7 ways to sneak more exercise into your day

With the world growing smaller by the day and phone calls to Hong Kong at 3 am becoming a routine, the one thing that affects all of us is the utter lack of time. We all wish we had that extra 25th hour. With traffic being nothing less than a nightmare these days, one does not have the time to sit down, relax, get enough sleep or read a page of that book one has been trying to read for the past two months, let alone exercise!

As a child, sports never interested me. Lack of interest is an understatement,for I dreaded the PE class. I did not make any team and for the most part of my childhood, spent my days cooped up at home(much to the disappointment of my parents who had shopped a whole day to find the right bicycle for me). As I grew older, running, adventure sports and biking caught my attention. But life got in the way and I had no time to do any of this on a daily basis.

I have,however, learned a few tricks to get a minimal amount of exercise on a daily basis. Planning your day in advance, being well prepared and making fitness a priority can go a long way.

  1. We all have 15 minutes a day: Sometimes, even a 15 minute workout can help you stay in shape. Choose a time that works for you (you have to figure out what time works best for you), when you can workout without any interruptions and when your energy levels are fairly high. It can even be in the middle of the day. Hit the gym after or before lunch for just 15 minutes and utilize the entire 15 minutes on a treadmill or a high intensity elliptical bike. Or simply put on your running shoes and run a tad faster than your normal pace around the block. Run up the stairs once you are done with the workout and get back to work. You will be surprised how refreshing it feels.
  2. Plan for the day: On many days, when I am uncertain about meetings at work or the tasks that I would have to compete for the day, I plan for a workout anyway. I always keep a pair of running shoes in my office/college so that I can quickly change into them when I have to.  You simple need to remember to buy a couple of protein bars when you are at the store the next time so that you have them handy in your bag for after a run.
  3. Be creative with time-management: One thing that I have learned over the years is that we all waste a lot of time which can be used creatively. Spending 20 minutes on Facebook while in bed can be done while on a gym bicycle too! You can do push-ups while you wait for the veggies in the pot to cook or do side twists in the car and calf rises at your desk.
  4. Keep track of your physical activity: You don’t always need a FitBit to keep track of the number of steps you walk. A little self-awareness will do the job. For instance, you can take a longer route to your desk on your way to the cafeteria. You can choose to walk with your colleague while you discuss the day’s work. Or you can just make up your mind to never ever use the elevator in your life to go up two flights of stairs!
  5. Bike/walk/run to work: Sure, you would come into the office sweating the first week but trust me, you can get used to it. One can try to bike/run/walk to work atleast on a few fixed days a week, if not everyday.
  6. Rest one day in a week: Resting on a weekday can help you get more work done on that day which leaves some extra time the next day to exercise. If you can squeeze in some extra workout on a weekend, you can rest on Monday and work more or get other chores done, saving you some time on Tuesday. Besides, rest is good for the body!
  7. Always be prepared: Some people exercise listening to music, others listen to audio books. Know what works for you because a lot of us quit exercising when it gets boring. You can even listen to the minutes of a meeting or catch up with the friend you have been meaning to call.

Try the above and say hello to a brand new day filled with infinite possibilities!

A click on social media

When Wael Ghonim founded a Facebook page in honor of a young Egyptian who was tortured to death by the police, he had no idea that he was about to cause a revolution.  The uprising he sparked gave him the confidence to anonymously collaborate with activists, outsource ideas from the common people and organize peaceful protests against the then Egyptian Government. All of this, through a social media page, which he had no idea would change his life. Social media can be a monumental tool, but at what price? Today, in his fascinating and a little chilling Ted Talk, Wael describes how social media is shaping our lives, our decisions, our emotions and even, our freedom. “To liberate society” he says, and I quote, “people say we need the internet. But I think to liberate society, we need to liberate the internet.”

