Run Track Mind

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Fitness is often a misinterpreted term. A lot of people think that anybody that goes to the gym, walks daily, plays sports on a regular basis, makes over a hundred phone calls a day, or posts every hour on social media is likely to be fit. Bulging muscles and a great physique don’t necessarily justify fitness, although they certainly show evidence that the incumbents of these bodies have above average fitness. And this is true to a great extent, where someone who indulges in daily exercises (speaking for 6 hours a day doesn’t count) is likely to have a better level of fitness than the average joe who ensures that the stock price of fast food places stay up and then takes selfies to capture these moments. And it’s incredibly sad how many youngsters are a part of this ordeal (It doesn’t show on them yet but if they continue on this path it will do so a lot sooner than it would have otherwise).

In my opinion, fitness relates to both mind and body. It is the effectiveness of our immunity against illnesses, which are both physical and mental in nature. How good are we in maintaining a lifestyle that allows us to keep a majority of the factors in our environment trying to corrupt our physical and mental being at bay? Whether it’s overindulgence in food and drink (it always is in the unhealthy type), a sedentary existence, toxic people, a negative mindset, the desire to cheat and hurt, disregard for regular health checkups, disregard for people that truly care, supporting the wrong sports teams, and even the News Hour on the Times Now network.

And while a fit mind is of the absolute essence, a fit body is a must to encourage and support that fit mind. I have always noticed a drop in my mental resilience whenever I have been sick or not at an acceptable level of physical fitness. I am disciplined in my work and personal goals and make it a point to achieve my daily goals. However, on the days that I lack energy or feel a bit under the weather, I tend to miss achieving a few things. This leads to frustration and then I try to put myself through the grind even if I don’t feel well (because I am superhuman), and I end up feeling worse health wise because of the duress. And this saga goes around in cycles.

I have played sport for a large part of my life and am generally keen on fitness. I walk/jog regularly, work on my core, as well as try and meditate (at least sit still and not get distracted) for ten to fifteen minutes daily. As useful as this routine has been, it’s served only part of the purpose when I have been undisciplined with my diet. And this brings me back to the point in the opening paragraph about muscles and physiques. All that amounts to nothing if you have a cold every fortnight (And walk around looking like Rudolf the Reindeer). A disciplined diet (it’s amazing how many people think of a diet as not eating, eating very little, or only eating tasteless stuff) is as important as exercising. In fact, someone with a great diet and minimal exercising is likely to be healthier than someone that exercises regularly but lacks discipline in their food consumption. I have certainly experienced this. And a poor diet has led to sickness more often than I would like and has affected my exercising as well as other facets of my daily life.

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For instance, when I experience low energy levels (and I’m speaking of normal energy and not the Doctor Strange type sorcery), concentration during various activities at work and otherwise become difficult. I tend to feel tired easily, my focus is off, and I get less done than I would if I felt energetic. I feel irritable and lack interest in participating in any activity that involves using my mind. I’m happy to snap at the first person that comes in my path, no matter what they are trying to say. During times like these, when I go through the motions of my daily exercises, I feel drained as opposed to revitalized (which is exactly what I feel when I’m healthy and fit) at the end of the session. When I meditate hoping that all my ‘chakras’ will open up and I will sense positive vibrations, all I get is vibrations and convulsions from the coughing fit I get every 60 seconds.

And between these devastating states of existence, I have had moments of complete bliss where I feel physically fit and healthy. I am high on vitality, am more open to people trying to speak to me, I get everything on my planner done, I sleep well, I feel relaxed, I am very positive in my approach to everything, and I also find myself smiling involuntarily more often. How often do any of us smile without reason? In fact, most of us desperately search for that one reason to allow us to do so.

The differences in my mental well being when I am physically fit and healthy as opposed to when I am not, are stark. And while it is important to improve our mindsets and try to incorporate positive thinking continuously, a healthy body is necessary to permit us to do so with greater efficiency. Just like learning expert, Jim Kwik says “When your body moves, your brain grooves”

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It’s not about trying to schedule fitness into our lives but about scheduling our lives to include a fitness regime. This has always served me well. So, are you going to get off your haunches and follow suit?

