind gradually learn to eat better, exercise more, live healthier, sleep earlier, relax and breathe. Most importantly, learn to appreciate yourself and your efforts. Learn to respect yourself and your body.
Dr. Sheela Nambiar MD Obgyn
Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant, NAFC
Author – Get Size Wise & Gain To Lose (Published by Rupa)

Sleep – The Healer of all Things

imageThe body and mind require sleep to heal, repair, rejuvenate and prepare you for the next day.

Sleep is a healer of all things, even your muscles, after you workout. Ever noticed how exhausted your muscles feel, especially after a good weight-training workout? That is them telling you they now need to rest to allow sleep to do its work of healing. Weight training, (I mean serious weight training) causes small tears in the muscle fibers worked. These tears heal over time to produce stronger, larger muscles and this happens while you rest. You do not grow in the gym. That sensation of your muscles being bigger immediately after a workout is what is called ‘the pump’ in weight-training jargon. It is only your muscles increased in size temporarily with blood and fluid. This gives way for the real increase in size and strength as the muscles heal – while you sleep.

In your enthusiasm to show your undying loyalty to your fitness routine, you may disregard sleep, dragging yourself out of bed even when your body is clearly craving sleep. I know because I’ve done this! Catastrophe! You fall ill, you can injure yourself (and then set yourself back several weeks with your much loved fitness routine! Not very smart). Being sleep deprived prevents you from actually listening to your body.

Working out without rest and adequate nutrition is like trying to drive a car without fuel. It does not work! Your muscles never recover. They will feel fatigued all the time.

The worst part of being an Obgyn are the night calls. Sleep deprivation is so common amongst us Obgyns that it is almost a way of life. One of the highlights of going away on holiday or just ‘away’, even on work, is the thought as ones head hits the pillow that one does not need to anticipate hospital calls. You don’t need to fall asleep every night hoping, THAT ring tone doesn’t rudely pierce through your slumber.

I am sure many other professions, nurses, new mothers dealing with bawling babies, people who travel frequently etc also suffer various levels of sleep deprivation.

Lack of sleep can affect us in a variety of ways. The most obvious of course is the fatigue. You eyes burn, your body hurts, you are irritable and intolerable to be around and your attention span is shorter than that of gecko.

You could make dangerous, even life threatening decisions when sleep deprived. Accidents, disastrous business decisions, poor judgement, unnecessary arguments and fall outs can all result from JUST not sleeping enough.

Lack of sleep has been linked to increased levels of stress and even obesity. This of course also works vise-versa. Stress can lead to insomnia and obesity to sleep apnea, which in turn impair sleep. Hormones Ghrelin and Leptin are responsible for hunger and satiety respectively. Sleep deprivation causes an alteration in these hormones, which change your perception of hunger and satiety.

Ever noticed how you tend to eat more and/or indiscriminately when tired and sleep deprived? You may not even be hungry, just sleep deprived. However, when your body tells you that you are experiencing discomfort, (IT means, you need to rest), but YOU interpret it as – you need to satisfy hunger! What’s more, preferably with the most ill-advised food choice available. So, you reach for that mid-night snack. A recipe for disaster when trying to lose weight.

A good nights sleep is important for ones psychological health. Depression and anxiety can result from and cause poor sleep patterns. Depriving one of sleep is akin to torture. It is THAT significant!

Sleep is a healer of all things. What seemed frustrating slips into insignificance after a good nights sleep. You wake up with a new perspective, a new energy and whole new point of view.

In today’s world though, its not just work, babies or stress that keeps one awake. There is the Internet for endless surfing as it sucks you into its vortex of the virtual world. Face book, chatting, trying to connect and keep up with just about everybody in the whole world. The television, with the incessant supply of news or mindless drama. For some, it’s a can’t-put-downable book (again, guilty as charged! You suddenly look at the time and its 1am! GROAN… and there’s a 5am wake up call)!

Late nights, early mornings as one is climbing the social ladder or bettering ones career or just partying for fun and alcohol. All of this somehow take precedence over much needed sleep.

