Walking is a soulful adventure outside and within

Last month I made a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. One of the main reasons for making this goal is that I have been trying to lose some weight. Although I feel that running is better for losing weight, I can’t run as I injured my knee while running. So, had to stop running. My doctor recommended that I start walking. I was quite disappointed that despite taking the medication, I won’t be able to run.

My trainer, who I hired to help me lose weight also recommended that I should walk. His prescription is that I should walk 10,000 steps everyday.  I decided to give it a try. It’s not that I haven’t made a similar goal in the past. I have and have managed to keep it for a while but then lose interest in it and move on to other activities. When an activity becomes mandatory, it is easy to lose the joy in it and slowly interest. Even if one enjoys the activity 80% of the time, at least 20% of the time you feel that you have to do it because you have to do it. Then you start questioning the importance of that activity.

My trainer recommended that I buy one of those fitness bands that track steps everyday. This has greatly helped especially on days that I don’t want to go out and walk. When I look at my tracker I realise that I have taken only 2000 steps or 4000 steps and it seems very less. So I am compelled to go out and walk. Instead of questioning the why of walking, I have begun to find ways to enjoy my walking.

I try to take different routes. Initially, I used to go all the way by the sea. Watching the sunrise or the beautiful sunsets and the myriad moods of the sea always uplift my spirits. These days I go to the nearby parks and gardens. Although Mumbai is a crowded city, there are surprisingly parks and gardens hiding amidst the madness that help the city breathe. Walking in a park with a lawn and dense trees lining the fence reminds me of my childhood. There are always people walking with someone – spouse, children, friends and/ or pets.

When I it gets too hot outside, I go to a mall. Walking in an air-conditioned mall saves me from the scorching heat outside. Plus I also get to check out the latest fashion. On relatively cooler evenings, I walk in the crowded bazaars in the vicinity of my home. The bazaars are a complete riot especially in the evening. The roads dug up displaying the innards of the city, the street food vendors setting up their stalls with fresh snacks and thousands of commuters returning home after a busy day. It’s tough to negotiate to find any walking space. But I enjoy it. It gets me in the moment.

Another way I add variety to my walk is to listen to different kinds of music. Since I am taking music lessons these days, while walking I tend to listen to songs and ghazals that I am practicing to sing. The beautiful melodies add a certain poetry to my walking. In the morning hours, I like to listen to walking meditation music. It is refreshing and makes me focused on the day.

In past one month, I have managed to take over 10,000 steps a day on an average. There are certainly days when I take fewer steps but then there are other days when I go over so overall it balances out.

Walking is certainly beneficial for my physical health and fitness. I have started losing a bit of weight. I don’t have a lot of weight to lose. My main goal is to increase my overall strength while reducing unnecessary fat so that I can do certain yoga poses.

More importantly, allows me to connect with the world around me. As I move I observe the way the world is organised, the way the sun rises or sets, the way the trees become dark at the end of the day. How the rhythm of life changes by day and night?

It also provides me the space to contemplate and reflect. While walking I try and observe the nature of my thoughts. How they rise and fall? How they get stuck and loosen up? How they take me far away and the world beyond? How a sudden pebble brings me to the present moment? How a bird’s chirping fills me with a certain melody? How the sun’s rays add warmth and light to my inner self? With curiosity and compassion I travel within to search for those depths and insights that help me navigate this world in a skilful manner like an artist painting the canvas of my life with beautiful colours and mastery.

In past few months, I have certainly learned to appreciate walking and it is certainly becoming one of my favourite activities. I hope to write more about my walking sojourns in the city of Mumbai.

Do you enjoy walking? What are some of your favourite and not so favourite aspects of walking?

 

 

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Minimalism: Organising books

Today, I decided to compile my books – mainly Kindle collection. Ever since, I bought my kindle I have been mainly buying Kindle books so that I don’t have to part with my books, when I move away. I have always led a pretty nomadic life moving countries, cities, jobs, apartments so have always had to give up my book collection.

Since I have a habit of buying a lot of books, I generally tend to collect a lot of books. Hence, it is not surprising that I have over 300 books on my Kindle. I have yet to count how many I have actually read. Some are reference books so I use them as reference. Currently, I have created an excel spreadsheet to organise the books by name, author, subject and date. That way, I can easily search the books on a particular topic. I am also putting a status as read or not read so that I know which ones I have yet to read. I am sure there will be many that I have not.

This is my mission of organising my Kindle books

  1. First, to see the kind of books I have bought over the years
  2.  Second, how many have I read or not read. So instead of buying new ones, I will try reading the ones I already have
  3. Third, make it easy to search my book collection by names of books, authors or subject. There are many times I need to reference books but because I can’t remember all my books it becomes difficult to search on kindle. This was I will know which one to look at
  4. Fourth, is to write some reviews on this blog. I had written reviews of some of the books on my old blog, which is now lost. So I am going to write more reviews here

It will take me a couple of days to get this done. I am hoping after organising my books, I will be better able to enjoy reading them

How do you manage your digital library?

