Maintenance, a path less trodden -Journey to a fitter me.

Image Courtesy- kickboxingdiva.com

Image Courtesy- kickboxingdiva.com

You are familiar with the drill, the rigor, the sequence, the intensity. You know it all. You have reached the desired goal. Your bathroom scales have consistently shown you ten kilos lighter than when you began a few years back. You are happy and positive with the achievement. You know it was possible only because you had set your mind to achieving it. Yeah, you had your coach to help you along the way but in the end it was all YOU. The coach herself said that. So you become smug.

When your coach announces that she will not be able to continue to train you because she has decided to pursue bigger goals, you are supportive. With all the bravado you can muster, you assure her that you won’t fall off the track that you have been laid out. You will continue to make wise food choices, workout regularly (why, you may even commit thrice a week) and keep her posted on your progress. You even joke, ‘God forbid, I need you again!’

Then for the first few weeks you give yourself a ‘well deserved break’. You are mentally relieved that you don’t have to wake early to make it to the workout; you find more time to do other things.  You snooze that extra hour, meet a friend for coffee, watch a movie and spend some ‘catch up’ time on whats-app and social networks.  You pamper yourself and boy it feels good.  When your family and friends look at you with envy and say that you look younger, fitter and agile for your age, you tell them that all it needed was consistent effort.

Then the schools close and the family decides to go on a vacation.  You convince yourself that you will get back to your workout schedules when you are back from the holiday. Your vacation was going to be ‘active’ anyway. How much damage can it do to stay off exercise for a few more weeks?

All too soon, four months have passed by.  You are yet to restart your workout. You get used to not setting aside time for exercise, not thrice, but even once a week. Who has the time? There is always so much to do. Then one morning you decide to check if the batteries in the digital weighing machine still work. You cannot believe your eyes when the numbers soar up to 3 kilos plus than how much you weighed just a few weeks back. It definitely must be a faulty battery?

Soon afterward, your coach reaches out with a cheerful ‘Hey what’s up! Want to catch up for lunch?’ It is the beacon of light you were hoping to see to shake you up from your disinclination for activity. You are both relieved and guilty at the same time. You agree to meet with enthusiasm. You look for the most flattering outfit you have in your wardrobe to make you look the same as you did four months back.  Who are you fooling?  One look at you and her eyes take in all the details. She is too kind to point out and tell you to your face that under that entire pretense that you are in control, she knows just how much you are spilling out. Yeah that is right. That is exactly what I got told.

Anybody who has been on an exercise regimen under the watchful eyes of a coach or a trainer will agree with me.  When we decide to continue to walk the path of maintenance independently, we often fail. What is it about working out alone that is scary or boring that we just don’t seem to even want to attempt it? Does that mean you are addicted to your coach? Wasn’t it ‘all your doing’ that you achieved what you did? Then what stops you now?

I am not the first person who has felt this way. All the people I have known during my years with my coach have either fallen off the track or continued working out with other trainers. Even though I have managed to include other forms of exercise (yoga, for example) and continue to walk the daily 5km, when it comes to weight training, I am just not enthusiastic about doing it on my own.

If you are someone who is an exception to the rule and have managed to stick to the discipline of working out no matter who is watching, then tell me how you do it! But, if you are like me and many of us who are slack and need a coach or trainer to keep us engaged, engrossed and disciplined about exercise, then come on, we have to form a group and fight it!

Either way, write to me.

This is in continuation of the series of blog posts that I had written two years back in March 2013 that you will find on this blog. The link to the first of the posts of the 8-part blog titled ‘ Journey to a fitter me’ is here.

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Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita : Atman vs. Jiva; Karma vs Akarma

 

atman-JivaThere are two parts to my identity. My body, mind and intellect (Jiva) is one, my spirit (atman) is another. Which identity I see as myself  decides how I deal with what happens in my life. I can identify myself as the Jiva and be affected by the experiences of the body, mind and intellect or identify myself as the atman and remain unaffected, feel liberated.

na mam karmani limpanti, na me karma-phale sprha
iti mam yo ‘bhijanati, karmabhir na sa badhyate

1) I realize that who I identify as ‘ me’ is not my spirit but my body, mind and intellect. I am affected by the trials and experiences perceived by my body, mind and intellect. When I face challenges in life, I feel low energy and tired because I imagine that it is the ‘real me’ that is going through that experience. With my limited capacity to understand, I ignore the all pervading, underlying truth that my atman is a real entity that remains unaffected by what is happening to my Jiva.