It all comes down to priorities. Sometimes you may just need to refuse a party invite, or shut down that computer/television when you know that it’s sleep you need. It is a matter of mental and physical health and well-being.

As someone said – “If you don’t sleep, you are never really awake”.

Learn form the cat. Sleep can be a healer of all things……..

Ref-

–      Mental distress, obesity, and body fat distribution in middle aged men. Rosmond et al. Obesity Research, Vol 4, May 1996.

–      Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for Obesity: Analysis of NHANES. Sleep, Vol 28, 2005

–      Insomnia as a Health Risk Factor. Daniel.J et al. Behavioral Sleep Medicine/ 2003, (4), 227-247

Have you ever bought a Ferrari?

Have you ever bought a Ferrari?

Well, maybe not a Ferrari, but a great car, or the latest phone, or an expensive watch. Or, for that matter, anything that costs a bit of money? What do we do once we invest in expensive gadget/gizmos? We ensure good maintenance. In fact, we go to great lengths to ensure GREAT maintenance. We buy the best possible insurance policy, upgrade, service, fuel up, buy protective gear, shine, polish and basically spend a whole lot more money, time and energy on protecting our worldly investment. We are talking about a piece of metal here. A car that can be repaired, even replaced if need be.

Lets take the human body. The phenomenal human body. How much do you think it should cost? Remember we have only one body. It serves us all our lives. We need it to work for us 24/7 through all our impossible times, highs and lows. We have no spare parts and no, it cannot be replaced. How much do you think we should price it at? Priceless don’t you think?

And yet………..we place it under an inordinate amount of pressure and then fail to nourish it properly. We starve it. Alternately we stuff it with appalling food choices and expect it to behave itself. We get upset when it doesn’t. We are annoyed that it has “gained weight” or “fallen sick”. We stress it further to lose weight rapidly and unhealthily. The abuse is relentless.

Sure, we buy Life insurance and Health Insurance. That however is not the same as a “maintenance strategy” now is it? Buying life Insurance does not ensure a better QUALITY of life.

What is it that drives us to be quite so careless about our own bodies and yet pay so much attention to inanimate, material things? Is it the sense of infallibility? The conviction that somehow, we will be the ones to slip through the cracks and escape the implications of a reckless lifestyle?

We believe the rules of life do not apply to us. Perhaps justifiably. We do see some heedless humans cheerfully leading long or disease-free lives. On the other hand, we also see apparently healthy individuals sometimes dying or falling ill unexpectedly and shockingly. This is what is pointed out to me only too often when I advise people to follow a healthier lifestyle. “But what’s the point?” they ask, “look at how Mr. so-and-so dropped dead. He was fit, exercised regularly, eat healthy and yet he dropped dead”

I never said fitness was a guarantee against death! Only that it is a guarantee for a better QUALITY OF LIFE while you live. I for one, would much rather lead a full and productive life however short, than a long arduous one that is spent mostly in bed or a wheel chair in pain or depressed, suffering ailments that could have been prevented.

Have you ever bought an AMC (Annual Maintenance Contract) for anything from a water heater to a washing machine? Most of us do, for almost every piece of equipment we own. I even know someone who has an AMC for his treadmill, which by the way, he never uses!

I believe we need a DMC (Daily maintenance Contract) for the human body. If our bodies came with an instruction manual, it would probably say the following:

– Eat clean (most of the time. Occasional indulgences are allowed).

– Sleep at least 6-8 hours a day

– Exercise regularly.

– Drink enough water

– Manage stress appropriately.

– Stay busy and productive!

However, we do not come with an instruction manual now do we, so we do not bother with a DMC. Occasionally we realize the jeans do not fit or the triglycerides are sky-high and panic. Then come the desperate measures to right the wrong. Usually resulting in running for the nearest “quick-fix” remedy available. Drugs, massages, wraps, fasting, starving, drinking nasty concoctions that would probably make a skunk throw up, anything for instant results.

The panic however is short-lived. We get used to the weight gain or the high blood sugars/triglycerides. We tell ourselves it is part of the aging process. That we need to go with the flow, relax and take life as it comes. After all, most people around us suffer the same maladies don’t they? Therefore, it is absolutely natural. This is how we justify ill-health or a poor quality of life.

