When I was in college, I felt like my body hated me. Never doing what I asked of it. Never looking the way I wanted it to. And so, I gave it the return treatment. Terrible stuff. I’m talking all-nighters every other night, eating nothing but candy from that godforsaken FUSAB candy bucket, running miles to the brink of collapsing and then not lacing up my shoes again for weeks. The no sleeping thing got so bad that one night a couple of friends pulled an intervention and forced me out of the library (where, let’s be real, I was studying more to be near my crush than for actual productivity purposes.)
But for about three years now my body and I have come to a mutual agreement: I do right by you, you do right by me. And things have basically been rad and groovy ever since. I feed my body what it needs and give it plenty of rest and it responds by, well, being well and doing things like…
Running half marathons
With sisterly support OF COURSE
Fun yoga poses
But only on dangerous precipices.
Ok NOT actually me. But one day...
But to be honest I had a pretty easy go of it. The lifestyle change I mean. New York is just BURSTING with new forms of exercise to try, new healthy foods to sample. I could walk down the street and point out five hot yoga classes and eight different organic markets. One time while back home in Georgia for the weekend, I asked my dad to pick up some chia seeds at the grocery store. When he got back (from the Super Wal-Mart, mind you), he told me the grocery staff had looked at him like he was nuts (“You mean, chia pet?”)
Fast forward to today. Once again, I am in the learning stages of how to do right by my body in this new, game-changer of an environment. And as I write this from my bed, where I am sick for the third, count ’em, third time since my arrival two months ago, I know that I don’t have the whole staying-healthy-in-India thing down quite yet. What I thought would be a breeze (the vegetarian mecca! yoga! lentils!) has turned out to be a much greater battle for wellness.
Don’t get me wrong the food here is delicious and I love that I can guarantee a plethora of vegetarian options at any restaurant. But factors such as air quality, water, and fresh vegetable availability have been really ragging on my health more than I’d anticipated. Staying healthy is possible, but it just takes much more effort than my former pansy, city-self had to exert.
So I thought I would take a post to explain how to do a body good in this beautiful but challenging country (whether or not I’m succeeding is another story entirely).
Probably the hardest thing to deal with is the air quality. My first time in India I lived in the ruralest of the rural areas. Surrounded by nothing but a few villages, the air I breathed was fresh and flawless. Going on jogs through the banana trees, I could suck in huge gulps of close-to-pure oxygen and at night the stars sprinkled the sky by the zillions.
Hyderabad is a horse of a different color. A population surplus + streets overcrowded with motorbikes and autos belching big puffs of exhaust mean that a large gulp of air would probably result in a five minute coughing fit. I would absolutely not be surprised at all if a post-trip exam showed that I had the lungs of a 13-year smoker. For that reason, whenever I travel by auto, this is how I roll:
Try to catch me ridin' dirty
Head covered – check. Mouth covered – check. Nose covered – check. Eyes covered – check. Forehead covered – dangit. Honestly, I get about 75% less stares by traveling like this than when uncovered. So, not-so incognito it is!
Next, nutrition. On this one I’ll accept a hefty helping of responsibility for my failures thus far. The market is so faaaaar (whinewhinewhine) and the only time I can go is at dusk when the “boy’s club” is in full swing (whinewhinewhine) and all eyeballs turn towards me (whinewhinewhine). For this reason, I have been eating more than my fair share of peanut butter … almost to the point of absurdity. (I kid you not, as I typed this my roommate brought me her get-well specialty: toast slathered in nutella and peanut butter. Pshaw. ENABLER!/Ilovemyroommates!) Breakfast is usually an apple and peanut butter or granola and soy milk, and lunch is a peanut butter and honey sandwich. Dinner is … um. Well, a couple of times I’ve made some AMAZING vegetable dal and another time I made a salad with wheat atta and cucumbers. But for the extent that I extol my love for cooking, I’ve sure been a sluggish chef.
But as soon as I regain my strength from this recent bout with Brother Flu, that must change. While dropping a few lbs has been welcomed (dare I say … needed), doing so at the expense of my nutritional well-being is not my ideal way to go. So single-stovetop-be-damned I WILL eat dinner every night and will cram every last vegetable possible into that meal.
That's the ticket
And, finally, exercise. Up until recently, figuring out how to workout has been a puzzle (one of those 1000+ piece kinds). Due to the aforementioned air quality and the general notsogoodideaness of running alone as a female, my cardio of choice has been nixed. Well what about those sweet spinning classes like in NYC?? Yeah, no. Not even the singing-and-dancing-Glee workout like Crunch had? Nope.
But guess what you can do anywhere, anytime, fancy class or no…? Yoga. And so faithfully sits my bedside purple mat:
Cooooome to me.
HOWEVER, lately I’ve been craving more. So I joined a gym, which may be the single best decision I’ve made thus far. Ladies-only and air-conditioned, it is a welcomed change from the muggy man’s-world outdoors. Though a heckuva commute from my school, with an elliptical, a treadmill and a spinning bike to boot, I don’t even mind that it is eversostereotypically called “Pink.”
And now for the icing on the cake. If you’ve made it thus far in this accidentally lengthy post, then hopefully the following will make it feel worth it (probably not).
Last week at school a couple of teachers cornered me as the bell rang for lunch. One of them, my best buddy at school to whom I will dedicate a full post one day, looked me straight in the eye, pointed to her stomach and said, “Can you make it go inside?”
“Can you make it go inside?” (still pointing at her stomach)
“Make what go inside?”
“This! This!” (patting her stomach) “I want it to be inside like yours!” (pats my stomach … yes, she did.)
Suddenly it clicked that Anu wanted me to help her flatten out her stomach. “You maintain yourself so nicely!” she gushed.
What? ME? I was floored and flattered. One thing you should know about Indian women: they are honest. At times to the point of being a bit hurtful (ex: “Miss, you need a facial. Your skin is not looking so nice.”) So the fact that these teachers honest-to-goodness admired my fitness was such a compliment.
And so I did what any girl does when she is truly flattered … ANYTHING THEY ASKED. Which in this case involved teaching them exercises to help “make it go inside.” And that is how I ended up locked in our school’s A/V room. With a group of teachers. On the floor. Doing plank. In their saris.
We went through plank and side plank and then lower ab and oblique crunches, ending it all with a few bicycles crunches. At which point they asked for exercises for legs and butt. So we did wall-sits, lunges, squats, chair calf-raises and leg-lifts. All of them sweating profusely. All of them in 24 feet of fabric. They wanted to know exactly how many I do at exactly what time for exactly how long.
And then the biggest surprise of all. “Do you do yoga?” Anu asked. “Yes! I love yoga!” I said excitedly, thinking boy howdy now I get to learn yoga in India from the professionals!
“Can you teach us?”
And so that is how I ended up locked in our school’s A/V room. With a group of teachers in their saris. Teaching yoga. In India. To Indians.
Oh the irony.
I taught them the first half of Sun Salutation A (no lunges/chaturangas/downward dogs yet) before the bell signaled the end of lunch period. Throughout the rest of the day, 8 more teachers came up to me patting their stomachs and whispering “you can make it go inside?” Word had spread.
And so, folks, thus begins Pragati High School’s new “Health and Wellness” program for teachers. Maybe in the process I can keep myself healthy and well, too. Here’s hopin’ (coughhacksneezeshiver).
Until next time, when I will discuss last weekend’s trip to Hampi. Where I fell in love …