Today, the internet is held hostage in a nasty and noisy media landscape which is ruthless, and takes pleasure in humiliation.’Followers’ are gained by rumor mongering. These followers feed on gossip, which, worst of all is permanently accessible. The easiest way to get a million views on your post is to throw out sentences brimming with anger and through exchange of heated words . Accusations hurled across this media landscape may even be baseless, but people strongly stand behind it due to their emotional appeal. This leads to more comments and posts as thousands others hop on the bandwagon, jumping to conclusions.  We increasingly see this trend as shallow comments have replaced deep conversations, discussions have turned into angry mobs and polarization of societies. Rumors and selling of privacy have made people’s lives a living hell.

Invasion of privacy, cruel jokes and public humiliation haven’t spared anyone from a commoner like the smart, 18-year-old young man Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death from the Washington bridge after an intimate video of him went viral, to celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, whose icloud account was hacked to publicize her nude,private photos . Monica Lewinsky, in her breathtakingly personal and courageous talk reveals how she almost lost her life to shame, only because the digital media wouldn’t show her any empathy. Shaming, as a blood sport needs to stop, she says as she describes how such stories gain momentum and a huge fan-following, simply because people are naturally attracted to juicy stories and angry, emotion-filled condemnations. We, as a society have become numb to the feelings of the actual people behind this line of fire. We can’t let the internet become a one-stop shop for such stories and cyber-bullying, simply because we have the ability and freedom to do so. Even though we may not realize it, we ARE indeed the social media. We are not passive entities of the society anymore. Every click we make, every page we visit, every ‘Like’ we do is shaping the social media today.

Websites and other forms of media are making money out of these stories, because this is what gets traffic to their sites and makes gripping TV. The internet has also been blatantly misused to sell illicit drugs, through websites that are a string of meaningless numbers and characters. Personal and sensitive information is clinched from people without their knowledge as we are entering a phase where secrets aren’t secrets anymore. Recently, there was news about a famous retail chain being able to tell that a woman was pregnant before she even told her parents about it and could recommend buying options to her based on the vitamins she bought. The mysterious God sitting in the internet can now infer our desires before we even have them and buy products for us before we even need them.

However, we have known social media to be a channel to connect people, reunite lost relatives and to save lives. It has caused a lot of positive change in homes, cities and countries. Social media is shaping our landscape, our culture and our lifestyle and we can put it to best use by tackling problems in diversity, eliminating bias across the board and helping people recreate and restructure our world. An initiative taken by peoplemaps.org shows how we can create a map of San Francisco based on how people with different interests are dispersed across the city. While Hip Hop took to the far South corner, ‘Twitter users’ represent the North. Well, atleast now we know Twitter isn’t into Hip Hop!

Can we actually liberate the internet? Can we free it from the tyranny of unsympathetic and foolish social media? Instead of blindly hooking on to rumors and angry abuses fired at people, we can help gain better access to facts and deeper discussions. Before posting hateful posts on Facebook and rejoicing at the sight of 10,000 similar opinion-based comments, we can think about who the post is actually impacting and if it is reaching the right audience. We can show users how visiting a page or hitting the ‘Like’ button could impact her and how her information can be gleaned through this. We need to realize the massive impact of a single click and stop adding to the traffic and ratings of websites that thrive on public humiliation and gossip. We can help free the internet, lest the tool we built for the very purpose of enhancing our freedom enslave us and encroach upon our lives. Let us try to make the the world with the internet a better place, better than the one described in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

 

 

 

The Evergreen State Jaunt

Late one Saturday afternoon, I found myself scampering up a narrow path up a lush green forest, following the  murmur of a stream in downstate Washington. The weekend getaway to Seattle was indeed turning into an exploration of the evergreen state with all her mountains and lakes proudly up for display.

Mt Teneriffe trailhead was on top of our list that morning as we trained our eyes on catching glimpses of the Snoqualmie region. After  a hike up to the waterfall, we decided to drive down the winding roads along the valleys dotted with innumerable blue lakes, in search of one in particular- the Rachel Lake. The best on the ‘Thrill-List” outside Seattle couldn’t be missed.