What if we pay as much attention to our own bodies as we do to our various material assets?

What if we begin to follow a DMC and consider our own wellbeing, both physical and emotional, as important and relevant to how we experience life?

What if we accept that WE are responsible for our own choices and subsequently the quality of our lives?

What if we treat our bodies as we would our Ferrari?

Droog

Droog is situated about thirteen Km from the town of Conoor. The hill is also called Bakasura Malai (after a fabled, cruel demon from the Mahabaratha). It is a hill about 2000 meters above sea level. One gets to it through the NonSuch Tea estate on the most dreadful roads. Estate roads, meant for a four-wheel drive and a strong stomach.

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Parking on the road, we began our ascent to the top of the hill. It was a fairly steep incline. Initially, through the most beautiful tea estate and then through the shola forest. There was a charming little paved path to follow through the forest. The path was steep and winding in places. Innocently effortless in others.image

The lush foliage looked alive, breathing in the morning air. There were so many unusual flowers, trees and plants. Lemon grass grew in plenty deceiving us with its sharp edged leaves camouflaging the fragrance and flavor of the plant. Beautiful wild flowers in the most vivid colors. Growing in abandon, unaided, content to be blowing in the breeze.

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We passed the remains of the fort of Tippu Sultan. Build in the 16th century it is said to have been a vantage point and the out post to oversee the surrounding areas. What remained was only the wall of the fort. Just piles of stones stacked to build a semblance of a wall.

imageOn the top of the hill was situated a Lookout tower of sorts. Now vandalized of course, with scribblings all over the walls of names of lovers and new-gen heroes. A reminder of those who have managed to get to this point, not to absorb and appreciate the incredible view but to record their pathetic presence on the walls of this monument. Reprehensible, to say the least. The last time we were here, we were startled by a group of police officers in their camouflage uniforms said to be combing the forest for terrorists. Very reassuring that was! Thankfully, no such incident this time.

Beyond the tower, a little further through the forest leads one to an even more stunning landscape. The sun had already risen but was still partially concealed behind gloriously patterned sheets of clouds. Ornate and almost surreal, it was the work of a brilliant artist, the sky, the mountains, the rivers below the trees and sheer rocks. The cliffs were sheer drops of thousands of meters to more forestland.

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After spending some time taking in the splendor or the surroundings, we headed back to Conoor town. A delicious breakfast at the famous canteen in the quaint Conoor railway station. A welcome indulgence after that long walk.

Walks like these test the endurance of your leg muscles. The uphill climb definitely also tests your cardio vascular endurance. It was about ten Km and the pace was certainly not leisurely.  Improvement in fitness levels is one of the additional spin offs of these walks. The encounter with nature only adds to the experience. Including activities such as treks, walks even dancing which are more for pleasure and not specifically focused on either weight loss or improving fitness create the environment to include physical activity as a form of a “lifestyle”. It becomes something you do as an extension of ones day. You tend to then make better choices more often. You choose to walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift. You choose to go for a run on a Sunday morning instead of lying around, wide awake wondering what to eat. You choose to throw a dance party with light finger food instead of a sit down meal. It becomes more ‘natural’ to stay healthy and fit

Trekking Mukurthi Peak.

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It was a 3.30 am wake up call this time. Unbelievable, but true. We had to leave by 4.30 am.

Just the previous day, I had traveled 230 Km on appalling roads getting back home only by 9 pm. Saying I was exhausted was putting it mildly.  Considering I had managed just a couple of hours of sleep, I seemed to have enough enthusiasm to rush out the door at 4.30 am still pulling on one boot to meet my pick-up party – The usual four, huddled in a rented jeep (anticipating bad roads) in the early morning cold.

The drive to the Fishing Hut in Mukurthi was a mix of exchanged news, loud laughter, (much to the horror of the driver and the escorting guide, considering the hour!) and a mostly ineffective attempt at staying in ones seat as the jeep tackled some absolutely crazy terrain. As we drove in the darkness, there wasn’t much to see. Only feel. Bad pot-holed road!

