Astrology of the Apple Watch

The astrology of the Apple Watch

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The problem with the Apple Watch is that it aspires to be a timekeeper; a gadget amd a fashion accessory. Admittedly, Apple’s genius is creating products that people didn’t know they wanted; leaving slack-jawed competitors in its wake.

But do you really need yet another smart device when you are already checking your phone some 154 times a day? I decided to test this premise on an early-adapter relative of mine—called Seenu mama by one and all, including his wife.

Seenu mama, 78, lives in T Nagar, Chennai, and frequently goes to the Bay Area in the US where his three children live. In his Godrej almirah, amid the odd dead cockroach with transparent wings, are a slew of gadgets given to him by grateful nieces and nephews in exchange for the astrological predictions he dispenses with uncanny precision. He begins his day at 3am, when Chennai is quiet and mellow. After a cup of frothy filter coffee, Seenu mama does his morning prayer and peruses the horoscopes that have been emailed to him from all over the world. While he prefers to make calculations by hand, he also looks to apps and software for corroboration. He skypes with students in Toronto; consults with worried software engineers in the Silicon Valley; and helps real estate magnates in New Delhi decide on a suitable time for breaking ground on a new project. Seenu mama is an avid user of digital devices. Were it not for his age, this septuagenarian would fit the perfect customer profile for the just-out Apple Watch.

Seenu mama’s current gadget of choice is the iPhone 5S, on which he has several apps of choice: Yik Yak, to anonymously complain about his wife to strangers; The Night Sky, to track whether Gemini or Cancer is ascendant; and astrological software that he uses to chart planetary transits on a minute-by-minute basis. But a watch? Would he use the Apple Watch, particularly since he is so devoted to his Titan Edge? I wasn’t sure.

The products that give us pleasure are deeply personal and occasionally contradictory. The corporate executive who wears strait-laced pinstriped suits may reveal and revel in striped orange underwear and pink Paul Smith socks—known only to his lovers and laundress.

Free-spirited hippie types who eschew bathing and cleaning may stock OXO Good Grips soap-dispensing cleaning brushes in every bathroom simply for the pleasure of that satisfying squirt.

We each contain “multitudes”, as poet Walt Whitman said; and unpredictable contradictions, which drives marketers nuts.

The normal non-Apple Watch occupies that nebulous space between relic, heirloom, status symbol and luxury product. Young people generally don’t wear a watch, except when they are going for job interviews. My husband has a Rolex watch, given to him by his father, who himself got it as a wedding gift from his father-in-law. None of these men, as far as I can tell, has worn the watch. Well-heeled friends collect Swiss watches and prattle on about minute repeaters and escapements to a Bitcoin-crazy generation that views currency, forget a watch, as a quaint has-been and writing code on GitHub as an alternative to a university degree.

Can Apple make a watch an edgy must-have accessory? For the first time, I am not sure. The gadget universe is divided into purists and, for lack of a better word, mixologists. Purists like objects that do stated, specific, single things. A watch is for telling time; a fountain pen, for writing; a cocktail shaker, to look cool; and a stiletto, to look sexy. The beauty of these objects lies in their simplicity, and elevating that specific task to perfection. Apple specializes in mixology. Its phone can do things that your mother cannot; and oh, as the late Steve Jobs famously said, it also makes calls. Apple-ifying a watch seems like the logical next step, except that it is wearable. Therein lies its strength and its weakness.

For many, the biggest concern with wearing a device on your wrist is the electromagnetic radiation that will ensue. These are the people who never carry a phone on their person; never stand in front of a microwave; and believe that the radio frequency (RF) radiation that these devices emit will change their blood glucose levels. For these people, wearing an Apple Watch would be akin to curdling the brain.

Apps are Apple’s secret weapon. They are what make the phone addictive. I have about 40 apps on my iPhone 6 Plus. I use Pocket extensively to read offline. I exercise using 7 Minute Workout and walk using Moves. I downloaded Life360 to track my family, but they didn’t register. I can access the app version of Carnaticradio.com, which streams Carnatic music from a station in Singapore, on my phone; as I can Bird Calls, which helps me recognize my avian neighbours. Current research states that we should spend on experiences rather than objects, but I love my iPhone. This particular object gives me so much pleasure. At the same time, I struggle to keep away from it, lest I become more addicted to it than I already am. I periodically put it on silent and ask my children to hide it for a few hours.

Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari brutally likens computer games to a drug-addled brain in a conversation with Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, titled “Death Is optional”, for Edge.org. As robots and technology make us humans redundant, we will have no meaning in life, he says cheerily. We will solve our inner problems by clicking on digital gadgets. Many of us do that already, witness the slew of passengers who attack their anxiety by babbling into phones the minute the plane lands. What will happen with an always-on watch? I shudder to think.

As an Apple product user, I have doubts about their latest product for these and other reasons. I would hate to wear a device that vibrates or buzzes with every silly Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter notification. At a time when I am trying to figure out how to detox from digital gadgets, the thought of wearing one is like hugging the enemy. As for Seenu mama, his problem with an Apple Watch is simple: It needs to be charged. “Who wants to carry one more charger while travelling?” he says. “I’d rather carry my Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra (astrology book).”

Shoba Narayan will not be buying an Apple Watch. She will buy a Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard instead. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com.

Dragon Dictate

I have been using Dragon Dictate for some time and I love it. I am in fact speaking to my computer now. If your arms or hands are hurting from the typing, consider buying it.

Talking to a computer is easy, but you must remember to keep calm
Shoba Narayan

May 17, 2014 Updated: May 17, 2014 17:41:00

People who follow my work will know that I have three obsessions. The first is to lose weight without exercising. The second is to slow down my mind without necessarily meditating and the third is to discover fun smartphone and computer apps that will help me with endeavours one and two.

I like to think that I exercise on a continuous basis. I stretch while waiting for the lift and do squats while the milk is boiling. I stand on a wobble board while working on my computer and I wear funky shoes that cause me to sway like a tree.

Stilling the mind is more problematic, because my mind, as the yoga gurus would say, is like a restless monkey. It is on the move all the time, refusing to be corralled. I tried sitting in the lotus position but it didn’t work.

Recently, I have discovered a fantastic tool that really does help focus my mind. It is a dictation tool called Dragon Dictate and all you need to do is speak loudly and clearly for it to transcribe your words into text on the computer screen.

Dragon Dictate has been around for a while now, but I never considered it before because I thought it wouldn’t understand my Indian-American accent. When my own mother had trouble with how I switched from formal American to excited Indian, how could I expect a software program to catch up?

It was Siri who gave me hope. Siri is an inanimate app bundled into Apple’s iPhone and iPad, but she can seem eerily human. Ask her how to achieve world peace, for example, and see what she comes up with.

There are many other programs like Dragon Dictate. Just type “dictation software” into your computer and see what I mean. However, for my needs it was really a choice between the dictation software bundled into my MacBook Air and Dragon.

I began to try dictation mostly because my arms hurt when I typed. I was nervous about getting carpal tunnel syndrome and the only options seemed to be either to hire a secretary, which I couldn’t afford, or to start talking to my computer.

I first tried dictating directly to my laptop, and it was a disaster. The built-in software simply couldn’t understand my accent. The more frustrated I became, the more I yelled, and the worse it typed.

Dragon Dictate, in contrast, served me much better. It understood what I said, and I could train it to type the strange Indian words that I used like “masala” and “desi”. It started, for example, with “DC” for desi but pretty soon it began to understand what I was saying.

The real benefit, however, had nothing to do with dictation and everything to do with meditation. I don’t know if you are one of those people who can think in whole paragraphs. I am not. I stutter and stammer. My speech is liberally peppered with “uhhh” and “mmm” and other incomprehensible phrases. In order to dictate into a device, I have to gather my thoughts and slow them down. I have to think in whole sentences. In fact, I am doing that now as I dictate this essay. It is a mobile app version of breathing in and out.

Like Lumosity, Fit Brains and other mobile-phone apps that attempt to improve concentration in humans, dictation software offers centring benefits that are a happy by-product of the actual task at hand.

To think in sentences involves pausing and rehearsing in your mind the actual words that you want to say. To continue in this manner involves concentration in the face of a blinking device with the prompt “record”.