Baptism By Migration

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Many of us have stayed in our home towns, and even with our parents our entire lives (except when we went on short trips or to the local mart to pick up some milk while holding daddy’s hand of course). This is particularly true in India and some of the other Eastern cultures. While I value the closeness and support of family as much as anything in the world, I have come across people that completely lack a sense of ability in their own independence to perform basic tasks and take everyday decisions (which include picking their own wardrobe, deciding on the brand of cereal they like, figuring what their favorite color is and determining if they need to participate in the local sack race). These examples may sound like exaggerations but I know of people that depend on parents, family members, and close friends to make some ridiculous decisions for them, as well as help them execute these terribly ‘burdensome’ acts. And many that can make decisions independently still turn out to be a bit soft and cower under the smallest of adversities. Until my late teens, I was certainly one of them.

I was always a ‘mama’s boy’ and to a great extent, I still am. ‘Mama’s boy’ is a term used to ridicule men that are still attached to their mothers after a certain age. Well, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t one be? Attachment does not indicate a lack of independence. However, while I was very comfortable in my skin (Mumbai is a hot place so we don’t get a chance to don clothing made of other species’ skins) and took decisions independently, I never felt ready to face the real world. And the thought of being away from home was scary as hell.

When I was 10, I was being sent away on a week-long Karate camp, less than 100 kilometers from home. I behaved like I was being sent to the Pakistan border to fight their cavalry with only a toothpick in hand. I whined about not wanting to go weeks before the camp and even tried coming up with a strategy of getting the camp canceled. All this for a week-long camp. Am I kidding you? I’m afraid not. I was an easy pushover in school too, especially during extracurricular activities. While I was confident about standing my ground at home even if I was on the wrong side of the fence, I couldn’t for the life of me even utter a word when my abilities were overlooked at times for other agendas. If I had to do anything outside my comfort zone or stand up for myself, I froze. In the school bus, at social events, at the local playground, during private tutoring, when confronted by rowdy strangers, and even during unsavory moments with friends and cousins.

You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family – Anita Baker

At age 18, I faced genuine terror. While it was my decision as much as my parent’s that I would go abroad to study, the reality of it hit me only a few weeks before I was to leave. I spent my last days in Mumbai like it was my last days on planet Earth (After which, I’m sure my parents would have wanted to ship me off to some godforsaken celestial blob outside the Milky Way to ensure they can’t hear me cry and complain). I felt heartbroken, burdened with anxiety, had sleepless nights, and turned from a talkative fellow to a mute in no time at all. How was I going to live in the absence of my parents, family, and my girlfriend at the time? In fact, it took me over a year to get over my homesickness and truly settle in the gorgeous Granville, OH (This is definitely some kind of record at Denison University). I felt like I had been transported from a metropolitan city to one of the towns from the Ladybird books I read as a child (I expected to see the three little pigs or Snow White at every turn).

I call this the ‘boo hoo’ syndrome. And many of us are infected by it. We can’t do without our loved ones even for a few days, we don’t know how to manage our homes, we wouldn’t know how to come up with a basic meal ourselves, if our televisions stop functioning our life comes to a standstill, if our maid takes off we get suicidal, and if we fall ill while we’re alone, we consider ourselves to be the unluckiest people on the planet.

I spent eight years away from home in the USA and they were indeed my formative and defining years. I learned to fight for myself and others, while in India I would think twice before taking on a mouse (Actually I still do. Mice are freaky). I learned to handle multiple responsibilities single-handedly. Where a 6-hour day of productivity in India would knock the wind out of me, I still felt fresh on most days after a 14-hour day in the USA. When I was home, a single rejection would destroy my spirit, but in the USA, I had no job for a few months and a dwindling bank balance, and I only felt positive with every passing day despite regular rejections. I learned to lead wherein earlier I only followed blindly. I even learned how to tie my shoelaces in one motion.

These years were challenging, they were unrelenting, they were rewarding, they were fun, they made me cry, they made me laugh, they toughened me, I became self-reliant, I made lifelong friends, I learned life lessons, I learned how to survive, and I matured rapidly over these years. And these are easily amongst the best few years of my life until this point. While I spent months regretting it, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It made me capable in many ways.

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It’s important for us to get away from our flocks and get a taste of the world on our own. The experience challenges us, even beats us to the ground, but then that is the essence of life: to come back from hardship and reap its rewards. As hard as it seems at the beginning, you will always relish your time away from home, a lesson in mental and emotional maturity. And when we come back, we understand so much more about our homes through the perspective we have gained. Going away helps us appreciate our homes so much more than we ever could if we never left.

So get out of your comfort zone people. Take a shot at going solo. Get away from home for a bit and trust yourself to hold your own. After all, not everyone is lucky enough to get a two-day crash course at home in growing up and taking responsibility like Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone.