Along the way, after some seemingly official sounding conversation with forest guards regarding the necessary permissions that needed to be obtained to enter the Mukurthi National Park as it was called, we finally made it to the Fishing Hut from where we were supposed to start trekking.

Our guide, a slight, cheerful man, and the driver of the jeep, a rotund cheerful man set of in front of us wielding sickles. Apparently to hack through the undergrowth, I later figured. Our guide was clad in a thin sweater and a pair of open sandals while I though I might need a blanket to wallow in until my body warmed up with the walk. However, he seemed oblivious to the cold and rough landscape. The long grass beside the trekking path white with a layer of frost.

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The forest we walked through was truly incredible. The path, if you could call it that, was essentially a tunnel. One had to crawl under tree trunks in places, climb over broken branches lying across in others, while trying not to get your eyes gouged out by the protruding, menacing dry twigs. I now understood the significance of the sickle. Our guide hacked away gallantly wherever he felt we might not make it through the maze. It was mainly wattle, some pine trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others I could not identify. There were several extraordinarily beautiful streams along the way. Some had rocks to balance on in order to cross. Others had unconvincing branches of trees placed across them that we were expected to maneuver.

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We finally crossed the forest and reached the clearing at the base of the mountain peak. Surrounding us was the most spectacular, glistening lake. It reflected numerous shades of blue as it lay calmly soaking in early the morning sun.

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The Mukurthi peak looked like a small sharp nose in the far distance. It seemed like an awfully long walk to get there. Our rotund friend decided he would go no further. He somehow did not strike me as a guy who climbed hills. So, he sat by the stream while the guide led us on.

As we began to climb the terrain changed to picturesque grassland. A few rhododendrons huddled together in the small ravines near the flowing water. Some beautiful foliage with the young red leaves twinkling in the sunlight.

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The climb was steep and arduous. The sun began to beat down relentlessly even though it was just about 9 am. It began to get unbearably hot.

Some parts were strewn with stones and rocks making climbing quite an adventure without losing ones footing. Huge piles of elephant dung greeted us half way up. How does that enormous creature make its way up this hill and why? Surely if it was water, there was plenty in the lake below. Perhaps it was making its way across to what lay on the other side.

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About an hour of steady climbing, catching ones breadth occasionally in the shade of the bushes, we finally reached the top. The peak is a small area on the top of Mukurthi with a 360-degree view all around.  There was an absolutely vertical cliff on one side. Beautiful rolling grassland topped hills another. They reminded me of ‘The Sound Of Music’ for some reason. We could see the Nilgiri Peak across from the cliff. Story goes that it has never been trekked. Find that hard to believe. The British seem to have covered every nook and cranny of the Nilgiri hills. More mountains, the lake, Kerala in the distance on one side, Karnataka on the other. It was magnificent. What’s more the wind up there felt like it would blow us right off the cliff. Our guide had spotted the Nilgiri Tahr on the opposite hill, which we could just about define with binoculars.

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After some time spent soaking in the beauty, climbing down was a challenge. One missed foothold and one could very easily end up injured. These are the times when I really am glad I train regularly with weights to improve leg strength. It is a test of the endurance of the leg and core muscles.

Reaching the stream we found our driver sprawled on one of the rocks, in the midst of the running water, under the blazing sun, fast asleep! Well at least he had managed some rest! Slipping off our foot wear we dipped our feet in the icy cold water. It was a well-needed natural foot spa.

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We managed to make our way back through the strange forest of broken trees. Then through the pine glade with a carpet of pine needles to walk on.

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A short picnic lunch sitting in the verandah of the old fishing hut. The hut was used by trekkers. One could stay over night apparently. It looked suspicious to me, all boarded up. I was quite sure it wouldn’t be the best maintained place! I was glad we were heading home.

On the drive back, I contemplated the various walks we had done over the months. Each was so different. The terrain, the incline, the foliage. For me at least, it was more about the actual experience of walking that drove me. I am essentially not an out-door person. The sun bothers me. Insects seem to find me interesting. I am always bitten even if nobody else is! I would never miss these experiences for anything for course, but every time, at the end of it, I admit, I AM glad to get home to a hot shower!!