2) I am capable of riding over the challenges and emerge victorious. If I stop identifying the body as “me”, then the trials and tribulations of my body, mind and intellect will not bother me. When I begin identifying with the spirit (atman) as “me” that is when I can feel liberated. That is the way to live enthusiastically.

3)  It is my Jiva that experiences imperfection of the body, mind and intellect and not my atman. It is my Jiva that feels incomplete, looks for validation, aches to fill a void, gets entangled in the laws of karma, identifies itself as the doer (karta) and yearns for the fruits of action (karmaphal).

4) I know now that I live in the borrowed glory of the spirit, the underlying truth, that what I call ‘myself’ is only an object in the given time and space, that the real me is not my body, mind and intellect but the atman.

5) When I begin to identify myself as the atman, it will become possible not to get overwhelmed and depressed and feel more insulated and grounded, when things don’t go well, when I experience setbacks, when I face disappointments, pain, separation and ill health.

evam jnatva krtam karma, purvair api mumuksubhih
kuru karmaiva tasmat tvam, purvaih purvataram krtam

1) All these findings about spirituality is new only to me. There have been people before my lifetime (my forefathers and elders) who have understood the lessons and have aligned themselves to live by the teachings of the Gita.

2) Being spiritual is not easy. But it is possible to learn how to live spiritually by observing our ancestors. Mirroring is a psychological phenomenon of miming the attitude and life of people that you want to emulate. Instead of questioning or challenging the knowledge, it is easily laid out for me to mirror and copy how my ancestors and the great sages lived their lives.

3) My actions should aim to liberate instead of entangle me. I have to learn to move away from working to fulfill my desires (selfish), to fulfilling other people’s desires because I can ( Unselfish), to realizing that no one really needs my help to fulfill their desires, yet I will continue to work since it is an opportunity I revel in. (selfless). My actions should not taint me and have to be with the aim to liberate myself and benefit people around me. Neither should  I let other peoples actions affect me.

kim karma kim akarmeti, kavayo ‘py atra mohitah
tat te karma pravaksyami, yaj jnatva moksyase ‘subhat

1) The Gita tells me that I have to question all my actions. Why did I do what I did? What is my motive behind every action?  Oftentimes, my actions are mere habits that I mindlessly indulge in, without questioning, without regulation.

2) The idea of spirituality is to be self introspective, question all my actions and refrain from questioning another’s action. Who am I to judge another human’s action, when I have undiscovered layers in my own mind?

3) Even If I mean well, and I am spiritually motivated, my actions are often desire ridden (karma). It is through such karma that I will finally understand what selfless action (akarma) is.

 

Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita: On Desire and Anger

This week the four verses we discussed, revolved around the emotions of desire and anger. Through the dialogue that Arujna and Lord Krishna engaged in, my learning for this week is thus.

arjuna uvaca 
atha kena prayukto ‘yam, papam carati purusah 
anicchann api varsneya, balad iva niyojitah

1) I reckon that there is a force, (call it my bad Shoulder Angel) within me, that makes me act, speak or behave in a way that may not be the ideal or right way. I have no control over it, even if I do realize that I am wrong.

2) The only way I can measure how far I have deviated from the ideal is by introspection. A Seeker, will measure himself against the ideal man as portrayed in the Gita, to take stock of how far he has deviated or how much he has to work towards changing his ways to be anywhere close to the ideal man.

3) If I question my motives, actions and words, introspect and measure myself against the teachings, it will help me stay humble and grounded. I have to make a conscious effort not to allow my ‘satvik ego’ ( I do not become pure and holy because I attend Gita Satsang every week) interfere in the way I deal with situations, people and work I do.

sri-bhagavan uvaca 
kama esah krodha esah, rajo-guna-samudbhavah 
mahasano maha-papma, viddhy enam iha vairinam

4) When I am spiritually ignorant, my mind is pre occupied with endless desires for material things, for attention, for validation, for love, for importance. When I am unable to fulfill my desire, it turns to anger. I look for ways to express my anger. I have come to appreciate that desire and anger are two sides of the same coin.

