A few days back a reader, Saurabh Anand, wrote a question in Swaminar, a feature in the Black Lotus app where any user can ask me a question, view others’ queries and see my responses in the app itself. He wrote:
Can you tell me in detail your exercise/yogasana routine and diet regimen to keep our body healthy and shaped like you?
Now, this is a flattering question because my body isn’t exactly chiseled like Hercules or some ancient Greek god, but yes, mostly I’m on top of my fitness, which in my view exists at three levels: emotional, physical and mental. In this post, I’ll limit myself to the question above and focus only on physical fitness.
Between the ages of 20 and 28, I lived a very hectic but physically a very active life. It included playing badminton for up to 20 hours per week coupled with endurance training for 5 hours every week with a trainer. I feel that even today I’m reaping the rewards of leading a healthy life back then. Through exercise, you build a kind relationship with your body.
These days, I try to exercise 3–4 days in a week, for about 45 minutes every session. For my training, I use an app called Trainerize. My personal trainer, a wonderful, competent and a kind man, Jonathan Repasch, loads my workouts in this app and monitors my adherence (or lack thereof) to the schedule. I simply follow the exercises he sets in the app. I’ve always believed in the power of right guidance. When you are keen on doing something, you may find some good resources here and there on the internet, but eventually, if you want to make serious progress, always turn to an expert. A good coach or mentor can make a world of difference.
Do I procrastinate? Yes. For example, I can never write my blog posts in advance. Somehow I only find time a day before it’s due. Same with my books. Ah… the joy (and guilt) of laziness, and subsequently finding reasons to justify your procrastination makes human life interesting.
And while I’m at it, let me give you the golden rule of procrastination: if must you do it, at least look busy.
During my travels, I carry my sneakers, trackies etc. with me and only stay in places that have a fully-equipped gym. When in the ashram, I work on my treadmill-desk (that’s the only study-table I own, plus I’ve a personal gym which took me ten books, three years and my entire writer’s income to equip. Please reconsider the career option of being an author). It’s a treadmill attached to a desk allowing me to walk as I use my computer. Remember, you are not trying to run like Usain Bolt in the Olympics but just walking gently like a content old person on a morning walk in the woods. So, yes, it’s extremely easy to get used to typing while you walk. This helps me be more mobile in my otherwise sedentary life. I don’t do any yogasanas. My exercise regime includes cardio and weight training (no bodybuilding, just endurance and fitness).
So, do I have a six-pack? Yes. It’s just that it’s not the retail version but a gift-wrapped wholesale six-pack. I know, I know, it’s not ideal, but hey, it’s better than the family pack. Humor aside, any day, I’ll pick strong core over a toned tummy.
I enjoy a savory breakfast. In fact, it’s one of my most awaited meals of the day. Literally. For years, I’ve been having the same thing every morning. By same, I don’t mean it was cooked eight years ago, it’s freshly prepared. I take a bowl of tomato soup with a whole wheat paratha (usually stuffed with gobhi or paneer). My tomato soup is made with 3 medium sized boiled tomatoes, 20 grams of paneer and 4 soaked almonds, all blended together. Plus, a bit of salt and black pepper. If that is not available, I take soup with one whole-wheat toast. And if that can’t be sourced either, I’ll then just have the tomato soup. But, never anything to do with white bread. At times, when I travel, I eat an additional dosa or idli in the morning. Otherwise, Swami Vidyananda makes me feel bad for not eating even ten percent of his morning diet (just kidding). My breakfast time is 7:30 and at times 8 am. I get up at 4:30 in the morning, except on days when I don’t (there are quite a few of these).
I eat my lunch at 11:30 which is usually a bowl of pasta or any other cuisine than Indian plus some salad. I love all vegetarian world cuisines, provided the chef knows what he/she is doing and not using me as a guinea pig. Pasta may or may not be whole-wheat. As long as it’s prepared well, I’ll consider it. I love food that’s presented well, it helps me appreciate my meal and the competence of its maker as well as derive more contentment and nourishment from such dining.
On a side note, whatever the task may be, I have the greatest respect for and love working with competent and decisive people. I could admire them all day. Competency comes from attention to detail, a lot of practice, learning from our mistakes and, challenges.