To be a Better Version of Oneself!

“Women are angels, but when our wings are broken, we continue to fly……. on broomsticks, we are flexible like that!!”……..I love that quote, have no idea who said it!

As an Obgyn I am constantly amazed at the strength of a woman. How much we endure physically and emotionally. The various changes the body undergoes right from attaining puberty; the changing body in pregnancy and through menopause. It is not easy to stay focused on fitness routines or pay attention to physical appearance. There is just so much going on. Besides the hormonal swings, we have families, careers, hobbies, friends, competitors and loved ones to deal with. Yet we do! Beautifully!!!! (Well, most of the time anyway!)

If you doubt yourself in any way, endure criticism or pointless comments especially about physical appearance; remember what an extraordinary job you are already doing. Remember to tell yourself that your life is yours alone. Others opinions are not always relevant.

I believe we are all capable of great things,

I believe we have it within us.

I believe we are truly capable of healing ourselves just as we help and heal those around us.

For this to happen we need to accept a simple truth –

We need to stop playing the victim, get over ourselves and stop getting in our own way of realizing our potential.

Here are what I find the 5 most common self-defeating attitudes:

–     Self-pity – The easiest thing to do is to indulge in self-pity.

‘I have no time’,

‘I do ALL the work myself’,

‘I am a career woman AND I look after home and children’.

‘I get no help from my husband or the rest of the family’,

‘ My boss is over demanding’ and so on.

These pessimistic thoughts can keep one from actually finding solutions to problems that may very well be real, but are certainly not irredeemable. Most women these days are confronted work, family and a hundred other things and expected to sustain high performance levels. One is not alone. If one really chooses to face up to ones circumstances and work around the problem, it is possible to do so. Granted there may be other sacrifices to be made. But again, these are CHOICES that one makes.

–     Not being honest about lifestyle choices – We may have a tendency to avoid the truth if not be outright dishonest. I have counseled several women who swear they “hardly eat anything”, “exercise all the time”, “have absolutely NO TIME to exercise” and so on. This may be far from the truth and does nothing but prevent progress. It is best to lay all the cards on the table, accept responsibility and try to find honest solutions to real problems, not make-believe ones. This is pure self-sabotage because the only one harmed by avoidance strategy is oneself.

–     Laying the blame on other people or situations – It is easier to blame someone or something else for one’s life situation. Be it being over weight, unhealthy, depressed, having to handle career and family or even, not being able to work outside of home but having to stay a house-wife. Blaming someone else makes the situation seemingly easier to deal with. In reality, it is not. Trying to lay the responsibility of ones life choices on someone else takes away the power from oneself. It creates a sense of helplessness, deepens self-doubt and lowers self-esteem. Once again, it is a CHOICE one makes. A decision whether to take responsibility for ones own life, mistakes and all, or consistently lay the blame on someone else.

–     Not seizing an opportunity for improvement when it is available – Oftentimes, even when one is faced with an opportunity for change, one is unable to exploit it. For various reasons, some of which are listed above. Opportunities are available all the time. One has to be open to them. One has to be willing to face the challenge if there is to be any improvement. It is not always easy to change ones lifestyle, eating habits, activity, thought process and so on. However, change is inevitable if there has to be progress.

–     Always looking for a quick fix or an easy way out – Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Therefore, if it is a better quality of life, a better body, a fitter mind that one is looking for, it takes time and effort. Believing in quick-fix solutions, vacillating from one extreme diet to another in the hope of quick weight loss, trying bizarre exercise plans, pills and potions are not long-term solutions. Nothing is worse for ones moral than regression. Regression is what happens when one finally realizes these temporary solutions don’t work.

Setting aside these self-defeating attitudes can create the right environment for growth  from strength to strength. It is not always easy. One is so often tempted to let go and blame the world for our condition including out weight gain or poor fitness.

–     “It’s the fast food industry to blame.”

–     “It’s the internet and TV that make us so sedentary”,

–     “It’s my husband/mother-in-law who drive me to eat too much”. Whatever the excuse, it’s just that – An Excuse.

