I am moderating a panel discussion at the Bangalore International Center on Feb 8, 2016. Invitation attached. Please come.
Audiomatic is a great platform for some great Indian podcasts. Vikram Doctor does a great show called ‘Real Food Podcast.’ Here is an episode in which I was (a little) involved.
A piece I wrote about the amazing Chitwan and Taj Safaris for Travel & Leisure Southeast Asia.
The Great Game
a stylish new safari lodge on the edge of chitwan national Park is raising the hospitality bar and bringing eco-tourism back to nepal. by Shoba NarayaN
Engaging your core while in the car, bus or autorickshaw is simple. All you need to do is make sure that your back doesn’t lean against the backrest
Try sitting upright in your car rather than slumping back into the seat. Photo: iStock
There is a great scene in The Other Guys, where Mark Wahlberg pumps his arms up and down and shouts, “I want to be a peacock.” His chicken-like pose works for the movie, but would be totally wrong in the real world. Peacocks don’t pump their arms and jump up and down. They are more haughty divas on the catwalk than irate cop.
Have you ever wondered about good posture in animals? About how a giraffe maintains its poise in spite of an ungainly long neck? About how a porcupine, which looks horrendously ill-proportioned (big body, tiny legs), still manages to run elegantly? Harvard University professor Andrew Biewener runs a lab that studies animal locomotion. And one of his early discoveries was about why large animals with relatively small bones and muscles move so elegantly, without overloading their skeletons. The reason: good posture.
When I’m stuck in traffic, I tend to slump back into the seat and curse fluently. One day, I tried something different. Since my back hurt, I decided to sit upright, moving a couple of inches forward instead of leaning back, as I usually did. The pain didn’t go away, but there was a side benefit. I discovered I had to engage my core muscles to sit upright as the driver zigzagged his way through traffic. I have been doing this ever since.
Engaging your core while in the car, bus or autorickshaw is simple. All you need to do is make sure that your back doesn’t lean against the backrest. Sit a few inches forward in the seat. No matter how much the vehicle jerks or turns, don’t lean back. If possible, pretend that there is a rod going through your spine. Or pretend you are a peacock.
Stay alert, of course, to ensure the jerks or sudden brakes don’t injure you. But hold the forward position for the length of the ride. You will be surprised at how tight your abs feel at the end of the trip.
This exercise works better when you are stuck in stop-and-go traffic and have a driver who’s trying to beat the odds. You are trying to hold your position by tightening your core during the jerky starts and stops. After a 45-minute car ride, with you sitting in this position, you will be ready for the advanced level.
This too is simple practice. You lift your feet off the floor while sitting in the car. Just lift up your feet, oh, maybe a couple of inches. That’s it. Hold your position. After a while, your thighs will start to hurt—that is the objective.
Harder than you think, isn’t it? Your back has no support, so you have to rely on your core to sit upright. Stay for 15 minutes in this position, if you can.
Sitting upright has another benefit: It improves your willpower. Studies have shown that students who don’t slouch build up discipline and willpower over time. No matter where you are, reminding yourself to sit upright and have good posture has far-reaching benefits that have nothing to do with your body muscles.
The great thing is that you can do this workout during a commute. Every long commute, then, becomes a gift. Isn’t that great?
Shoba Narayan is an expert sitter-without-slouching on car rides. The fact that she slouches everywhere else is besides the point. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.
About the elephant. That was in Nepal.
People do many things to better themselves. They take up a sport, learn languages, do yoga, meditate and practise gratitude
Shobha Narayan in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Photo: Arpita Dutta
What do the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Dale Carnegie and Dan Ariely have in common—besides the letter D? They all teach you how to live better. If freedom was the mantra of India before its inception as a nation, dignity, its drumbeat at incipience, prosperity, its goal during our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, then betterment is the hallmark of our times.
We live in an age of betterment. Blame it on the fact that this generation has lived through an age of unparalleled peace and prosperity, which, fingers crossed, will not change even as our world fragments into “narrow domestic walls”, thanks to nationalism, populism, parochialism, terrorism, xenophobia, call it what you will. In daily life, our goals are modest: We all want to be stronger, fitter, faster, thinner—comparative verbs all that reflect the comparison-seeking, self-documenting, selfie world that we live in.
That said, self-cultivation is an ancient pursuit, obsessed upon and perfected by old cultures: Greece, Rome, China, India. The first self-help books go back to the third century. Sanskrit has its Brahmana and Smriti literature, not to mention theBhagavad Gita, teaching citizens how to lead good lives. Latin has Cicero, Virgin, Ovid, St Augustine of Hippo, Descartes and Spinoza, all of whom philosophized about virtue and betterment. Chinese has its Tao Te Ching, a masterwork on life and living. Today, self-cultivation is less about removing layers of ego and hubris and more about setting the timer for 10 minutes of programmed meditation, the kind we see in the television drama Billions. Status quo is uncomfortable to our species. Stumbling towards happiness, having a mindset that supports growth, adopting power poses, and leading fulfilled lives are the aspirations of our time. If you prefer homeostasis, why bother living, seems to be the message.
Self-improvement takes many guises today. Several surveys, including one conducted by Field Agent, a data collection blog, and the American College of Sports Medicine, state that the top trends include fitness wearables, diet foods, gym memberships, apps, time-management tools, educational courses, fibre, probiotics, and kitchen appliances like juicers and blenders. This column will talk about all these sections, and then some.
People do many things to better themselves. They take up a sport, learn languages, do yoga, meditate and practise gratitude. They undergo therapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy is the current favourite, and it even has a dedicated app called Moodkit. I have tried all these things.