The lake as it turned out was a solitary one. As we parked by the shoulder of the road and headed down to the beach, the only humans in sight were already in the middle of the lake, in their fishing boat. What’s better than experiencing the pleasure of discovering a lake that stretches as far as the naked eye can see, only to find that you have it all to yourself? Well I did feel like Captain Cook when he just landed on the shores of Hawaii. No maddening crowds, no tourists, no annoying ‘Do Not Pass Beyond this Point’ signs..Was this Rachel Lake? I guess we would never know. But we hardly cared.

A long drive back the same scenic route took us back to the hustle and bustle of a city now alive with the sounds of nightlife as we watched miniature cars and trucks from 500 ft above the ground. The observation deck on the Space Needle, the most iconic structure in downtown Seattle was brimming with people that night as we hitched our bandwagon to the line of enthusiastic tourists who faithfully read the displayed history of the tower as they waited in the queue. The black waters of the bay to the north reflected the shimmering lights of the city with its brilliantly lit skyscrapers. A giant wheel rotated constantly and a silver cruise made its way slowly across the channel. We crowded on the deck with the cool summer sir in or hair to get the mandatory picture clicked by the camera overhead like the thousands of others before us that day.

After the simply-can’t-miss visit to the space needle, and the Airbnb guest cat’s visit to our home, we hit the sack.

The next day, I found myself standing on a balcony in the world’s largest building by volume- the Boeing factory, staring awe-struck at the world’s longest Boeing 747 plane. The tour guide rendered his clearly overused speech about the host of machines that manufactured the nose, the tail and the wings pointing to the assembly of tools and workers that moved at the rate of 2 inches/hr, moving from one gigantic part to the other, servicing them as they went. It was truly a monumental feat, it seemed, for a tiny human to control the giant beast that stood before us from one end of its 250 ft long body.

Later that day, the urge to drive up to a place not frequented by tourists got the better of us as we headed North towards Snohomish County’s Crystal Lake. The highway turned into a 12 ft wide road as we drove at 50mph. We drove, already planning our next trip, talking about work, memories of school and so much more. Google maps remained our reassuring companion. And then, it threw a huge curve-ball at us. It went dead. The road turned into a dirt path it was 7 pm and we could only see faint glows through the dense forest all around. We suddenly realized that we hadn’t spotted a single car in miles.

As we drove along the narrow road, always on the lookout for cars racing toward us from the other side, the forest got denser, and darker.There was just that one road (or highway as it was called) to Crystal Lake and GPS showed that it abruptly ended in the middle of the forest.  Our gas tank was still half full and I was thankful for that, if not anything else! A car passed us by, the sliding door wide open.

2 girls driving through the path that weaved through the black forest in the dead of the night didn’t seem like a wise decision. We turned around and headed back. Instinct told us to stop by the side of the road again to walk up to the river to make up for the lost Crystal Lake. Walking on the side of the highway which had no shoulder – check! Drivers were taken aback as they suddenly spotted us walking by at the road-bend. They even violated the lane rule to keep a safe 15 ft distance from us 😀

A quiet dinner at the Mediterranean fast food joint, served by an angry little man ended a perfect day filled with surprises, awe, unease and mirth. This experience definitely merits another trip to Washington state, a trip that is isn’t tied down by a pre-planned itinerary,  a trip that leads to whatever place that strikes our fancy, a trip to “sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails and Explore, Discover,Dream”, in the words of H.Jackson Brown.

 

 

 

Relief

I chased the little stray pup as he ran up the stairs. We reached the open rooftop and I called out to him, trying to coax him to play with me.  When I saw where he was headed, I ran faster. Without thinking twice, the week-old pup jumped off the 25 ft high roof. My ten-year-old heart was shattered as I ran downstairs crying, explaining that I only wanted to play with him. My father gently laid the motionless little creature on the grass and tricked some milk into his mouth. Minutes later, he slowly lifted his head, blinked, stood up and trotted over to his brothers.

