Updated: Aug 17, 2021
‘Life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole’
While watching the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham, I remember being awestruck after seeing Rohan (played by Hrithik Roshan) transform from the once chubby guy eating burgers into the man of my dreams. Anyone would be for that matter. From being bullied in Chandni Chowk by a bunch of kids and being called “Laddoo'' for being fat to becoming the most eligible bachelor of the society, Rohan’s character went through a huge transformation. Indian society encourages such transformations because, at the end of the day, everyone wants a good looking bahu or damaad who is thin, fit and fair. During lockdown last year, Netflix India released a show called “Indian Matchmaking” which gives a lot of insight into how the arranged marriage system in India works. Like others, I too binged through the whole series. The demands and expectations that Indian aunties had from their daughters-in-law were crazy- “they should not be fat”, “should not smoke or drink '' and whatnot.
“Itni patli ho gayi hai”, or “Aur beta, thodi moti ho gayi hai na” are common things you might have heard or still hear when you have relatives over. As much as I do like having relatives come home and give me money when they are leaving, I dread meeting them. As soon as you lose weight, you are suddenly acceptable for marriage. Indian society, like many other countries, sets unrealistic standards of beauty in terms of fair skin, beautiful appearances, slim body, height, no body hair, etc. for both males and females. These relatives never ask “Aur beta, khush ho na?” or “Tabiyat ekdum thik hai na”. The concept of having a discussion on whether or not you are well, does not exist and therefore, we do not understand what wellness is, let alone the different dimensions of it, like physical wellness. There have been many weight loss product advertisements, which promote hiding your stomach if it’s sticking out a little bit, indicating that it’s something to be ashamed of. There have NEVER been any advertisements that talk about a disease-free happy and healthy life, where how you look does not define how well you are doing.
A lot of people mistake physical wellness to be associated only with weight. Although it is important to maintain your physical health, it does not only mean reducing weight. It includes being fit, eating healthy and nutritious food, getting enough sleep and making sure you are getting enough rest and breaks in between work.
What do we mean by Physical Wellness?
Physical wellness consists of recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep, as well as preventing illness and injury or managing chronic health conditions.  It involves both neurological (brain) and physiological (body organs) systems that work simultaneously to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle and advocates prevention of illness by undertaking various activities like physical exercise, sleep tracking, habit tracking, and maximising the positive cues in the environment.
Physical wellness is a topic of daily conversation. You might sit at the dining table and talk about your friend falling sick, inclusion and exclusion of certain types of food in your diet and exercising. What we don’t realise is that it's only us talking about it. We never really do anything about it or put a lot of thought into it. This is true, especially today, in a work driven world where you might not really have a lot of time to think about your well-being.
In the conventional world, treatment of physical issues is mostly driven by treating the symptoms rather than finding the cause for those symptoms. However, Ayurveda, which has been a traditional and holistic method in India, advocates understanding the patient and treating the cause of symptoms or factors involved, such as:
· Physical and physiological- It involves proper functioning of our Muscular, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems
· Psychological- It involves anxiety or stress related to physical appearance or environment
· Climate- It involves adaptation to climatic conditions such as Summers, Winters, and Humidity.
· Diet- Diet plays an important role in maintaining physical fitness levels.
Paying close attention to these factors is necessary for physical illnesses and diseases. As seen in the first article, WHO defined wellness as the “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The absence of diseases is one of the main aspects of physical wellness among others. Physical exercise, a proper balanced diet and sleep are important to stay disease-free to an extent. Yoga has proven to be one of the most effective activities which not only helps improve physical wellness but other aspects as well.
Yoga as a tool of physical wellness
Sure, Yoga may seem overrated but the reason behind that is the fact that it is an effective, time-testing practice that was adopted as early as the beginning of time. Throughout history, great leaders and people have spoken about Yoga. Mahavira and Buddha’s teachings formed the early basis for Yoga and meditation. Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, says “Samatvam Yoga Uchyate” which roughly translates to “equanimity in the mind is a sign of yoga”. In the second century BC, Maharshi Patanjali, the Father of Yoga, was the first to systematise yoga practises. He propagated the meaning of yoga and the knowledge it contains through his Yoga Sutras.
In an original, inspiring, and penetrating style, the Yoga Sutras' metapsychology bridges complex metaphysics and compelling ethics, creative transcendence and critical immanence.
Feeling safe in your Body
A day-to-day life experience involves being conscious of your appearance when you’re out with friends or on a date. Now, it’s normal to clean up and dress up for yourself but when your wellness depends on the approval of others, you become powerless and you start living an inauthentic life. This rejection of the authentic self has been ingrained in our minds since the beginning through the movies and serials we watched growing up which set unrealistic beauty standards and also through the comments made by our beloved nosy relatives.
To overcome this, we can learn to reframe the narratives in our mind, by building a positive relationship with ourselves, using thought-journal, virtue characteristic journal, Real-Ideal self-journal, gratitude journal, affirmation and motivation journal.