Every one of us does have a CHOICE that we can exercise with respect our own lives. We can choose not to eat unhealthy food, not to sit in front of the TV for hours on end, not to let other people’s attitudes intrude on our peace of mind. It is a choice. Perhaps not an easy choice, but a choice nevertheless.

As I said, we ARE capable of amazing things. I have seen it in the most unusual women –

– A poor village housewife doing a brilliant job of bringing up responsible, remarkable children.

– An elite socialite with her own sense of responsibility to society, working tirelessly for a cause.

– A busy doctor reinventing herself by losing an incredible amount of weight, improving her health and changing the direction of her life. I have seen the force of their spirit sustain them through the most difficult times.

…..These and many more such women are the inspiration to try to be a better version of oneself.

 

 

 

 

Cycling for fun and fitness…

Cycling is by far one of my favorite fitness activities. The thrill of the speed on the bike. The wind in your face. The possibility of covering huge distances in short periods of time. The feel of your lungs exploding and muscles burning as you labor up a hill and then the sense of utter liberation when you joyously sail down on the other side.

You can burn up to 500-600 calories an hour biking depending on your weight, speed and incline covered. Here’s a link to calculate calories burned:

http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/calories_burned.asp

One of the major advantages of biking is that it is low impact and rarely places undue pressure on the joints. Unlike running which poses a problem for the knees due to the incessant pounding, biking is more knee friendly. You have to adjust your seat and pedal height to suit the length of your legs however. Inappropriate seat height, which leads to excessive flexion of the hip joint while pedaling can place stress on the knees.

The major muscles that are used while biking are the Quadriceps and Hamstring muscles of the thighs and the Gastronemius and Soleus or the calves. The maximum effort is placed on these muscles as you ride uphill or against the wind which creates a drag that essentially almost pushes you back as you ride.

On long slow rides, especially on flat ground the muscles concerned are working Aerobically that is with the continuous supply of oxygen to create the energy source, Adenosine Tri Phosphate or ATP which fires the muscles. As the workload increases and one rides uphill, the muscles begin to demand more oxygen than the lungs can supply and therefore create an Anaerobic environment (where the muscles function without oxygen by tapping into the glycogen stores instead to supply energy for the working muscles). The problem with Anaerobic activity however is the by-product of the anaerobic cycle which is lactic acid, accumulates in the working muscles. This accumulation of Lactic acid is what causes that intense burning sensation in the muscles which makes you want to jump right off the saddle and lie down on the road.

A combination of lower intensity riding on flat ground and some sprints or incline riding works best to improve ones stamina and muscle endurance.

In a place like Ooty one is blessed with the natural inclines. A good gear bike is essential. Gears on a bike help ride the inclines easier. I said easier not easily! You still have to work those muscles, but it is easier that when trying to ride a hill without gears.

Accessories on the bike like a good quality helmet, a water bottle holder, a mileage tracker, headlights are essential. You also get great seat covers to increase saddle comfort, riding gloves to protect the hands and elbow and kneepads to protect you in the event of a fall.

You get some great clothes for cycling too. The fitted tights, tracks, t-shirts and jackets are better suited to ride. Synthetic material, like Dri-fit from Nike is great for all-weather and to keep friction to the minimum for a smoother ride.

Obviously, your sun glasses and a good sunscreen should be on your list of necessities depending on the weather and the time of day one is riding.

Much as I love biking however, that cannot remain the only form of exercise. Weight training to strengthen the leg muscles improves your ride. Biking does not involve the upper body, which is essentially stationary and sometimes hunched over the handlebars to reduce drag. All this necessitates training the upper body with weights to bring balance to the body’s musculature. One will otherwise end up with great toned legs and a flabby upper. Strengthening the core and low back are also important to avoid strain in these areas. The position on the bike sometimes compromises the back and can cause muscle imbalance and pain if the muscles are not strengthened appropriately. A good stretch after every ride is essential if you want to keep riding! Tight muscles that remain that way after a long ride will tighten further. The next day will find yourself barely walking, leave alone riding if this is not addressed.

