Me, Yoga, and Exercise
Perhaps, I should title this article as ‘new adventures, and debacles of old me” or something similar. With much apprehension and, perhaps, during a momentary lapse of reality I signed up for yoga classes.
Yoga is ‘hot' these days, especially the hot yoga. It is spreading like a wildfire, and millions of followers are practicing it enthusiastically all over the world. Compared to conventional yoga, hot yoga is practiced in a 30-degrees plus Celsius heated room. It is claimed as more effective since the body sweats faster, and freely, making the muscles flexible. The practice has been around for a while. Thanks to the California millionaire-yoga leader who helped to popularize the hot yoga movement.
In the first session itself, I realized that it was not an easy task. It dawned on me that clean mind and healthy living alone are not enough; I do need a healthy and accommodating body as well. The sauna-like effect, stretching, twisting, turning and physical contortions did not go well with me. Sixty minutes felt like an eternity. Alas, my inflexible body got easily frustrated very fast.
I looked around and saw young, slim, and bouncy bodies twist, turn and twirl with ease; their bodies like a rubber hose that is pliable at any which way. But alas, my joints are stiff, and muscles are laden with fat, and my motivation is zero. Any amount of positive thinking to convince me about the benefits and the efforts to suck in some positive vibes from the young, thin and very flexible bodies nearby did not help my stature either. I tried biofeedback, mantras, and meditation to no avail. See, age has its own quirky ways of dealing with our being.
Sitting down, and getting up reminded me of the TV commercial, “I am fallen and can’t get up”. The yoga teacher instructed me to do it at my own pace. That was not a consolation either. Realizing my conundrum, she asked me to stay in stay in the fetal position to get some energy back. That I liked, unfortunately, I almost fell asleep on the yoga floor.
Years of sedentary life have taken a toll on me: inflexible muscles, a few extra pounds around the midriff, and a lethargic mind. Nothing seemed working in that heat except sweat, muscle ache and frustration. Positive and creative thoughts did do much to my physical body. As I started to realize my deficiencies, no amount of huffing, puffing, and belling tightening provided much-needed solace. Suffice to say that I had to suffer through the agonizing 6o minutes.
Well, let me tell you my ‘downward facing dog’ never looked so ugly! My body is in its comfort zone when relaxed on a couch or when fidgeting with newfangled digital gizmos.
I didn’t last long in the program to savor the benefits. I ended up having muscle spasms, and aches and pains for a few days. I realized that yoga wasn’t my cup-of-tea. What’s next, I pondered. For a fleeting moment, I thought about the serene life of a hermit traversing the virtual foothills of the Himalayas sans kamandalu, and yoga dandu.
As the thought of becoming a yogi faded, I tried to realize the importance of regular exercise. Somehow I had to condition myself to accept the facts of life such as ‘exercise is good for you’. However, the motivation wasn’t there. Then again, apathy and excuses also played into my demeanor. When finally the doctor told me to double up on the diabetic pills I started pondering alternatives.
Believe me, exercise is good for you
According to Mayo Clinic, “The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. Everyone benefits from exercise, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.”
My doctor and EK, my sensible better half, were adamant to ‘prescribe’ an exercise regimen for me. Indeed, they forced me to get a personal trainer and join a gym. I went with my son to the gym to test it out. The personal trainer assessed my physicals in relation to the age and recommended a program. The writing on the gym wall summed up their philosophy, "unless you puke, faint, or die...keep going". The sight of the personal trainer, young with a lean body, and bulging biceps did not negate my apprehensions either. I realized I am at my wit’s end with excuses.
During the first day, as I limped around like a gorilla bogged down by the two 20kg kettle weights in my hands, my son took a picture and texted to his younger brother with a caption, “see dad!” Yes, it is tough then and tough even now, after two years, to completely assimilate into the exercise regimen. However, there is a sustained level of motivation as time progressed. I have to ignore and overpower the pain, and related agonies and other intrinsic impediments to keeping up the level of enthusiasm. Exercise is the most boring routine we encounter and overcoming such feeling is a definite challenge. Yet, after many years of yo-yo diet, on-off exercise programs, and false starts and quick finishes, I still haven’t found the wholehearted interest in it.
Regular exercise and physical activity have marked benefits in terms of health. Everyone gains from exercise, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability. Regular exercise and physical activity, however less strenuous, reduce a whole lot of risk factors related our health and wellness. According to researchers, exercise and physical activity reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, colon cancer, stress, depression, and anxiety all the while improving better bones, muscles, and body weight, and promoting physical, and emotional well-being by boosting energy levels and improving metabolism.
Research studies conducted by various universities, NGOs, and other organizations have found compelling reasons for being physically active on a regular basis. A Danish study (2007) on regular physical activity was able to corroborate improved good cholesterol levels. Again other studies pointed out the facts related to ‘lower risk of developing hypertension’, weight loss, ‘better control of non-insulin dependent diabetes’, ‘less likely to develop cardiovascular disease’ and overall enhanced feeling of wellbeing.
Any activity is better than no activity
The quality and quantity of exercise have definite value, however, every bit of physical activity has a cumulative effect. The basic guidelines suggest having at least 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity (running, walking, swimming, cycling etc.) together with some form of strength building exercises (free weights, bench press, shoulder press, weight machines, etc.) for three or more times a week. Intensity, volume, and frequency are important in an exercise program. Too light, and not challenging, and same old repetitive routines may not provide the anticipated result.
The best way to engage and fight monotony is to have a combination of workouts, from mild to moderate to strenuous incorporating simple to hard workout steps. With adequate motivation, and with good company, exercise can be enjoyable. For some people realizing the health benefits alone can be motivational. It may take a while to reach a positive mindset towards exercise.
Even though I am not explicitly enjoying all of the listed benefits from the physical activities, I am seeing marked improvements in my health outlooks. My sugar level and BP are in an acceptable range, weight and waist are shrunk thus I feel-good in many ways.
Even simple lifestyle change can bring about the healthy outlook. Eating right, and in a balanced manner helps weight management. Unhealthy practices such as smoking, alcohol dependency, and sedentary work habits need control. Smoking cessation produces one hundred percent health benefits. Moderation is the keyword when comes food and drinks: overindulgence is unhealthy. Simple activities like participating in family, and social activities, sports, and games keep us active, and fit. Activities like household chores, gardening, walking, jogging, etc. also improve physical and mental agility.
So, go for it and partake in regular physical activities and enjoy a better quality of life. The only caveat is to check with the doctor before starting an exercise program.
(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)