We aren’t just what we eat but more than that
India is a country with diverse culture and a wealth of flavours that takes immense pride in the delicious and exotic dishes it has to offer around the nation. Culinary diversity is one of India’s treasures as it follows different styles of food habits, styles of cooking, and enjoys different taste preferences based on geographical areas. For instance, Punjabis enjoy extra spicy food like chhole bhaturas, and parantha cooked tandoori style, Gujratis love having thepla, khakhra, dhokla with added khatta mitha (sweet-spicy) taste, Kerela’s speciality involves the use of coconut in the form of powder in food such as appam, sadya, etc.
But healthy food habit development is not only related to one’s social and cultural heritage but health requirements, economic status, occupation and individual or group lifestyle as well. The diet culture which encourages you to drop certain food from your daily routine may enhance your health but doesn’t necessarily promote physical wellness because leaving certain food habits, all at once, can be an unfulfilling experience for you. The concept of physical wellness does not approve of leaving food items, it merely promotes a healthy diet. So, your meals should have a proper balance between fibres, proteins, fat and carbohydrates. There is no shortage of recipes with all the above-mentioned nutrients and you would be surprised to see that many of them are made with ingredients easily available at home. We have often heard from our grandparents that they used only homemade ingredients in their cooking or that they used to eat food in specific metal utensils, which didn’t require leaving your favourite food out of the diet.
How many times has your Nani given you haldi ka doodh when you were unwell? Has she never made pepper rasam when you had a cold? Such recipes are very effective in boosting your immune system and maintaining your physical health. These might be family recipes passed on from one generation to another or could be something you heard from a nutritionist or a friend. If you know of such recipes, make sure you store them because they not only act as remedies for your illness, they also have other benefits that ensure a long and healthy life.
How does the work culture affect your Physical Wellness?
It has been seen in some research that in Indian work culture, employees are likely to work longer hours, take fewer leaves, and save more. This culture of not letting your body take appropriate breaks has proven to be fatal for sleep schedules as our body has a clock of its own or in other words, it follows a circadian cycle.
Work-life can become overwhelming and exhausting and you might not have time to take care of yourself, be it going for a walk, getting adequate sleep or eating proper meals. Many MNCs abroad require you to stay awake to be in the same time zones as them and work for 10-12 hours. This affects the sleep cycle and may result in you not having enough sleep and rest. This also means irregular and untimely meals.
Growing up, my mother always kept feeding me food- whether it was badam or fruits. She ensured that I ate food from time to time. But this is not the case now. You may be so involved in something, you may forget to eat food and skip a meal which affects your physical well-being to a great extent.
How does climate or environment affect our physical wellness?
Have you ever felt demotivated to work on a rainy day and wished to go home and make a hot cup of chai? Or have you ever felt pumped up to work out on a sunny day? Instances like these indicate that the climate and the environment that you live in can affect your physical wellness as well. Weather is one of the factors too. At times, you may not feel like going for a walk or workout on a gloomy day and just make maggi and watch your favourite show. Similarly, the environment around us can affect us as well. For example, you might have read about the pollution levels in Delhi. Such an environment is not suitable for the human body. The impure air can be harmful and can cause respiratory problems. As much as we want to change the environment and the climate around us, we cannot magically whip up a whole other city and start living there in a day. We have to work around what we got. We have to be safe and still find ways to keep our physical wellness intact, like working out at home, consuming as many nutrients as possible and following a proper skincare routine to overcome the results of that pollution.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Even now during the lockdown, people are suffering from stress, anxiety, morning blues and find it hard to make time for other activities especially when the boundary of a professional setting and home setting are blurred. To avoid complete burnout, we can practice time management with work as well as leisure activities such as adding yoga to the list of early morning exercises, tracking your sleep in a Sleep journal so that you’re sleeping for at least 7-9 hours and creating a space which is dedicated to particular activities, for instance having a proper desk and chair for where you only work. What we can also add to our routine is the Food journal which is a daily log of the ingredients that you put in your diet and beverages you’re drinking.
Nobody is asking you to give up work and focus on yourself all the time. Work is important to earn money and have stability but what is the point if, at the end of the day, you are unable to spend it on things you like or enjoy doing as a result of not listening to your body when it was crying out for help?
Taking enough breaks and resting is equally important as exercising or having a balanced diet. Make time to take care of your body. Make sure to follow your skincare routine no matter how drunk or tired you are and get your beauty sleep instead of texting that special someone at 3 am. Make sure you have the karela ki sabzi that is made at home even though you do not like it because, at the end of the day, your body will take care of you only when you take care of it.
By maintaining your physical wellness, you are not only working towards your body but also your mind, to ensure a holistic lifestyle. So, what is it going to be? You getting your lazy self up and going for a small walk, eating and resting well or you being stuck in the same rut?