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?




Lessons from the yoga mat: Stop dwelling in duality and develop focus

A few days ago as I was checking my Facebook feed, I came across a video interview of BKS Iyengar, in which he talks about how yoga helped him deal with “duality”. The thought struck me. It reminded me of my own tryst to get to my mat every day.

Even though I enjoy my practice, it is not easy to get to the mat. It is not easy to change the habit. Every morning I find myself explaining to my body the benefits of yoga so that I can get to my mat. There are days, I have to literally drag my body on to the mat. At times, I have to tell myself that if I get my practice done, I will have better focus at work. Some days, I am not successful at all and tend to give in to my body.

Although it takes a while, once my body wakes up and starts experiencing the benefits of being on the mat, it thanks my mind. Yet, the debate goes on every morning. This simple exercise of getting to my mat, teaches me a simple lesson that once we stop dwelling on duality and bring our minds to a clear focus, we can enjoy and accomplish many things.

“Duality in our mind” is the root cause of procrastination and unhappiness. Sometimes, we may finish a task but we don’t enjoy it. While we continue to do the work physically, our mind tends to wander elsewhere. This is where yoga helps, when I am on my mat, doing asanas or meditation I learn to focus on my thoughts and body movements. Those brief moments in which my mind becomes focused on the present moment, I experience an inner joy. In those moments, I am just flowing with my true nature.

This is how yoga and meditation change your life. While the physical benefits are tangible and can be easily assessed, it is the mental benefits that bring about change in the long run.

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