Do this often enough and you don’t even have to sit in the lotus position and take calming breaths – because you see, there is no point yelling at your dictation software for typing in “phrases” as “freezes”. You have to take a deep breath and get the words out again. The calmer you are, the better it types.

Shoba Narayan is the author of ­Return to India: A Memoir

Brain Training

The pleasure of filing one day and having it up the next! You should click on the link below and read it in Quartz. Looks nicer

MEMORIES…
Forget brain workouts—chanting mantras takes half the time and is more effective

By Shoba Narayan 6 hours ago
Shoba Narayan is a writer in Bangalore. She is the author of “Return to India” and “Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes.” She chants mantras while stuck in traffic.

I read some disquieting news recently. Apparently, science isn’t sure that brain workouts work. This bothers me because it means that I will have to remove or delete the 23 brain improvement apps that I have downloaded on my various i-devices. On my iPhone, I have Lumosity, Fit Brains, N back 2, and Clockwork Brain, among others. I subscribe to newsletters from Sharp Brains, take free trials with Mind360, and read up everything I can on how to preserve and nurture aging brains. For good measure, I am also attempting to learn a new language via Duolingo; and memorize some Sanskrit verses—Sanskrit boosts brainpower, according to the Vedas, or actually my mother. I also take mindfulness meditation courses online (Satya Nadella does online courses too, and hey, if the new CEO of Microsoft can do them, I have no excuse).

//My rendezvous with online brain training began as a quest to improve my memory. I have always been the forgetful sort. I am what Ayurveda calls a Vata body-type. Vatas have a high metabolism, a surfeit of ideas, a restless spirit, thin bodies with bones sticking out, and flighty eyes. Malcolm Gladwell is a classic Vata. I don’t know if he is forgetful but that is a Vata trait too. When your mind is preoccupied with many ideas, you tend to forget that you’ve put your spectacles inside the fridge while pulling out the beer. As a child, my parents rued my forgetfulness. Their solution, however, had nothing to do with brain training games and apps. Brain training games, according to my Dad, were simply repackaging what the Hindu and Buddhist traditions had discovered eons ago. My Hindu parents turned to 5000-year old techniques that would still and calm the mind: meditation. In their view, meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques) would serve me better in terms of improving my memory and calming down my restless disposition. “Why don’t you just meditate for ten minutes everyday?” my Mom often said when I was a teenager. “It will change your life.”

Of course I didn’t. Like all children who rebel against repeated entreaties from parents, I took a lifelong aversion to meditation that still hasn’t changed. It also has to do with disposition. Running works for some; meditating works for others. Some runners say that they are in a Zen state when they are pounding the pavement. All these methods lead to improved physical and mental health. I just haven’t found one that I can stick with.

It was only in my forties that I decided to do something about my forgetfulness. A friend told me to try something called Dual N-Back. N back is a series of tasks that allows cognitive neuroscientists to measure and improve working memory. Dual N-back is a variation suggested by Susanne Jaeggi et al, which introduce two different stimuli—one visual and one auditory—that the participants need to keep track of. Although it sounds complicated, it can be easily learned. There are numerous apps that are based on Dual N-back. My favorite is called IQ Boost. It provides auditory stimulus in the form of numbers and visual stimulus in the form of spaces. The idea is that you remember the number and space that was stated 1 iteration before, then 2, then 3, then 4 and so on. For about three months, I diligently played the game everyday for about 15 minutes: N back 2, then 3, then 4. In my experience, the game worked. It allowed me to retrace my steps; to remember what I had done two minutes before, then three, then four, and so on.
In interviews and podcasts, Joshua Foer, author of the book, Moonwalking with Einstein, talks about how winning the memory championship didn’t help him remember where he puts things. But IQ Boost did help me remember places where I had left spectacles, books, keys and all the other paraphernalia of busy modern life. Giddy with success, I furiously downloaded other apps. Lumosity is the most popular but Fit Brains (with separate focus and memory components) is equally good. I began playing these everyday, going from Clockwork Brain to Lumosity when I got bored and becoming better at certain tasks as I continued playing. For example, I found myself getting good at remembering the location of an increasing number of squares; and becoming quicker at calculating math problems of increasing complexity. But I gradually stopped seeing their connection to the everyday forgetfulness that made me seek them in the first place. I plateaued, in other words.