5) This desire-anger emotion is a hindrance to my intellect and does not allow me to introspect or reflect if I have chosen to do the right thing. This further tempts me to invariably compromise on my values and make irrational decisions.

6) I know now that I should not look outside of me for help to overcome my desire- anger emotion. Introspecting and awakening my senses to spiritual ideologies maybe the answer.

dhumenavriyate vahnir, yathadarso malena ca
yatholbenavrto garbhas, tatha tenedamavrtam

7) My desires veil my intellect and interfere with my wisdom, my rational capacity and my ability to control my anger.

8) Even my satvik pursuits is a form of desire- Desire to understand the teachings from the scriptures, desire to be attached to a guru. If I don’t watch out, I will soon find myself preaching the lessons from the Gita to the others, before I apply the learning in my life. (Popular way to lose friends!)

9) Some of my desires may be difficult to overcome than some others. Some of my desires have to run its course before I exhaust the attachment to them, before they become undesirable. Some of my desires will change form and become other kinds of desires. I appreciate and understand the truth that my happiness quotient entirely depends on lowering the number of desires I entertain instead of the increasing the number of desires I fulfill.

avrtam jnanam etena, jnanino nitya-vairina
kama-rupena kaunteya, duspurenanalena ca

10) I have no one else to point fingers at but myself for the insatiable desires I experience. The more I work towards satisfying my needs, wants and desires, the more likely they will increase in number and size. I lose my sense of telling apart the good from the bad, the important from the unimportant when I work towards fulfilling my desires, needs and wants.

Weight training – Journey to a fitter me.

weighscalesAt the end of the 5th session of strength training, I expected the weighing scales to show some deflection. Even before my weight began to show any change, my coach kept assuring me that I was doing great.  After years of training and seeing other people go through the same frustrating when-am-going-to-see-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel phase, so to speak, only she could see that.

This is another something that is frustratingly similar to anyone who has begun to exercise.  We forget that it took years to add those layers of adipose cells in the subcutaneous tissue around our belly and other unmentionable places, but somehow expect it to magically disappear within weeks of starting an exercise program. Quite unrealistic, if I say so myself. Like those articles that say ‘Sexy arms in six weeks’ or ‘fabulous abs’ in the same amount of time or thereabouts, that don’t work. I have realized that the universal truth ‘there are no shortcuts’ applies to weight loss more than anywhere else. Really, people.  

A word about strength training that will encourage you folks who are reading, to begin with it, if you have not already – It is THE most effective way to burn calories from stored fat. But not everybody is open to the idea of weight training. My coach observed that women shy away from lifting more than the 4 kilo dumbbells at the gym but will carry handbags that weigh almost as much when hopping one mall to another!  When she educated me that weight training would increase my resting metabolic rate and my muscles will continue to burn calories (“after burn”) up to about 48 hours or more after weight training, I was all for it. Who in the right mind would say no to excess calorie burn without effort!

I began with lighter weights in the beginning and it was quickly stepped up to make sure that my muscles fatigued twice a week. In a short time, my body was primed for strength endurance training. In two months since I began, I used the Bosu ball and soon the Kettle bell. In six months, I had stepped up the weights and my coach had begun to include circuit training and even introduced some TRX and Battling ropes as well.

weightsAt the beginning, my body struggled to adapt to weight training twice a week. I was using different equipment each time and it challenged my body in ways that it had never been challenged before. I resorted to popping anti-inflammatory tablets to help me manage the pain from sore muscles. When I complained to my coach that every sinew in my body was screaming in pain she smiled and said, ‘That is the good pain. Tells you that you are working the right muscle groups’.

If you have never weight trained before, know that the discomfort that you experience while you are lifting weights will be nothing compared to what you will experience from sore muscles the next day . The payoff is a toned body if you keep at it without giving up. After a while, my body got used to it. I still feel sore the next day when I step up the weight load or challenge a set of muscles that have not been worked before.  But hey, I know it is a ‘good pain’ now.

Weight training with my coach has taught me a few important lessons:

a) You should always engage the whole body and not target one muscle group when you lift weights.

b) Correcting your weight lifting form is important before you step up the number of reps or sets.

c) You never tire yourself with cardio activities before you weight train.

