I was a teenager when the Harshad Mehta mega stock market scam happened in India. In fact, it’s debatable whether it was elaborate fraud or a clever exploitation of the loopholes of the market regulator (SEBI) that suddenly found itself thrust into greatness it was wholly unprepared for. 1 I used to actively invest in the markets back then (under the name of my brother—barely eighteen himself—as I was still a minor and not yet eligible to sign legal contracts on my own lest they be null and void in court).

During that time, I used to contribute a column in, as well as edit, The Business Times weekly edition. To do justice to my job, but more out of passion too, I would consume vast amounts of market information via every major financial newspaper, magazine and industry journal. My work demanded that I go through the Reuters data feed on a daily basis. And one name that would pop up every now and then in various publications was Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. He wasn’t a hotshot or a darling of the investors yet. No one called him the Warren Buffet of India in the early 90s. But he was still two things: a, noticeably unhealthy, and b, a genius investor who could cut through the noise and identify investment opportunities that would challenge conventional wisdom. His contrarian approach served him well for the most part. 

All said and done, the self-made billionaire, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is dead. At 62.  He died of a cardiac arrest last week and the doctor said he had diabetes and chronic issues with his kidneys. 

His thought crossed my mind several times the past few days. Earlier too, I once watched his talk and distinctly remember thinking, what was the point of putting your work ahead of your health. For that matter, where’s the wisdom in not making health your top priority? Worse, we know that and yet many of us are guilty as charged. We routinely ditch healthy lifestyle choices in favor of much worse ones. What good are all the millions, billions, and gazillions if you can’t afford a basic quality of life. Of what use is living if life isn’t there.

And that brings me to the focus of this post: health. Your health. Hands down, your fitness is the most important thing in your life.

In my humble opinion, abusing your body or neglecting your health is probably the most non-spiritual action one can perform.

Vedic thought amply promoted the importance of physical fitness. The introduction of hatha yoga and Ayurveda aimed at ensuring good health in the most scientific manner. They took shamanism, religion, incantations and any superstition out of the equation and proclaimed that maintaining good health had everything to do with how we lived our lives in terms of breathing, physical exercise and food. That, while prayers offered to gods could perhaps save us from natural calamities, if we wished to remain healthy, we’d better devote time to our fitness and consume food that was amenable to our physical constitution (prakriti).

Even Patanjali said, before you think about meditation and whatnot, get your house in order. Start with moral and physical discipline (yama, niyama). Learn to breathe in a calm manner (pranayama) and make sure you have a fit and flexible body with supple muscles (asana). Now let’s regulate what sort of food you provide to your soul and body (pratyahara). Done. Good. We can talk about concentration and meditation then. That’s Patanjali in a nutshell. 

Allow me to take a more practical route in today’s writeup. I wouldn’t feel satisfied with just taking a feel-good, philosophical approach. To that effect, here are four principles of good health. I know you have heard them countless times before. Why not once more then? Even if one of my readers is inspired to change their lifestyle after going through this post, I’ll consider it worth my time and effort.

1. Sleep well

Stop justifying the time you devote to things that are nothing but wasting your time in the name of entertainment and start using that for longer and more restful sleep. Binge watching OTT content, web surfing, 95% of WhatsApp groups you may be a member of are not contributing to your wellbeing in any meaningful way. These are nothing but addictions. After dinner, if must you wind down watching TV etc., it’s fine, but if you are yawning away and teary eyed (not because the show is good), turn off the damn thing and go to sleep. Try to get at least 7-8 hours every night. It will skyrocket your sense of wellbeing and overall health.

2. Exercise regularly

At least four days a week, engage in some form of physical exercise with each session of forty five minutes, if not an hour. Exercise is the top most non-negotiable requirement to good health and longevity. Your body will thank you for making it sweat. And you don’t have to sweat like crazy. You can maintain a steady heart rate and make your exercise a joyous affair. If you can then I’d say get a personal trainer. They will push you when needed and help you create accountability. Otherwise, the first thing that gets chopped when we are busy is exercise. Long walks are good, but a more structured routine of exercise is better. Want a better heart, younger skin, better muscle, more energy, better digestion, less depression? Exercise, exercise, exercise.

3. Eat properly

Almost all processed food is unhealthy. Every time you are eating out at a restaurant, no matter how fine it may be, it’s very unlikely to be healthy. If anything tastes extremely good, check again if it’s healthy. Any day, a plant based diet is better than any other kind. But, if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, you will need to enrich your diet with some kind of protein supplement (plant-based or whey isolate). If you have fried your food, forget nutrition, you have turned it into a cholesterol-loaded calorie bomb. Introduce leafy salad into your diet. Anything that is sweet is sugar. Whether that’s mango, dates, cantaloupe or any other fruit at all. Don’t kid yourself thinking that fruit is healthy. If you are not burning calories, the perils from the sugar in fruit far outweigh the benefits. Go for fruits that have a low glycemic index: most berries do. If you are eating veggies make sure there’s some life in them. That is, they are not boiled and cooked to death. 

And finally, for most people I say this, you will feel fitter and survive just as well if you cut down your diet by forty percent. Most people eat and speak way more than necessary. If you had a hearty meal, you ate too much. It doesn’t matter what your genetic composition is, even if your ancestors lived to the ripe age of a thousand years, if you neglect exercise and eating well, you will find yourself with one or more of these three: heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes. Liver, kidney and other ailments may come as a bonus too. 

You can eat whatever you like, as long as you know that there’s always a price to pay. If you are willing to bear the consequences, fine then, eat like there’s no tomorrow. Strike that. Please if you are one of the 95% of people I meet, reduce the amount of food you eat. And whatever you eat, make sure it’s healthy.

4. Get checked

I believe that everyone over the age of forty should get themselves examined every six months. At least annually if you are between 25 and 40. Get your bloodwork done. Get checked for cholesterol, thyroid, vitamin D, B12, calcium, iron, sugar, and every other important parameter. Once a year, let a doctor check your heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, abdomen and anything else they wish to. Make use of the amazing technologies we have available today. By getting tested on a regular basis, you will know where you stand and it will give you the direction and motivation to make changes in your life.

All lifestyle diseases can be avoided if not eradicated altogether by sticking to these four points religiously. Unless someone has already progressed to an advanced level of irreversible damage, you can avoid nearly all cardiovascular, kidney and liver diseases with exercise and eating the right kind of food.

And I am sorry to tell you but if you are overweight, you really need to shed those pounds. Those around you may or may not have told you so but there is no excuse for being overweight. Those who care about you may be afraid to say that you are fat because it might hurt you. No one wants to hear they are fat. But, being overweight is the most visible sign that your lifestyle needs correction. Whether you have the small paunch of a koala or the belly of a panda, please do not ignore it if you are above your ideal weight. It will come back to haunt you. Other than lifestyle diseases, it will be the reason for weaker bones and joints, muscular atrophy, lack of energy, virility (or fertility), back pain, knee pain and every other possible pain you can imagine. If you are overweight, the chief reason is that you are not eating right. Your food choices don’t have the right nutrition and you are eating more than you should. If you really love yourself, please stop it. At least, give yourself the gift of tremendous joy that comes from living in a fit and healthy body.

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered, “Man! Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The greatest expression of self-love is how you treat yourself. And treating yourself with love, with care is not possible by neglecting your physical well-being. How you wish to lead your life from here on is your prerogative. I can only suggest that you look after yourself. It will mean a lot to me as it would to everyone who cares about you. Live mindfully, live like you mean to.

Peace.
Swami

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