A spectacular thrill ride across the graphic jungle

 

Childhood memories come flooding back – memories of a little boy running across the forest floor with a black panther in tow –  as I sit in the dark theater and anticipate the start of the movie that extolled the timeless masterpiece of Rudyard Kipling’s genius. Despite the fact that so much of it is computer generated imagery, ‘The Jungle Book’ never once fails to enchant the viewer through its 3D wonder, capturing the minuscule details of the South Indian Jungle, the superbly crafted landscapes making you drop your jaw in awe. You are glued to the screen from the moment you see Mowgli running along the lengths of  towering tree branches, playfully chased by his adopted wolf-family. As the plot unrolls, the beauty of its simplicity was striking  as the defamed ( and his face, obviously mangled) tiger wishes to prevail as the ultimate King of the animal kingdom and is threatened by the ‘Man Cub’ in their midst. Be prepared to grip those armrests tighter as the movie bears you along a tide of amazement and nail-biting action , transporting you along the vast expanses of the Western Ghats (with their thundering waterfalls, roaring rivers and majestic mountains in all their glory), climaxing in an action packed battle over the blazing fire brought about by the man who encroached upon their previously peaceful kingdom.

 

The initial spell of a realistic jungle is somewhat broken when Bhageera (the black panther) utters his first words to rebuke Mowgli on not being able to keep up with his wolf-brothers. As an argument ensues about the boy not being able to tell a dead tree from a living one, the viewer finds herself  more at ease to see that Mowgli does have friends who have educated him on the ways of the jungle, who have protected him and taken him in as one of their own. The breathtaking scenery (albeit being a little too much in place and perfect) is indeed a constant distraction as you become one with the jungle world, where animals have their laws, feuds break out and truces are called. The heartbreaks of leaving home, a mother’s words of undying love (in this case, his wolf-mother’s) and the cries of his little brother Grey are very much as real as those experienced in the human kingdom. As Mowgli begins the inevitable journey out of the jungle to join his own kind in order to appease Sher Khan, the jungle once again shows us the hurdles that one must overcome. Unheralded rains and landslides, followed by what can only be described as a horrifying stampede of wild buffaloes puts Mowgli’s life at risk yet again as the grandiose mountains calmly stand around them. But he triumphs to meet with a few other furry friends along the way- this time a sluggish, slightly conniving, yet good-hearted brown bear – Baloo. Songs and river dances follow, as picture perfect canopied forest stands above, harboring multi colored flowering plants pleasing the viewer’s eye. After stumbling upon a few more distractions in the forms of a despot Orangutan and a hypnotizing snake, Mowgli manages to reach the human establishment.

 

But as all happy endings go, the man does need to return home to his  real family, despite the lure of the village that can give him the power of the red flower- the fire that destroys all. Mowgli returns to the jungle, but accidentally sets fire to a part of it. Renewed with a new sense of hope after the self-realization that his place is in the jungle, he faces Sher Khan in the ultimate test of his ability to be a Jungle child. His ingenuity and mastery of tools, which was once a threat to the age-old laws that ruled the Jungle are now put to use to douse the raging fire and restore trust in him. The animals come to realize that the man possesses his own unique skills and it would only be fit to accept him as a man.

 

The movie hit a big win in the way it encapsulated the primal emotions that all creatures that walked the earth have always possessed. The political ideology of this film finds its roots in the fact that man has always tried to disrupt the balance which existed within the untrammeled societies of the earth, appointing himself as its ruler. But it goes on to convey the message that it is however possible for man and animal to coexist without giving up on celebrating their uniqueness, without man subjugating other creatures. The straightforward and simple paradigms used in the movie takes you back to the time when all you needed to survive on the planet was food, shelter, protection and family. Kipling’s book speaks volumes about these ideas and the movie brings them to life, only more  picturesque and vivid than the ones we safely stored in the depths of our memories.