My next post will talk about the challenges and setbacks I have had since my journey began. Until then!

The Big Picture – Journey to a fitter me.

My CoachMy fitness coach is forceful.  I don’t mean just her physical strength- of which I had no doubt. She is forceful in her expectations and advice too.

“Keeping food logs is a logical step if you want me to identify any discrepancies in your diet”. I insisted that I was eating healthy. I ate a few servings of fruit, many of vegetables, had even begun including salads in my diet, so overall I was getting balanced nourishment. What if there were no discrepancies? How many can there be any way, when you eat only vegetarian food?

Funnily, she seemed to crack up when I told her I was already eating healthy. laughEven If I had shared a funny incident with her at that minute, she would not have laughed so hard.  According to her, nine out of ten clients begin their food logs, imagining how healthy their eating habits were. “You will realize how many things are wrong only when you begin keeping a food log. The only downside is that you have to commit to logging in every little morsel you pop into your mouth” she added knowingly.

So there it was.

foodlogkeepingI began to keep food logs like she wanted me to. I shared them with her at the end of every third day for the first two weeks and then once a week for the next few weeks. My food logs would come back to my email within the hour of my sending them to her with her remarks. If she approved the log then there would be comments in green, if she did not, the entry would be marked in red with a remark alongside explaining the reasons. I will not go into details of my food log. Suffice to say, that the first few logs I shared with her looked bloodied when they came back.

reportsOn one hand while I dreaded feedback on my food log, on the other, I dreaded eating anything that had to be entered into the log!  Confession time – There have been days when I snacked on somethings unhealthy and did not enter it into my food log! There I said it. A big load off my chest.

In the first few days, I was not sure what parts of the log would come back with red markings. Sometimes even my salads had them- if my salad had sweet corn, noodles, pasta, peanuts, or potato, that is. My soup dinners or lunches when eaten with bread rolls, biscuits with tea in the afternoon and the fact that my water intake was not enough were some of the other red areas.  I had trouble having water and unless I consciously made an attempt and kept a water bottle at arm’s length I would never feel the need for any water. According to my coach, most “hunger pangs” are usually “thirst signals” because we don’t drink enough water.

Then one day my log came back with a  green “excellent” and then on, I was beginning to look forward to the green marks on my food logs. If you had had a favourite teacher at school that you had tried hard to impress, I am sure you can relate to this. In a few weeks of keeping my food log, I was not waiting for her red marks or remarks. I was sending her my logs with remarks in red when I knew she would not approve what I had consumed!

I began to see the logic of keeping a food log. First, it helps you (or your trainer) keep tabs on the number of things you eat every day. Secondly, it makes you feel guilty to pick and eat a random dessert or calorie rich treat because you have to put it down in your log. Let me assure you, it is not a great feeling when you cheat.

eating healthy

At the end of the first month of food logs, my coach gave me some simple rules to remember.

  1. Eat to feed your hunger not because it is time for lunch or dinner.
  2.  Just because something is healthy for you, you can’t over dose on it
  3. 5 days of bad food choices every 30 days was nothing to fret about.

I will highlight a few changes I made in my diet in the next post. Have you kept a food log? What has been your experience?

 

The sixth post in this journey is here.

The fix I tried (that didn’t work) – Journey to a fitter me.

I never run on the Treadmill, only walk at 6.5km/ hr

I never run on the Treadmill, only walk at 6.5km/ hr

By the time that I got back from India after my July vacation, I was blissfully back to my happy (plump) satisfied life. At the gym, I walked on the treadmill or spent half hour on the elliptical.  I knew how to use weights and do stomach crunches, from my previous years of experience from various other gyms,  and on some days at gym I included these as part of my exercise plan. At home, we cut down on eating at restaurants on the weekends and began cooking healthier meals. We included muesli and oatmeal to our range of regular breakfast cereal.

Except for a few days of the week, I managed to get some form of exercise done. Even if I skipped on the weekdays, I would make it up with long walks on the weekends.  Around Navaratri, I even fit into an old silk kurti that I had preserved to try on sometime, even though I was spilling from the seams at one point.

Again, this is not me but the other 20 something's I told you about, looked like her.

Again, this is not me but the other 20 something’s I told you about, looked like her.