What the latest studies show is that online brain training lets you become better—at brain games. You swipe the center bird in the direction in which it is flying and you get good at it; even if you want to kill yourself after a dozen iterations. You do the math problems that come packaged in falling droplets and you get good at math. By disassembling brainpower into byte-sized problems, brain training companies have made megabytes worth of money. Neuroscientists aren’t convinced that these games work, however. Sure, there will be a little organic increase in your brain processing power, but no more than if you attend a lecture, learn a new language, or read this publication everyday.

A parallel strand that is gaining momentum in the brain-improvement field has to do with more profound objectives. It involves brain-training but not through games and apps, but through gratitude journals and seeking happiness. Stanford’s 2013 roundtable webcast, held last October and moderated by Katie Couric had five experts discussing happiness. The Atlantic has reported that hundreds of students in Harvard University are studying ancient Chinese techniques. Both these strands have brain improvement as their core goal but their approaches are different. The brain games and app seek to improve working memory, concentration, focus, multi-tasking and all those other skills needed to function better in everyday life. Their goal, in my view, is short-term brain-improvement, even though some of these apps and companies claim that the effects of their brain training sessions are long-term neuroplasticity—which is the term used to signify that the brain isn’t static and unchanging but plastic and changeable.

The other strand, which goes back to the meditation techniques that my parents advocated when I was young, is spiritual in its bent. It aims to change the brain from the inside out—through acceptance, gratitude, and equanimity. UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) offers online classes on adapting ancient techniques to modern life. In India and China, ancient cultures both; this includes movement techniques such as tai chi and yoga; meditation; breathing (called pranayama in India and Qi Gong in China); prayer; and chanting. All these practices are supposed to improve your brain and deliver the benefits of brain-training games and then some.

One fine morning, a couple of years ago, my mother gave me “mantra deeksha” as a sort of birthday present. Deeksha means spiritual initiation. Mantras are Sanskrit phrases that are repeated quietly for a specific million number of times. It is broadly called “Akshara Laksham,” which means “as many lakhs as there are syllables in the mantra.”
“Om” is the simplest and arguably the most profound and powerful mantra, according to Hindu mythology. In one mythic tale, Lord Muruga explained the meaning of ‘Om’ to his father, Lord Shiva. I don’t know the spiritual meaning of Om; and I haven’t even gotten close to it in terms of reading Sanskrit texts or in my mantra practice. “Om Namah Shivaya,” is another mantra. Hinduism, the religion I practice (sometimes devotedly and sometimes in a haphazard way as is typical of Vata people) has countless such mantras. Repeating these mantras on a fairly regular basis will cause profound changes in mind-body physiology and psychology as witness in the Tibetan monks have been studied by mind-body scientists. Zoran Josipovic, director of the Contemplative Science Lab at New York University has been ‘peering’ into the brains of Tibetan monks since 2008 using fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines. A meditation practitioner himself, Dr. Josipovic states that meditation cultivates “attentional” skills. The question for me was the following: what was a better model to use in my life– meditation or brain training? The easy answer is both, because they offer tangential benefits. But that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I needed to make a call; choose a practice.

On the day that my mother gave me “deeksha” or spiritual initiation, she taught me a very specific mantra. In the Hindu practice, you have to learn a mantra from a guru. You can’t just read it off a book and start chanting. Well, you can, but it won’t have the same effect as a customized, individualized mantra given to you by a wise guru who has seen you and your problems in person. I am not supposed to reveal my mantra. I am to merely chant it, sitting if possible in a lotus position.
Huffing and puffing—figuratively speaking, given that mantra practice is all about not huffing and puffing—I forced myself to take a few minutes out each day to chant this mantra. I am sure that mantra-chanting offers many benefits but the one I was tracking was memory improvement. In that area, it worked. My memory improved. When my husband asked where I had kept the income tax statement, I was able to trace my steps, not just for the last minute, but for the last few days and remember that I had heaved the income tax papers along with all the other junk mail and yellow envelopes.