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Sporting Revelations

I have always believed there are two activities that each and every one of us must participate in on a regular basis: playing a sport, and learning and practicing the art of self-defense. I like to refer to these as lifetime activities (Not only because I believe we should incorporate them as a critical part of our lives, but also because they are likely to add more time to our lives).

Apart from the joy of playing the sport itself, the level of self-development that occurs by engaging in a sport is invaluable. Sport isn’t just for people that are sport oriented, but for anyone that is keen on developing valuable life skills (And yet there are people that would much rather while their time away watching prank videos on YouTube all day, staring at the ceiling, raising their blood pressure as the vixen in the TV soap executes her hideous plan, and studying oneself in the mirror to figure out which part of their face is the good side, so they know how to pose for the gazillion pictures they will take in their lifetime).

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We have people who would rather learn the art of self defense at Indian railway stations and malls (where you get to shove one another, wrestle, pull each other’s hair out, gouge people’s eyes, have a fragrant basket of fish fall on your head, and occasionally push someone on the train tracks, or even onto an escalator headed in the direction opposite to their destination), as opposed to in a specialised class by a qualified instructor. Then there are people, mostly women, who have the optimum self-defense weapon, ‘the pepper spray’ (Wow!! I’m surprised most of the elite armed squads around the world opt for modern firearms when they can easily use pepper spray more effectively). And while these pepper spray touting geniuses are at it, they may as well carry a salt shaker and some cutlery, since they are already offering themselves up for sacrifice. In today’s world (and tomorrow’s world too), there is no alternative to knowing self-defense. You might strut around confidently, armed with your pepper spray, but when real danger arrives, ‘spray’ turns into ‘pray’.

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The benefits of sport and self-defense knowledge are innumerable. Not only do they produce a fit body, but they also

  • improve concentration (even in Math class)
  • increase confidence (you may even be able to give that speech in public speaking class without playing the duck in the shooting alley)
  • make us competitive in a dog-eat-dog world (or doggy dog world, the way I heard it for a good part of my life, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that was supposed to mean)
  • improve blood circulation and enhance immunity (unless you visit McDonald’s after every session of play)
  • help develop a positive attitude (even towards your boss’ tongue lashings and indifference)
  • indoctrinate discipline (which seems to be a fading trait these days)
  • establish commitment (which also seems to be an alien word nowadays)
  • allow us to maintain a calmer state in pressure situations (unless the bathroom at the badminton court is suddenly out of service)
  • improve reflexes and awareness (you will be fully aware of the brick hurled at you when you ask your professor’s daughter out and be quick enough to evade it)
  • help build mutual respect (and help keep our ‘I know it all’ cocky selves in check)
  • allow us to set goals (and bolder ones than we are used to, like jumping off a plane with a human attached to our back as opposed to a parachute)
  • boost self-esteem (unless you consider Candy Crush to be a sport and have failed to make it past the first stage since 2015)
  • ingrain the art of teamwork in our self-righteous beings (including planning a holiday with the wife’s side of the family)
  • offer self-protection (now at least you will punch your attacker a few times before threatening him/her with pepper spray)

I speak with experience, having played multiple team and individual sports, as well as having learned and practiced Karate. I was enrolled in a Karate class at age 8 and continued for four years before I thought I was too cool for this daily boring regime. I regret quitting, but during those years, my confidence, self-awareness, concentration, performance, health, and fitness were at their peak. And the training has stayed with me and helps me feel safer physically (I can handle an attack by three 6-year olds without a fuss). Fortunately, I played sport for a lot longer, and jog regularly even today (I only call it running if you run for more than a kilometer at a stretch, before collapsing on the pavement). My daily runs (I’ve reduced the distance criteria to 50 meters now) allow me to de-stress, unwind, realign my mind and body, stay focused, stay committed, and stay strong against all odds. As a result, I am more prepared to handle all the punches life throws at me (Except the ones thrown at me by some ferocious homo sapiens, when I accompany my wife to a Zara sale).

I gave up on sport and exercising for a few years because I got so caught up in battling life’s challenges. I decided I was too busy firefighting and didn’t have time for sports and games (I always had time for video games apparently). And yet, I always seemed to struggle in the face of adversity. At the end of each round, I seemed to be down with the referee in my face, counting aggressively. In my quest to address situations that arose in my personal and professional lives, I discarded the very tools that were likely to help me keep up, and even excel.

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Now that I’m back to some of my old sporting ways, I find I’m better equipped to deal with circumstances physically and mentally. And the peace of mind, composure, and the sheer joy of accomplishing small daily goals it brings is priceless. Game, set, match, pepper spray!!

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