In November, I tried out a few Zumba classes. Even though it was fun at the beginning, I felt drained after an hour of nonstop rhythmic dance moves.  The other participants in the class all seemed 20 something’s who could move like Mick Jagger and David Bowie (have you seen these guys dance?).  Sometime mid November, my help went to Philippines for a break. That left me with no choice but to walk Maxx, our pet, which was otherwise her job.

Maxx, then a 2 year old energetic Golden Retriever had to be taken, twice a day on long walks and two shorter walks. That was all I seemed to be doing for a fortnight – walking the dog, until the help came back. By end of November I was bored of gym routines – I did not want to walk another step on the treadmill nor climb the elliptical for a 30 minute routineYou see, when you have an outdoor ambience of green, clean and vehicles that drove by without honking (read quiet), you can get used to that.

Maxx liked to control the walking pace and that helped.

Maxx liked to control the walking pace and that helped.

By December, I sacked my old help and hired new help. That I suspect, may have been the most sensible decision I had taken in a long time, in more ways than one.

Just to allow the new help to settle into routines at home, I began walking Maxx in the mornings again. We had discovered the beautiful Singapore Botanical Gardens. I loved the sights and he loved the smells. It was a win-win situation for the both of us.  Walking as an exercise never seemed like a chore anymore! By January, I had begun to proclaim  Maxx as my saviour – without him the 5km walk that I clocked every morning wouldn’t have been possible. By February I had begun to monitor portion sizes of the breakfast cereal I made for myself and also stopped sugar free substitutes in my coffee. I was experimenting with exotic salads and soups and even ordering salads when I ate out.

I had decided to give myself 6 months to get fit (read lose weight). Time flies by when you are not achieving much, doesn’t it? It seemed to me like that, then.  It was 6 months since I had met with the trainer who indulged in name calling (remember she called me an apple?).  In all that time, I was aware that I had to shed some kilos and had taken responsibility to manage it on my own. I had changed some things about my food choices, had upped my cardio vascular workouts, and even tried dancing for Chrissakes.  I was feeling good, cheerful, happy and even fit, psychologically.

The scales seemed to be mocking at me and had an uncanny semblance to the coach!

The scales seemed to be mocking me and had an uncanny semblance to the coach!

On the bathroom scales, however, the needle just refused to budge! I had not lost an ounce of weight. (The ease of fit into the old kurti seemed more like an inch lose around my girth and not weight loss). To say I was disappointed would be mild. I was devastated! I was beginning to loose sleep over it. What really pushed me to do something drastic about the situation was a remark from my husband who said casually one evening, “I think you should lose weight”.

Watch this space to read what happened next. My fourth post in this journey is here.

The last day at Antwerp

The Sunday dawned bright and sunny. We were scheduled to leave only later in the afternoon.  The half day sightseeing plan that our hosts had chalked out (for the wedding guests who stayed back) suited us and seemed like a good way to spend the morning.  We also wanted to go over to meet our hosts, Corinne and John, before we left for the train. Through the windows of the hotel, I saw a few dog walkers with their mutts. The dogs looked happy in the cold weather. I missed Maxx much then.  He loves the air con in our room and I imagined how happy he would be in Antwerp, in Winter.

The magnificent Museum on the River

The magnificent Museum on the River

After a light breakfast at the hotel, we walked up to the Museum Aan de Stoorm – a gigantic spiral sixty meter high museum tower – for a panoramic view of the docks and the old town of Antwerp. It seemed like anyone who was awake and about at Antwerp was at the MAS that morning!  Except for the people at the museum, the roads wore a deserted look. I soon realized that none of the locals stepped out on a Sunday!

The MAS – built in the form of stone containers- had ten levels. Found out later from Wiki that the red sandstone that appears on the cladding were from Agra in India. No wonder we felt a special connection!

A collage of the wall murals at MAS

A collage of the wall murals at MAS

 

Each level of the ten level tower had exhibits and people were busy setting up for the day, expecting delegates and visitors to interact with them.  We however, only wanted to click pictures of Antwerp from the top level of the MAS. On our way to the top level on the escalator, we saw the walls painted with colorful murals, stories depicting the history and cultural heritage of Antwerp. Maybe the next time back on a longer trip, we would stop by for a detailed viewing of this magnificent building and its contents.