I am at a fork in the road. I have found that I cannot do both brain training exercise and meditation. I simply don’t have the time for ten minutes of mantra chanting and then twenty minutes of brain-training online games. I have to pick one or the other. It is a tough choice because I am inclined towards the apps and the games. They offer the busyness that I crave; that I am used to. Simply sitting in one spot and doing nothing is extremely tough for me. Chanting mantras is a compromise because, at least, it feels like I am doing something; chanting something. There is one side benefit to sitting cross-legged and chanting quietly. It gave me the proverbial sense of peace that meditation is supposed to give. I don’t get that from the brain training apps, but I got after ten minutes of sitting still and chanting mantras silently. Maybe it is a more holistic method of stilling and opening the mind; or maybe I have just decided to stop rebelling against my mother and all the practices that I grew up with. Maybe the “wisdom” I feel is really a sign of maturity; of acceptance. For now, till science verifies the power of brain training apps, I’ve decided to free up some memory on my iPhone and delete every single one of them. I can’t tell you how liberating that is. I almost feel like jumping up and down and screaming—or rather, in my case, sitting down right now, with my feet cross-legged in the lotus position, closing my eyes, and engaging in some quiet mantra chanting.

Follow Shoba on Twitter @ShobaNarayan. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Swiffer, Karcher vacuum, and microfiber slippers

One of my favorite topics– cleaning. I happen to be a connoisseur in this area, I might add. Cleaning gizmos do for me what tools do for men.


Buying cleaning products is a great way to feel virtuous

Every night, after my family is asleep, I go on the computer and indulge in a secret, somewhat shameful activity: I search for the latest cleaning tools, and buy them.
I do this not so much because I love to clean – although I do, occasionally – but simply to know that I can, should the need or desire arise. Cleaning supplies are my insurance policy and fantasy combined.
They also offer me a little bit more.
In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahnemann explores the “halo effect” in which the perception of positive qualities in a thing, or part of a thing, leads to positive perception of related things.
This is exactly what happens with me with my surreptitious accumulation of cleaning supplies. The mere existence of these objects gives me a halo effect – about myself. They make me look and feel as if I were a person who focuses on keeping a clean house, when in fact my home is closer to chaos on the spectrum of tidy to untidy.
Consider what I have in my closet. There are Japanese balls that promise to get your laundry cleaner when you throw them in with the wash. There is a giant Karcher vacuum cleaner that I bought because it promised to clean my floors with just steam and water. I have used it about five times in the five years I have owned it. There’s a whole array of mops that promise to Swiff, spray, “twist and shout”, and dance in circles.
There are wet mops, dry ones, ones that wring themselves out. They offer great therapy after a quarrel. When I get the urge to wring somebody’s neck, I pick up my mop. My favourite is a sleek microfibre one that matches the closet full of yellow microfibre cloths I buy in bulk at Costco. Microfibre, I think, is the greatest thing since soapsuds.
I have Oxo soap-dispensing palm brushes that I leave near every washbasin in my home, hoping to nudge everyone who washes hands to clean the basin with the smart-looking brush. (It works about 50 per cent of the time.)
I have wash cloths, imported from Sweden, that claim to hold 50 times their weight in water. I have laundry detergents of every kind, including one made from cow’s urine.
Other people may have their own pleasures, but for me the cleaning supplies section of Amazon does it every time. To gain composure and self-esteem, all I need to do is smell some sulphates and phosphates.
My latest object of interest is a Slipper Genie: a microfibre cloth attached to slippers: you can simply walk around to get clean floors. I plan to kit out my entire family with these slippers: plaid for my husband, cartoony for my teenage daughter, pink for my 11-year old, and neon yellow for me.
These slippers are cheaper than the i-Robot I coveted a few years ago, and play right into two key features that I look for in cleaning supplies: how to clean without actually cleaning, and how to clean in an environmentally sustainable way?
The i-Robot captivated me because it cleaned without me having to do a thing. The slippers have the same seduction, and they cost $12.99 (Dh48) instead of a few hundred dollars.
Do I actually clean? After a fashion. I pour lemon juice in every toilet at night so that it can do its bleaching work overnight. All I need to do is flush in the morning – and ignore the complaints that the bathroom smells like a lemonade stand.
There are some cleaning jobs I love (anything involving water); and others I hate (folding clothes, brushing lint). Like every connoisseur, I distinguish between tidiness, which I think is overrated, and cleanliness, which floats my boat. Tidiness involves organisation; cleaning involves elbow grease, as I like to say.
I can walk through an untidy room with insouciance. Piles of paper on the floor? They don’t bother me. Dirty clothes lying around? I merely step over them.
But if there’s a stain on my pristine floor, I need to know: Where’s my trusted mop?

