When I was in the seventh standard, I remember my parents had picked a nice white dress with pretty embroidery for me to wear in Durga Puja. I was really excited about the dress and could hardly wait to wear it. There was a lot of beadwork on the dress which was coming loose in places. So Maa decided to sit with it one afternoon and mend them. I was in school and Baba in office. A quiet autumn afternoon.
Just as Maa had begun to work on it, the doorbell rang. Untimely. Outside the door stood Baba, leaning on his colleagues, looking like a train wreck. He had bruises on his palms and elbows and he couldn’t remember where he got them from. His colleagues had taken him to a nearby hospital which treated him preliminarily for the bruises. The doctor had prescribed hospitalization. Apparently, the symptoms weren’t clear enough to diagnose the illness.
When I returned from school in the evening, Baba was lying on the bed, blankly staring at the ceiling trying to recall what happened and Maa was making phone calls to hospitals enquiring about details of admission. A few minutes later, a taxi was called and Baba was rushed to a nearby hospital. Maa accompanied him. The next day the MRI report came in. Baba had a large tumour growing in his brain that was making him forget things, pulling his legs off-balance, erasing memories and shortening his lifespan rapidly.
When the news reached me, the white dress was still lying on the bed. The white thread tied to the needle lay exactly where Maa had left it the previous afternoon. In the middle of pulling two consecutive beads to tighten their spots in the embroidery. I never wore that dress.
The next month saw us shuttling between hospital, pharmacies, banks and home. Maa had turned into steel, working day and night to visit Baba, withdraw money, think up Plan B for everything, cook for me and my paraplegic grandmother, buy medicines, discuss with doctors about what needs to be done and then get them done. All this while Baba lay in a hospital bed unable to remember the last thing he did. I think that’s the closest I have come to Hell.
That’s when I realized that hospital corridors aren’t long enough. Neither are the streets. In fact, no space is long enough for you to walk off the feeling you get when you see your parent lying in a hospital bed, helpless. And another parent gathering her belongings to sell for when the savings run out in paying the medical bills.
Two hospital switches, 10 hours of operation and two weeks of recuperation later, Baba returned home from the end of the tunnel. Loaded with medicines. A big smile. And tears. Baba has been under the knife at least seven times since then to treat the complications from his brain tumour surgery. Thankfully, he’s doing ok now, kind of.
I learnt two lessons from the entire experience:
- God is still in the miracle-working business
- Staying fit is a necessity especially when you are a middle-class citizen
That’s how my fitness journey began.
My Exercise Regime
I exercise at home. I haven’t ever enrolled in a gym. And that has worked out well for me. I have been successful in keeping my body weight in check and increasing my physical resilience.
Let me give you a breakdown of my exercise routine. I hope it helps anyone who is in the same boat as me.
I also try to squeeze in approximately 2 kilometres of walking in a day. But that has been on hold since the coronavirus-induced lockdown began. I follow this routine 5 days a week. Weekends are my rest days.
Aside from plank jack, V-up and boat, which I have added only a couple of days back, this has been my set routine for some months now. I keep modifying it depending upon my needs/problems and what my body responds to best. Even though I try to push my limits, I am always mindful of how much my body can take and I immediately step back when an exercise becomes overpowering or painful. It’s important to take a breather to adjust your pace.
Accessories I Use
Mine is a no-frills routine. I use three accessories during my regime:
- Resistance bands to build muscle strength
- A yoga mat to prevent my feet from slipping since I exercise barefoot
- And of course, my phone for the timer
I do not use weights.
Exercise Regime Sources
I have handpicked my routine from multiple sources on the Internet. One that I have been following unanimously for the last couple of months is HIIT Burn. Kelsey and Dennis have started this channel to make fitness simple and fun. Their exercises are easy to follow, they suit my body type and most of their videos feature their cute dog, Lily! Take a look at their intro video.
I also follow Dana Landgren’s videos for most of my leg exercises. I found her on Instagram (check out her profile). She’s been really helpful in answering my queries and suggesting exercise modifications to fit my body type and requirements.