I am a constant optimizer. I love productivity apps and self-help books. I subscribe to, and read, countless blogs that fall under the genre of life hacks. I multitask my way to incremental improvements. I listen to podcasts while walking on the treadmill and meditate while stuck in traffic. I have a unique obsession though. I am into short cuts—and that is what will differentiate this column from others. Minimum input, maximum output. You could call me lazy, but mine is a unique kind of laziness. It has an Indian inventiveness (jugaad) and urgency to it. This column is a way to pin down (or pen down) a method to my madness.
Every Friday, I will write about things that I have been doing all my life. Simple things like stretching while waiting for the coffee to brew. Some, a bit more complex, with some grounding in psychology and science. But all of them easily doable. This is one column where feedback is all-important. I seek your tips, tricks and methods of self-improvement. If appropriate, I will amplify them in this column, attributing the idea to you, of course.
You can’t be bothered with all this self-help s#*t? Well, welcome to my world. Welcome to The Better Life.
Shoba Narayan has not read Cicero, only the multiple blog versions of his self-improvement tips. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.
I am thrilled to start a new column called “The Better Life.”
The piece below explains everything.
Simple things like stretching while waiting for the coffee to brew—and some a bit more complex grounded in psychology and science—but all easily do-able
We live in the age of betterment. As adjectives go, this means living in or aspiring to the comparative state—faster, thinner, stronger, more disciplined, just better. We want to get better at managing people; have more control over our finances; learn to manage stress better; have better work-life balance; and the mother of all betterments: be more productive. “Everyday, in every way, I am getting better and better,” as the guru of self-affirmations, French psychologist, Emile Coue said.
Self-improvement is a multimillion-dollar industry, including apps, books, TV shows and products dedicated to helping us lead better lives. We may roll our eyes, but we still read the blog post, listen to the podcast or buy the book because it plays to the human instinct to improve. Status quo is uncomfortable to our species.
Stumbling towards happiness, gaining a growth mindset, learning to be zen, and leading fulfilled lives are the aspirations of our time. This relentless desire to become better at everything percolates our milieu in ways that are unimaginable to our parents. Blame it on capitalism. Betterment is the product of a prosperous society that has not seen a war in its lifetime. It is an old pursuit but its modern avatar is helped by a range of tools.
Most ancient cultures considered self-cultivation to be the noblest of all goals. In today’s world, self-cultivation is less about peeling off the layers of ego and hubris and more about setting the timer for 10 minutes of programmed meditation. Betterment requires a desire to get ahead in life. If you prefer homeostasis, why bother?
“What is a hack?” I asked my daughter, the computer engineer.
“LOL, why?” came the text.
“Well, we all keep saying ‘life hacks’ and I know that it means ways of getting better, but what does hack in the computer sense mean,” I asked.
“Hacking means getting access to information that is secure. Why are you awake at 3 a.m.?” she asked.
“I have to manage my sleep cycles. Arianna Huffington says so. She has written a whole book on how to sleep better.”
Better, better, better. You see where I am going?
When I pitched the idea for this column to Mint’s editor, I had what I thought was a simple and pithy title. “Dear Sukumar,” I wrote. “I want to write a series of essays on awesomeness. On optimal living. Let us call it ‘365 ways to optimize yourself: how to get fit without exercising; improve your memory and well-being; stay smart and attractive; and become completely awesome in the process: a modest approach’.”
“That’s the title?” came the reply. “That won’t fit in the headline. Why not call it ‘The Better Life’? It’s a nice segue from your ‘Good Life’ column.”
I loved the title. And so it came to be: these words that you are reading.
I was born to write this column. I am a constant optimizer. I love productivity apps and self-help books. I subscribe to and read countless blogs that fall under the genre of life hacks. I multitask my way to incremental improvements. I listen to podcasts while walking on the treadmill and meditate while stuck in traffic. I have a unique obsession though. I am into shortcuts—and that is what will differentiate this column from others. Minimum input, maximum output—and I don’t mean in the alimentary sense.
Buddha got his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. I awakened to my peculiar proclivity for shortcuts, appropriately enough in the gym. Gyms give me an inferiority complex. I try to psych myself up before I go to them. I wear colourful tight leotards that have tiger prints on them. I try to imitate a cheetah’s haughty, mincing walk. I wear sneakers that add an inch to my height and make me jump without trying. I carry a respectably large gym bag filled with the dregs of my life just to look like a serious gymmer. I wear headbands, make-up and false eyelashes that together make me look exhausted, like I have been working out for five hours. It never works. I walk in, see all those sweating bodies and feel the bile rise. I needed a different approach to get fit, I decided—a practical, realistic, sensible one.
I have three immediate goals. The first is to lose weight and get fit without exercising. The second is to slow down my mind without necessarily meditating, and the third is to discover fun products and apps that will help me with endeavours one and two.
You could call me lazy, but mine is a unique kind of laziness. It has an Indian inventiveness and urgency to it.
This column is a way to pin down (or pen down) a method to my madness.
Every Friday, I will write about things that I have been doing all my life. Simple things like stretching while waiting for the coffee to brew. Some, a bit more complex with some grounding in psychology and science. But all of them are easily do-able.
You can’t be bothered with all this self-help s#*t?
Well, welcome to my world. Welcome to “The Better Life”.
As this column went to print, Shoba Narayan was jogging, walking and eating her way through the obstacle course of crowds thronging Bengaluru for Ganapati Visarjan, St Mary’s Feast and pre-Bakrid festivities. Amazing India!