Home / Entertainment / Tota Roy Choudhury writes about the importance of physical and mental fitness in these trying times

Tota Roy Choudhury writes about the importance of physical and mental fitness in these trying times

His favourite quote is, “If today you don’t take the stairs, tomorrow you can’t take the stairs”
Tota does the one-arm peacock
Tota does the one-arm peacock
Sourced by the Telegraph

The Telegraph   |   Published 11.06.20, 11:14 AM

My mobile trilled while I was enjoying my evening cup of coffee. I was surprised to see the name on the display. He is a well-known actor in Mumbai having worked successfully across various mediums in the last 15 years. We had worked together in a film and had bonded well. “Got a minute, bud?” he came straight to the point. “Buddy, I think I am losing it. It’s been 30 days into the lockdown and I have already gained four kilos. Not only do I not feel like exercising, in spite of having time on my hands, after ages, I still don’t feel like reading, playing the guitar or listening to music. I don’t even feel like talking to any of my family members, and just yesterday my wife complained that I am shutting everybody out. Slowly I am turning resentful and sour and throughout the day, I just vegetate in front of the TV or aimlessly browse through my mobile. I am also having, for the first time in my life, self-esteem issues. Need your inputs.” I could comprehend the gravity of the matter for this proud Jat from Delhi to open up and seek my help. Well, he used to call me ‘Zen Baba’ and marvelled at the fact that I was always calm and happy. I used to tell him that living in Bengal does that to you. Here we learn to dissociate ‘ambition’ from ‘life’ and appreciate the other tenets of living. The conversation that we had is the genesis of this article.

Mind over matter


This is where we all get negligent. I am amazed that people are so concerned about conditioning their bodies these days, yet very few of us give a passing thought to the most potent weapon in our arsenal — the mind. World champion athletes have attested to the fact that the game is usually won or lost long before the game begins. It truly is all in the mind. Medically, it’s been proven that when you are angry, your blood pressure shoots up. And when you are sad or distressed, your immunity is compromised. The good news is that it takes a maximum of 10 minutes a day to recondition one’s mind, through meditation.

‘Mens sana in corpore sano’

My Boromama used to drill this into me since I was a kid. It’s Latin for ‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’. The intellectuals of ancient Rome understood the importance of physical fitness for the mind to blossom to its potential. When Bodhidharma went from India to Shaolin, China, in order to propagate Buddhism, he found the monks there so physically weak that they fell asleep while studying the holy texts. He designed a series of exercises heavily influenced by animal movements and postures, which the monks had to compulsorily perform daily to strengthen their bodies so that they were ready for the rigours and austerity that Buddhism demanded. Thus was born kung-fu.

Similarly, Swami Vivekananda exhorted the youth to first play football before trying to understand the Bhagavad Gita. He wanted us Indians to be strong and physically resilient before approaching the richly complex tenets of religion.

There are no ifs and buts. We HAVE to be fit. Though, by being fit I don’t mean having a pair of biceps so huge that one needs to apply for a separate Aadhaar Card for them! It simply means that you have the strength, stamina and suppleness to go about your daily life, effortlessly. For example, one should be able to walk for at least 3km at a stretch or climb at least three flights of stairs with one’s shopping bags and ideally have no pain or discomfort in performing certain basic movements of bending, extending, twisting or squatting.

Honestly, how many men or women in their 20s can even claim to be able to do the above, leave aside their parents? Like with everything these days, we only have a superficial understanding of fitness rather than true comprehension. Since you are residing in a gated community, I can understand that you aren’t allowed to be out of your apartment except once a day for buying essentials. Make it count. Take the stairs (at least for three-four floors) and walk around the complex, if permitted.

My favourite quote is, “If today you don’t take the stairs, tomorrow you can’t take the stairs”. Clear a 6ftx4ft space in the largest and most ventilated room in your apartment, with access to sunlight. That’s your ‘gym’. Now switch off the AC and open all the windows. You may keep the fan on. To condition your body, do these exercises in order, after warming up, for as many reps that you can comfortably perform. Spot marching alternating with spot jogging, push-ups, squats, superman, sit-ups, seated twists, mountain climbers and air kicks. Take a minute’s rest and repeat the whole sequence, twice. Remember, do it till the verge of discomfort and not in the zone of discomfort.

Home is not a place where you train to fail but train to maintain. These daily sessions should energise you, not drain you. And for God’s sake, do it with perfect form. On alternate days, do yoga. You won’t find a better exercise system to activate your internal organs and glands, promote spinal flexibility and fill you with positive energy. Try the basic routine of Sarvangasana, Sasangasana, Ustrasana, Paschimottasana, Bhujangasana and Ardha Matsyendrasana. Learn the postures well and lay special emphasis on the breathing pattern. End your session with Pranayama. However, these daily sessions may not be sufficient to counter the general state of a lack of movement throughout the day since we are mostly lounging about within our apartments.