Another source of my exercise routine is the Livestrong Challenge group on Facebook. I follow the group primarily to be a part of a community of like-minded fitness enthusiasts because exercising at home can get pretty lonely sometimes. So we get monthly challenges in the group that the members try to complete. For example, a plank challenge would start with say, a 10-second plank on the first day of the month. For Day 2, the duration would be increased to 15 seconds. It gradually goes up with rest days in between to maybe five minutes on the last day of the month. We share images/videos to show our progress and help others along. I draw a lot of encouragement and motivation from the group. Here, every tiny effort counts, everyone is trying to help and cheer each other and there are no failures in the group. It’s uplifting to be part of something like that, knowing that you are all in it together.
I knew from Day 1 that I will not be able to stick to a diet. That’s because I love food and I do not believe in making my taste buds suffer. So I eat what I like but I do not overload my stomach. I eat frequently in small portions.
I learned about intuitive eating from HIIT Burn’s Kelsey. She says, “We eat when we’re hungry and until we’re satisfied”. This resonates with me well.
I’m always mindful of what I eat. For example, I try not to eat too much rice but I’m good with sides like vegetables, fish, lentils, chicken, eggs etc. I love fruits and yogurt. I also love sweets but I try to avoid eating too much of it because that would unnecessarily burden my body. I believe that too much of anything is bad. I avoid fried food because, for some unknown reason, it makes me nauseous. I drink loads of water. I prefer home-cooked meals over street-side joints’. So I always carry my lunch to work. That’s about it.
How Exercise Has Helped Me
Exercise is my form of meditation. I am 100% in the moment when I exercise. The quick change in breathing, the first feverish beads of sweat and the activation of my leg, arm and abdominal muscles feel electrifying. All my fitness pals out there, ya feel me?
As I ease into my routine, I start to feel the happy hormones bubbling up inside me. I keep going. Gradually, my breathing becomes short and steady in the way it does once you’ve hit a good rhythm. That’s when I find myself chasing the sensation of physical and mental mindfulness. I’ve always found it to be amusing how while exercising my mind slows down to stillness as my heart rate quickens. Can anything be more opposite?
Investing in my body has worked wonders for me. The endorphins do something magical to my brain. The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. It is a tremendous buffer for my anxiety. Being a borderline negativist with anxiety, exercise helps me feel emotionally stronger and gives me a sense of accomplishment. Post-workout bliss is real, guys! It boosts my analytical thinking capability and makes me feel more in control of my mind and body.
Working out has also been tremendously helpful in tackling my physical ailments like the polycystic tendencies of my ovaries and the pre-arthritis pain on my left knee caused by my chronic tonsilitis. I’m not saying exercise is the cure to these problems. But it strengthens my body to deal with them and nip new problems in the bud.
Over the years I have realized that we are conditioned to be NOT responsible for our own health. Think about it. How does our healthcare system work? You feel sick. You take a pill. Problem solved. Aren’t we conditioned to believe that doctors have all the answers? The moment I took accountability for my own health, I realized that doctors and specialists shouldn’t be who I rely on completely. No offence to our brave warriors, but they should be my backup plan. I should be my first line of defence.
See how invigorating that feels? To be in control? To have that power over yourself?
Exercising has given me a sense of purpose. It has helped me stretch my limits and ensure that my ailments do not hold me back. There are a lot of things I need to strike off my bucket list. A lot of stuff I want to do. You only get one life, you know. And I need to make sure that I am physically and emotionally strong enough to achieve my goals.
There’s a reason why I’ve ranted so much about staying fit. Exercise has made me feel alive. It has allowed me to walk those extra steps just to watch a breathtaking sunset over the turquoise sea at a hidden Bali beach. It has given me the will to brave the crooked and slippery bends to reach the top of a gushing waterfall in Odisha. It has helped me make good life choices to be able to reach where I am today and feel grateful looking back at the time when I prayed for all that I have today. It has given me a fresh perspective of life. It has made me feel energized and I’ve seen this energy benefit everyone around me.
One of the most beautiful aspects of fitness is that it is different for everyone. Some people run, some dance, some lift and some walk. So whatever works for you is the best thing that you can do. Only if you are consistent and you enjoy it. Remember, you are building lifelong habits here – that’s a journey, not a race.