The misshapen giants I saw there

The misshapen giants I saw there

On several floors, there were huge, misshapen, sleepy looking giant dolls that were propped against the glass walls in a mass of tangled arms and legs. I later found out that they were created by  a French artist Mehdi Hercberg, aka Shoboshobo.

There were also several medallions, embedded in the floor of the building. Every one of them had the same design and some words written around it. We found out that it was the design of an ideal town as envisaged by a graphic designer and the words around it were actually a poem that talks about the water, city, people and heritage of Antwerp.

Where water watch and what was worth the later was kept - read it over and over again!

Where water watch and what was worth the later was kept – read it over and over again!

When we reached Level 9, the escalators stopped and the last level had to be climbed using stairs. On the landing between the 9th and the 10th floors, was a signage proclaiming that we had reached level 9 ½. Reminded  me of Harry Potter and his friends who left for Hogwarts from platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station.

The skies were blue; the wind was chilly and forceful. My camera would have flown out of my grip if I had not been careful. Antwerp looked grey, red and brown mostly because of the water, the docks and the stone buildings.

The Loodswezen, Antwerp

The Loodswezen, Antwerp

 

 

One such was a Gothic style building right on River Schelde which I later found out to be Loodswezen, a maritime organization that handles shipping traffic that enters the ports of Antwerp.

We walked to John and Corinne’s home which was not too far off from the MAS.  The wind  chill was biting cold and the only sounds I heard was that of the wind and seagulls. Eerie! We spent close to an hour at the house, over a warm cup of tea, said our goodbyes and wished the newlyweds at the beginning of their new lives together.  We brought back a specially bottled French wine from the wedding to take home with us.

The wine bottle we brought home from the wedding

The wine bottle we brought home from the wedding

We still had time before our taxi met us at the hotel to drive us up to the station. We decided to lurk outside to enjoy the last few hours of the chilly weather. Back home it would be 32 degrees! We walked up the street and found a coffee shop open.  The shop had a unique name – Tante Lies! Brought to mind the ‘shop’ that Akank drew in her art book when she was younger. She would draw several colored contact lenses and called the shop Hip-not-Eyes. Tante Lies had the ambience of a bar. There were a few retired folks enjoying their morning beer and the bar woman /owner was delivering a loud monologue in Flemish. The hot chocolate and coffee we had there, warmed us from the inside.

No wonder the bar owner sounded harassed!

No wonder the bar owner sounded harassed!

 

We marched back to the hotel in time for our taxi pick up. At the Antwerp central station, we had a customary Belgian Waffle and boarded the Thalys to take us back to Schipol from where we were flying back home.

 

The Thalys was already full of people coming from Paris. A bulky Parisian was sitting on what I thought was my seat and when I claimed it, he gruffly responded with a  ‘I don’t think so!’  Thankfully Ramesh stopped me from pushing my foot further into my mouth than I had already, by pointing out to me, two empty seats just next to him.

We had an unexpected power outage 15 minutes into the journey and we lost half an hour arriving into Schipol.  Thankfully, we were in no hurry to reach since our flight back was much later in the evening.  When the announcements in the train were made about the delay, I was amazed at how calm and unruffled people were. The entire coach was quiet except for soft murmurs that were conversations, unlike what would have typically happened on a Shatabdi (the closest train service I can think of to compare it with the Thalys) in India. People would have been anxious and restless on their feet, looked for the TTE or some railway authority to question them – as though they had all the answers.  We would have had people jump off the train onto the tracks to stretch and enjoy a smoke. There would have been loud banter, the food service employees would have sold more cups of watered down sweet ‘kaapi’ or ‘chai ‘. Oh, how I miss home!

When we got to Schipol, we still had plenty of time before our boarding was announced.  So we wisely spent both time and money, on some gifts for people back home.  I was looking forward to catching up on more movies on my way back and I was not disappointed. Robert De Niro was superb in Red Light  as a blind psychotic and Johnny Depp played a vampire to the hilt in Dark Shadows.  The flip side being, KLM  did an encore of what they did on our way to Amsterdam – forgot our vegetarian meal choices …again!

But even that could not spoil the mood of our short vacation, the wedding and a lot of lovely memories of our trip!