Which brings me to fitness snacking. It’s the act of doing a couple of minutes of basic movements for every hour of inactivity. For example, you just finished an episode of your favourite series. Stop bingeing and take a break. Do five air punches, five reps of slow forward/ backward bends, five reps of side bends and five reps of chair squats. Do slow and controlled movements. Now look out of your window and do 10 inhalations/exhalations of deep breathing and voila, all of a sudden your lethargy goes for a toss and you are ready to box Tyson!

Make it a rule that if you have a longish phone call, stroll around your apartment. Sweep and wet-wipe the floor, daily. These are two of the best functional movements that I know of. This routine should keep you fit and flexible.

Now before you start envisioning deeply mysterious and esoteric sages levitating on mountain tops, remember that it’s as simple as finding a quiet and ventilated corner in your house, sitting on a straight-backed chair, shutting your eyes and breathing comfortably. Now visualise an incident from your life which brings you much happiness. For example, when you went on a trek or when your daughter called out ‘Papa’ for the first time or when your wife said ‘yes’ to your marriage proposal. Anything which brings joy and tranquility. There would be constant mental chatter for the first few times but don’t try to shut it. Go with the flow, but focus on the mental picture. Like with everything else, you will get better with practice.

You must also make it a habit to practise ‘deliberate communication’ with your near ones, daily. This one is non-negotiable. It’s allocating a dedicated time of the day to sitting with your family members and talking. Nothing specific, but just discussing anything that interests all of you on that particular day. And don’t dominate the conversation. Ideally, you should just listen and let the elders or younger ones speak. The happiest families have this habit and you won’t believe how many marriages were saved because of this.

Another good habit is what Mr. Bachchan has been offering to confused and star-struck participants for nearly two decades — phone a friend! It truly is a lifeline. During the lockdown, like you, your friends and colleagues too are feeling despondent. Call them periodically for around 10-15 minutes and discuss something happy, positive or progressive. Just don’t bitch or moan. That will saddle you with even more negativity.

Last, but most importantly, sleep. The infinite time that we have in our hands now can be judiciously utilised to recreate our sleep cycle. I will tell you what I do. I go to sleep at 11.30pm and wake up at 6.30am. This is non-negotiable. By 11pm, I shut all audio-visual devices that emit light. Which means no TV, no tabs and no mobile phones. Either I read or I listen to soft music. Deep sleep can cure a host of ailments and shave years from your actual age. Just look at a sleep-deprived face to comprehend what I mean.

Abs: made on the dining table, not in the gym

When I was a kid, the fittest looking 70-year-old was a Daadu from our neighbourhood. The only two things that he did were that he walked a lot and he ate frugally. He looked not a day above 60! The one major mistake that we are making during this lockdown is that we are emotional-eating. In fact, this type of eating has been the bane of Indians in the last two decades. No wonder that obesity and related diseases are at an all-time high in our country and that the term ‘co-morbidity’ is heard a lot these days, as a result of it. We eat because we are bored or worried or because our friends or colleagues are eating! Though diet is a very individual preference/practice, a few things that we should keep in mind are:

a) We should eat only when we are hungry. This ideally should be three-and-a-half hours after our last meal.

b) Many a times when we are thirsty or are feeling lethargic, our body tricks us into thinking that we are hungry. A two-minute walk and/or a large glass of water usually douses that craving.

c) Try the ‘inverted triangle’ diet. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.

Don’t fall into the trap of a fad diet. It works for a while and then it doesn’t. Just eat the diet that you have been brought up with, but make it a point to go easy on the ghee and oil. The extra fat provided the required energy when a human walked an average of 10km daily and performed manual labour from dawn till dusk. These days, with our cars, elevators, escalators and online shopping, our diet should factor in our lack of movement and contain just enough healthy fats. Healthy fats are ghee, unsalted butter, cottage cheese, cold- pressed oils such as mustard and coconut and unsalted nuts, for example. Many other lab-made oils are useless and unhealthy marketing gimmicks.

Rule of thumb, stick to the food your grandparents can or could have recognised as food. Be suspicious of things which come out of packets and have a shelf life of over six months. It means that they have some kind of preservatives and that can’t be healthy. I stick to a traditional Bengali diet minus maida and excessive oil, yet factoring in weakly cheat meals which include copious amounts of rosher mishti... and that is the secret of my six-pack.

Your diet will determine your health and immunity, so please have a balanced diet which includes seasonal fruits, vegetables, moderate carbs and healthy fats and naturally occurring proteins (as per your exertion level) and healthy amount of spices. Remember, heroes are born during crises. We often play them on screen. Let us be one in our real life.

Promise of coffee and conversation

He called me again after five weeks. “Dude, I lost 5kg and I have never been as flexible, ever. My mom is so, so happy with me. She looks forward to our tea time chat and you won’t believe how much I learnt about my late father from her! My eight-year-old daughter has drawn a picture of the four of us sitting together. My wife and I are having....” “Okay, I don’t want to hear about that,” I said with alacrity. “Seriously dude, you should start charging for your sessions.” “Fine. I am texting you my bank details and you can RTGS my five-figure fee!” We promised to meet at a Bandra coffee shop once I was in Mumbai. His treat!

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