 

Lessons from meditation: An ant’s bite taught me a lot about how to face tough life situations

A few years ago I went for Vipassana meditation. The first course of Vipassana meditation camp involves staying at the centre for 10 days in complete silence. You have to give up your phone and all sorts of expression and communication with the outer world. So you cannot read or write as well. It is also recommended to not engage in any sort of worship for these 10 days. The idea is that through meditation you connect with your inner world. In addition, you get only 2 meals a day – breakfast and lunch along with a snack. This helps slow down your metabolism as well as help you sit for 10 hours a day as you aren’t doing anything else. The whole idea of being cut off with the world for 10 days was a bit daunting but also created a nervous excitement about how will I cope with such strict rules.

Surprisingly, I completed the entire course rather effortlessly. Yes, there were instances when I dozed off during early morning meditation or felt a little disoriented at times with too much meditation. Overall, it went rather smoothly. I did not experience major hunger pangs or cravings for communication.

There is one experience that has stayed with me and has benefitted me immensely.

After 3 days of concentrating on our breath, we were asked to sit for 45 minutes of meditation with a strong determination of not moving at all. I thought that this would be easy so I made the determination and sat down for meditation. We were in a big hall with hundreds of people. As soon as I started my meditation, a big ant crept up on my neck and stung me just below my clavicle. I was immediately distracted from my meditation, my entire attention was on the ant and the burning sensations in my neck and upper chest area. My immediate reaction was to remove the ant, but that would have meant moving. I didn’t want to move so I decided to brace the pain and the sensations while continuing with my meditation.

Surprisingly, after a few minutes of discomfort the sensations died down. I felt a numbness in that area. So while my mind was entangled in that, I had at least managed to not move or distract my body.

Somehow this little incident has stayed with me. Every time, I am faced with a crisis in life I am reminded of the ant and its bite. Until now, I haven’t really made much of this incident. But recently, it just dawned on me that the ant appeared in my meditation to teach me a big lesson about how to practice Vipassana in daily life as we go through events. Just like the ant’s bite, life too can sting but if we choose not to react in an automated fashion but with intelligence we can turn that crisis into an opportunity.

The practice of Vipassana tries to teach that no matter the events of life – good or bad – we must deal with them with equanimity. The situations in life will not always favour us but what matters is how we respond to the situations. It is our own reaction to the situations that shape our experience and feeling of it.

Now whenever I am faced with a crisis situation, I try to pause before reaction. I try to shape my reaction in a manner so that I can get a positive outcome of a situation. I am not always successful but I try. It gives me a sense of peace when I try to respond in a positive manner to a situation, rather than let anger or negativity lead my life. A little bit of kindness and love go a long way in shaping our life.

Books that have inspired my minimalistic journey

In last few years, I have begun to enjoy reading books about personal change and transformation. I pick up these books when I want to do some light reading. I find it very inspiring to read about stories of personal change and transformation. Reading such stories fill me with a certain feeling of hope and positivity.

At another level, reading these books make me feel like I am talking to a friend. Thus, making the act of living by myself in a crowded city less lonely. I do enjoy my solitude but at times I crave for good conversations with strong people who have seen adversity or have gone through a personal setback and dealt with it in a positive manner with strength and commitment.

I started reading memoirs after I read Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. In my old blog, I had written a post about this book. If I find the original post I will link it here. This is the one of the first books that inspired me to look at life differently.

While I have read many such books, below is the list of books written by women about their journeys of change and personal transformation. These stories have resonated me at some or the other level and have inspired my minimalistic journey.

1. Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom by Colleen Saidman Yee – This book describes the personal struggles of Colleen Saidman, who battled drug addiction and became a super model but went through bad relationships and finally found peace in yoga. The honesty with which this book is written touched me and it really inspired me to begin my yoga journey earnestly. Although I read it a couple of years ago, the book still resonates with me about how important it is to take breaks in life and reflect on your life choices.

2. Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris: I picked up this book as I wanted to do some light reading and learn about life in Paris. However, some of the lessons in this book about how Parisian women consume food and clothes hit right at home. For years, I have been trying to overhaul my relationship with food and clothes. In very simple terms, through the life of women in Paris the author Jennifer L. Scott describes how easy it is to streamline your food and clothing habits. This book really helped me change my eating habits. It helped me become more mindful of what I eat.
3.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo: Reading this book really helped me understand my relationship to stuff and it motivated me to declutter my wardrobe. Ever since, I have removed a lot of unused stuff from my life and it has been very liberating. This book also put me on the path to minimalism. Decluttering helped me with one obvious problem I have always struggled with. I have always found myself rushing, reaching just on time or sometimes even late. Decluttering helped me keep my mind free, make my routines simpler so much so that I found myself reaching everywhere earlier.
4. You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel: This book really helped me understand that often consumption becomes our main motivation to live, as a result we drown ourselves with stuff becoming overwhelmed. On the other hand, a life lived with simplicity and authenticity helps us retain our inner peace on a daily basis. How having less can add more meaning to life?
5. Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage by Allison Fallon: This book also talks about following our inner quest. However, to do that we need to peel the layers and look within ourselves about what it is that our journey is about. The whole concept of removing the extra stuff so that we can focus really made sense to me.
In the comments below, do let me know what you think of these books, if you have read them and if you have other suggestions!

 

Forming a successful habit is an art

Habits are crucial to our success and happiness. But it’s not just any habit that will help us achieve success. Some habits can be awfully bad for us. Habits that add up to our goal are the only ones that will help us achieve success in our chosen goal.

Many times we talk about achieving weight loss, and we get so focused on the goal that we don’t realize that we first need to develop a habit to achieve that goal.

We keep visualizing the end about how we will feel once we achieve our goal of weight loss. So we look at small size clothing in the shops and begin to buy them too. I am guilty of that too.

We think that rewards will motivate us to achieve our goal. What we don’t realize is that yes, the smaller size clothes can be a good motivation to begin with, but it is only well crafted habits that can ultimately lead to weight loss.

Some of us focus on forming a habit, but we eventually end up trying to follow a habit that overwhelms us and we eventually have a breakdown. We go on a binging trip.

For example, if we take the decision to go for a run every morning at 5 am. How is it possible to be successful at this goal, especially if someone is a late sleeper and has a habit of waking up late in the morning? To change this habit requires forming a habit to wake up in the morning, sleeping early and then going for a run in the morning. That’s a lot to manage. It is possible to achieve this but may require tremendous willpower and focus.

Also it’s wise to say that breakdown is a real possibility with this strategy. Because some days you will want to sleep in or your body will be too tired, you will be too stressed. The truth is even if we succeed, it will not be a happy journey and there are real chances of losing our focus on other things that are important in our lives. So how does one form a habit that sustains and also keeps us in a happy place while we are in the formation stage?

In my many years of trying to build a habit. I have always focused on small goals. So for example, I start with forming a weekly goal and stick with it for at least a month. And initially, I try to make it as easy as possible.

So when I started with my yoga habit. I started with a goal of doing one class a week, in the evenings after work. It was easy, especially on Mondays or Fridays. Mondays because I have a lot of energy after a restful weekend and Fridays because I can push myself as I have a whole weekend to catch up. This way I allow my body to adapt to this change. In fact, the happiness I felt after my weekly yoga class meant that my body began to crave for it. Since I was not rushing, I had the time to feel the energizing and calming effects of a yoga class.

By second month, I started doing two classes a week in the evenings on Mondays and Fridays. By third month, I tried inserting a class on Wednesdays or Thursdays but I didn’t stress about it. With 2 or 3 classes a week, I was in a happy place and I stuck to it until I felt that I needed to change.

After about 3-4 months, when my body was stronger, I switched to a morning routine.

I again used the same strategy and started with 6:30 am class on Tuesdays. Why Tuesday? because it was the only day the class was available. I had a whole week to plan so that I woke up fresh at 5:30 on Tuesday to reach on time. Eventually, I started with one more day and now I can manage three classes a week in the morning without feeling stressed about it. I have been able to go for my scheduled class even on the most stressful and packed days.

Why is this successful?

First, because I have made a very specific goal and I have a whole week to achieve that goal.

Second, my intention is to achieve happiness, weight loss is a side result. If I can focus on this habit, weight loss or fitness will come on its own.

Third, it allows my body to adjust and adapt both in terms of a habit and strength. I took the time to understand the limitations of my body and other commitments and then worked on a habit that was achievable and sustainable.

The reason why I want to lose weight or be fit is because I want my body to be happy even in most stressful situations. This slow and deliberate plan allows me to feel happy and enjoy my happiness on a regular basis.

I did not try to stress myself trying to do a class everyday thinking that once I achieved my goal, then I can be happy. I understand that being fit takes a constant effort. And I need to form habits that I can follow in the long term.

I also understand that this strategy might not work in all situations but as long as we identify the kind of habits we need to achieve a particular goal and make a mindful effort to achieve it, we can succeed in most.

What are your strategies for forming a successful habit to achieve a goal?

This post was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s post For Habits, Try the Strategy of Scheduling

I also like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. It has some great stuff about habits