I eat my third and last meal of the day at 6:00 pm on most days or at 7:30 after the evening aarti when I’m in the ashram. For dinner, I usually eat 3 or 4 small chapatis (always made with whole-wheat flour rich in bran), with a bowl of lentils and one subzi. Here‘s a short video of Swami Vidyananda making my chapatis, in case you are interested. It was shot by a quick-thinking and intelligent person, Alok Sharma, when we were in Singapore.
Here are my ten principles I don’t violate, saving the rarest of the rare circumstances. Never:
- skip my meals.
- eat deep fried food.
- eat starchy or processed food.
- gorge on sugary stuff.
- drink bottled soft drinks of any kind (except, rarely, sparkling water).
- have two consecutive meals that are not whole-wheat.
- stay in someone’s home. I need my personal space to eat, work, meet and exercise. Plus, more importantly, I get extremely uncomfortable causing unnecessary inconvenience to the hosts.
- stay in a hotel that can’t offer me the right environment to stick to my routine of sleep, diet, and exercise (I travel a fair bit so, this is important to me).
- eat without saying grace. I like to offer everything to Mother Divine before I eat.
- I’m still thinking about the tenth principle. I wrote ten because it sounds more prophetic. Just joking…my tenth principle is that I never overeat.
No matter what, where I may be eating or how tasty the food may be, regardless of how hungry I may be, I never ever overeat. I eat roughly 50% of my capacity at breakfast, 70% at lunch and less (~60%) at dinner. At times, to indulge, I may eat a pizza (wood-fired, thin crust, preferably whole-wheat) or a burger during my travels, but that’s just about it. I love India because of the plenty of delicious vegetarian choices available throughout.
I try to eat mindfully like I’m doing a yajna and each bite is a fire-offering made to jatharagni, the digestive fire. I haven’t had any kind of tea since 2002 or sugary drinks since 2005. At times, I drink freshly prepared lime water (with sugar and salt) when I travel or speak a lot. It helps me remain hydrated. After staying off coffee for 11 years, I’ve recently resumed drinking it and I’m loving it. It’s doing some very nice things to my brain (for a change, it’s working now). A shot of espresso or a low-milk cappuccino, more like a macchiato, 3–4 times a week is my thing. I like to prepare it myself unless I’m traveling in which case I make do with whatever is served. If I like it, I drink it otherwise, I just mumble and grumble in my head, give a broad smile, and leave it aside.
Sometimes I take vitamin supplements, but it’s been almost a year that I haven’t had them. Same is the case with vegan protein. I love yogurt, but I eat it occasionally and not beyond a spoon or two because it doesn’t suit my body. I don’t drink milk (other than a little bit in my coffee). I refrain from eating all kinds of Indian sweets barring sometimes, homecooked preparations that are done amazingly well. I rarely eat an entire dessert, usually just a spoon or two. I admire the French for their portioning. They have it figured out.
My three meals are like trikal-sandhya, sacred rituals performed thrice a day, so I don’t snack in between. During the event days in the ashram, when I’ve to speak virtually non-stop, I eat a whole-wheat sandwich at 5 pm but then I reduce two chapatis from my dinner at 7:30. Healthy snacking has been hailed essential by nutritionists, but I only like to eat during my preset meal times. If anything, I like to snack on my pride so I never forget that I am a tiny speck of dust, if that. I must never forget my roots.
I try to nap in the afternoon, though due to travel and other engagements, it’s not always possible. Yet 70% of the time I’m able to do it. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy that time in all seasons. It’s one of the greatest rewards of being a sannyasi. While working in the corporate world, I could never find the time for a siesta (it was not needed anyway, since I mostly slept through the day at work…this is for professionals, don’t try it at your workplace).
This is pretty much all about my diet and exercise routine.
Our body is a shrine. Yes, it’s transient, ever-deteriorating, but, it’s also sacred. It deserves our attention and care. Everything beautiful within the five perceptions of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound, we experience through our body. If you take care of your body by eating, exercising and sleeping well, it rewards you in every other sphere.
A long write-up, this, but if I managed to get a few chuckles from you and it motivated even one reader to lead a more disciplined and healthier life, my job is done.
This article first appeared on os.me.