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir.

Wobble Board

I love my Thera-band.  I wobble and work.  And I admire how Aishwarya Rai has charted her life.

When the mind begins to wobble, adjust your balance

Feb 18, 2013

Bollywood’s Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, the Indian news media tells us, is training to shed her post-pregnancy weight. Now that her daughter Aaradhya has turned one, Ash, as she is known, is gearing for a comeback.

I have a few recommendations for the Indian film beauty (and it’s not a new diet or exercise regimen; nothing physical, in fact). What I am recommending has to do with the mind: she must work to improve her neural networks to be precise.

In my eternal quest for self-improvement without too much work, I have developed quite an arsenal of tips and tricks that offer maximum weight-loss for the, ahem, weights. The latest addition to my repertoire is the wobble board, and through it, I hope to get washboard abs.

A wobble board is a circular platform with a ball underneath. You stand on it and wobble. Physical therapists use it to improve balance, core strength, stability and proprioception – a Latin word implying the connections between various body parts. Standing on the wobble board, the thinking goes, connects your feet to your brain and helps focus the mind.

Although that particular theory sounds, well, wobbly, it has precedent. Lots of geniuses have relied on movement for inspiration and focus. Apple’s cofounder Steve Jobs famously took a walk to discuss ideas. Mark Twain paced while dictating his stories. Beethoven walked along the Danube River and through the woods for inspiration. Taming the body’s nervous energy can, it seems, focus the mind. Perhaps there is a psychobiological element to creativity; and since mine can use all the help it can get, I decided to try this technique.

I ordered a Thera-Band wobble board, mostly because I like how it looks. It is sleek, black, has a tactile roughness on top and wobbles satisfactorily. It took me 20 minutes to get used to the unsteadiness. After that, it was like standing on a swing, albeit a gently rocking one.

I am standing atop it as I type these words. After two hours of this, I feel the muscles in my ankles, calves and abdomen. After a day, I develop that achy feeling that comes after a workout, only – to my delight – without moving my feet.

Traditional wisdom suggests that you use the mind to improve the body. For example, discipline and perseverance are key mental components to getting fit; you stop yourself from gorging on calorific foods through mental discipline and you force yourself to exercise everyday through sheer perseverance. Wobble boards work the same way.

Studies have shown that certain activities expand neural networks and allow the right and left hemispheres to connect. Even small things, such as moving your eye from left to right and back for about five minutes allow the two hemispheres to connect.

Attempting ambidexterity is another activity that triggers neural networks and helps memory, cognition and creativity. If you are a right-hander, try doing activities with your left hand. Brush your teeth with the less-used hand, for example. And shift your eyes from right to left as you are brushing.

In a lyrical article entitled Not only canaries need sing, UK-based voice coach Angela Caine talks about using a wobble board to help singers. The goal, she says, is to be able to stand still on the wobble board. This means that the body weight is balanced evenly between both legs, and improves the voice. My physical therapist told me that my end-goal was to stand on one leg on my Thera-Band, imitating the “tree-pose” in yoga.

So far, I haven’t come close. I do my own version of the tree pose by swaying from side to side. I wobble like an egg yolk. But I’ll tell you this: I have discovered muscles where I didn’t think they existed. I can’t tell for sure if wobbling has improved my neural networks. My kids still think I am weird. But weird is good. Weird is one short step away from creative. And creative, of course, is what mums, and actresses for that matter, are striving for.