Staying safe is priority in any sport. There is no point courting danger by riding in high traffic or dangerous terrain and ending up injured. I for one cannot afford to be laid up and am certainly not a competitive cyclist to take risks that the professionals do. So for me, a clean ride, with some hills thrown in are sufficient to keep me happy.

I wish we could all ride more often. It is certainly an eco-friendly way to get about especially with the cost of gasoline the way it is not to mention the shortage. Every place should have cycling tracks are separate from the heavy traffic areas. It’s fantastic that school children in Tamil Nadu have been given bicycles by the chief minister. This may be one good truly thing she has done to improve health of children.

Cycling is a great way to stay fit. I have ridden through some beautiful countryside in the Nilgiris. Another memorable ride was in the gardens of Versailles in France where a friend and I hired bikes and rode through the dazzling backdrop of the palace gardens for hours.

Getting started & sticking with a Fitness routine

This is for those of you who are not yet exercising. Who think perhaps that you don’t need to, or can’t. This is also for those who tend to take LOOOONG breaks in their fitness routine ever so often on some vague pretext or the other, those who tend to keep ‘falling off the wagon’ so to speak.

I’ve heard ALL the excuses –

– I don’t have time

– I don’t need to, (I am slim, I don’t have any medical disorders etc etc)

– I have tried in the past but have always failed, so why try again???

– I hate exercise, I can’t find anything I like to do.

Well, here is the news flash – you HAVE to exercise whatever your shape size, job, family situation etc etc. TIME?? I haven’t heard of anyone who has more than 24 hours in a day, so you haven’t been singled out with a shortage of time. Strangely, I find the busiest people are the ones who “find” the time to workout. No, actually they do not “find” the time they “make” the time. It’s all about priorities. You have to decide what is more important to you. Watching that TV serial or yakking on the phone or getting in a quick 30 minute workout. Once you ascertain a priority list, then the hour you spend working out becomes nonnegotiable. You magically “find” the time.

If you cant find anything you LIKE to do, just do it anyway!! Exercise is not meant to entertain you! Grow up, sometimes we just need to do what we need to do! Surprisingly, after doing it often enough, your body begins to recognize it as something you essentially do and is able to cope with the drudgery of it. It’s really all about perspective. You start looking at it as something that makes you look, feel and BE better.

Sometimes I think one of the reasons people don’t start at all is because the goals they set for themselves are so daunting that they don’t know where to begin! They expect results overnight, they think about the terribly difficult task ahead, they imagine the struggle they are faced with and just back off in frustration.

They key is to set simple, realistic goals. More important, to set more than one single goal. Make sure the goals are not all focused on your weight on the scale because, really, that is NOT the only reason you need to exercise.

Even goals like –

– I will workout 5 days a week

– I will aim to burn 100 calories more per workout next week

– I will fill in my food journal everyday and pay attention to what I eat everyday

– I will be more active during the course of the day and not plant myself in front of the Tv for more than 15 minutes at a time

– I will do sit-ups at every commercial break on Tv………….. are all goals that you can very well follow and feel pleased about achieving.

It’s not hard. Start with a 15 minute a day walk. Cover a certain distance. Increase the time to 20-30 minutes. Increase the distance you cover in that time. Add weight training to your routine at least twice a week. 20 minutes a session. Increase the intensity.

Get more active during the day. Don’t sit on your butt all day. Move as much as possible.

One of the greatest inventions is the PEDOMETER. It clocks the number of steps you take a day. Put it on and try to cover at least 10,000 steps every day.

Find a mentor. This could be an integral part of keeping you motivated. This is something like an AA sponsor/guide who is responsible for your progress!! You become accountable to them. You feel bad if you don’t show up for your workout. You feel guilty for letting them down. That’s great to start with. It keeps you motivated. After a while (hopefully) you start feeling responsible for yourself and are able to stand on your own two feet.

Gradually it becomes a habit. An integral part of your day that you are loath to miss. You start seeing results (however slow) in your body that you appreciate and this motivates you to keep going. You try new things. Zumba to your cardio. Pilates for your Core. Oh yes it CAN be fun too!