 

Shoba Narayan is wobbling and working on her next book. She is the author of Return to India: a memoir

 

Losing weight without exercise

Want to lose weight without the pain? Try a little instability

Shoba Narayan (Writer)

Mar 3, 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every single human in possession of good fortune still must be in want of a better body. They want to be toned, curvy, thin, voluptuous, have six-pack abs, the list goes on and on. Few are content with their shape and those who are tend to be geriatrics. Mostly, people want to be thin. Even Michelle Obama has got on the bandwagon by calling obesity an American national epidemic.

I want to lose weight too. Except that I want to do it without sweating. To me, there is something counterintuitive about going to a gym to do the kind of thrusting and pushing activities that our hunter-gatherer ancestors abandoned aeons ago. Evolutionarily speaking, there has got to be a better way to lose the flab. After decades of research fuelled by giant bags of Kettle chips, I am happy to report that I have come up with two ways to lose weight without doing a darn thing. I am sitting on one solution and wearing the other.

As I type this, I am balanced on a giant ball the colour of a scalded tomato. It is called an exercise ball but I use it as a chair in front of my computer console. The thing about this exercise-ball-chair is that I am permanently on the verge of falling off. It is constantly rolling and, consequently, my “core” (as those exercise fiends like to call it) is making adjustments. It is somewhat like a belly dancer in slow motion sitting upon a chair on steroids.

I am moving, and typing, and moving, and typing, which you might say explains the prose. After two weeks on this contraption, I can report a few things. One, getting up from a ball is different from getting out of a chair. With a chair, you push back and rise. Try that with a ball and you will fall backwards on the floor. Your kids will pity you and your dog will lick your nose. Far better to rise in a gentle upright fashion, which segues nicely to my next tool.

These days I pad around the house wearing black Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) shoes. No kidding. Google “MBT shoes” and check if you like. I first saw my pair of “Tunisha” MBTs at a store called The Walking Company in Naples, Florida. They stand about twice as high as normal sneakers with an undulating underside. When I first put them on, my husband asked if I was wearing prosthetics. In other words, MBTs aren’t your average stiletto. Walking on them, though, is a breeze. The Swiss founder of MBT wanted to imitate the motion of a Masai tribesman walking barefoot across the soft, uneven earth of the Masai Mara.

It is a seductive idea because the Masai have to be one of the most graceful people on earth; that is ultimately what sold me on these shoes. Have you ever seen a fat Masai? I haven’t. Actually, I haven’t seen a Masai at close quarters at all, come to think of it, but even on TV you never see a fat one. For the last two months, I have been wearing these MBTs non-stop because of what I read on their website. Quoting extensive studies, which I haven’t verified, the company says that the rolling gait that comes from wearing MBT shoes improves posture, solves knee problems, strengthens the spine and tightens the buttocks and thighs. Oh, and it helps you lose weight as you walk. You get my point.

Dieting without the diet. Exercising without the exercise. The company calls it the “anti-shoe”. At about $250 (Dh920) a pair, MBTs are more than double what you’d pay for good running shoes. Other brands also market shoes along the same lines. Reebok recently launched its “Easytone”, similar to MBTs but costing less. Earth Footwear has its “Exerwalk” line that retails for about $99. All of them use a concept called “natural instability”, which usually applies to financial markets.

The physiological explanation suggests that if you walk barefoot on uneven but soft ground, your body will make constant adjustments to this natural instability and use more muscles in the process. In urban areas however, we wear flat shoes on flat concrete ground, negating our body’s ability to contract all those small supportive muscles in response to natural instability. At least, that’s the argument anyway.

So does it work? I think so. Between the ball and the chair, I am feeling pretty toned. Nothing too obviously visible but my jeans don’t cut off my air supply anymore. For someone who doesn’t do a jot of exercise, that’s an improvement, wouldn’t you say? The added benefit is that both the ball and the shoe are the tipping point to exercise, and that in the end is really my secret weapon. Picture this scenario: you are standing, waiting for the elevator and your unstable shoe is making you sway from side to side. How hard can it be to increase that sway to a side stretch? That’s what ends up happening, both while sitting on the ball and while walking around in my MBTs. I stretch during the course of the day, pretty much unconsciously and without much of a production. It is, in a way, exercise nirvana. Or lack thereof.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Monsoon Diary, a memoir about growing up in South India