 

 

 

Honolulu: The Last Chapter

I had dreamed of that place several times. The picture was imprinted in my head and now it stood before me and as though I woke up from the reverie and behold! A small open straw-hut, supported by 4 logs of wood stood alone down a stony path. On either side was the vast expanse of turquoise water, that caught the sun’s rays and seemed to reflect a brighter glow. Above the lilting water was another vast expanse of blue with a slightly different shade. I gazed with wonder at the faint horizon that seemed to overlap the two planes. The silent glass like surface, except for an occasional  wave or two stood still and there and then, so did time.
Suddenly, I heard a high pitched scream. It was a child. I look around in alarm only to find a little girl in her bright green swimsuit emerge from the water, beaming at her mother who sat on the beach and gave a casual glance at the girl.
The sun beamed upon the 2 mile long coast , casting giant shadows of the 15-storey hotels that stood to the east. Shades of red, green, pink and yellow dotted the white sand, forming a chaotic backdrop against the uncaring, unending blue expanse. The sound of the surf formed a background chatter to the shrill shrieks of children and the periodic “thomp” heard when little boys plunged into the water from the boardwalk. Surfers chased the waves a few yards from the shore, men and women lay on the beach, oblivious to all hustle and bustle around them. Waikiki beach attracts over 4 million tourists every year, making it one of the most famous beaches in the world.
Later that day criss-crossing the multi-faceted coral reefs , eager to catch sight of any passing turtle that might dare to reveal himself and pointing excitedly to each other when an occasional giant fish (and on one occasion , a fish that actually contained a rainbow in itself- for it refracted all the colours of light) swam by casually, we rendered ourselves somewhat troublesome to the inhabitants at the snorkeling grounds of Hanauma Bay.
By evening, we were driving into the mountains in the light rain. As we got closer and closer to the hill, we saw tiny dots of white, red and blue inching up the path, and from the distance, the dots looked like an army of tiny ants making their way up patiently, gathering and storing food. We were excited about this hike. The view from the top was supposed to one of the best in the region. We planned to descend a little after watching the sun set.
It was a giant monolith hill contained what was once part of a tramway installed to transport army personnel and supplies to the top.The hike is a straight slog up a 1,208-foot-high volcanic tuff cone, which is light and porous rock created by volcanic explosions. The 1,048 steps are actually old wooden tramway ties that hikers use to scale the mountain, although many are uneven and slippery.Due to the increasing numbers of rescues on the Koko Crater Stairs, the path is now called “Stairmaster from Hell” .
We knew nothing of this when we got to the foot of the hill. When we saw that the path was actually a railroad track, we looked at each other in mild surprise. A railroad going up all the way to the top ? We assumed it would be an easy ascent and bounded up the ‘starirway’ stepping on the ties. As we got higher the stairs grew steeper and taller. Looking back we could see the ocean surrounded by deep green mountains on one side, a small valley between them nestling a town. About a third of our way up, the track ahead looked almost vertical now and so narrow in some parts that a person ascending would have to step off the tracks onto the bushes to let the person descending pass by. One can find people of all ages on this hike . Men and women carried their toddlers in their baby slings, 60 yr olds determinedly walked up, panting; A man even climbed carrying a dog in his backpack  ! We stopped along our tracks to pet the dog and take pictures of him. When we looked down, we not only marvelled at the panoramic view of the grey ocean and the city lighting up to the dusk but also at the path we came up -a steep 3 feet monster of a railroad at almost 60 degrees inclination.
We trod up the hill, carefully stepping on the ties, wary of the slippery wood,  but thrilled nevertheless. Suddenly the ground beneath the ties vanished.The mid section of the hike , almost 200 ft of it bridges a ravine! All that stood between the part of the hill we already came up and the rest of the hill in front of us was the railroad. The open gap below was 50 ft deep. People gasped and slowly stepped on the ties now at an angle of over 50 degrees. A single slip would have you plummeting down the ravine. With nothing to hold on to with my hands, the thought of crossing the bridge made me shudder and the exhilaration gave way to gnawing fear.  Both below and above me stood the now daunting steep railroad tapering to a thin line at the summit.
I gaped open mouthed as one man ran down this part of the railroad, his footsteps perfectly in sync with the ties. A boy not more than 4 years old held his father’s hand and gingerly stepped on the ties, one of a time, stopping every 4 or 5 steps to catch his breath. It struck me how a child knows no fear, as he is too young to imagine and conjure the possibilities and consequences in his mind of what might result from a slip.  As the man with the dog approached this section of the trail, the dog looked around, blissfully unaware of the ravine, probably just a little surprised at his sudden unpopularity as people walked past ignoring him, with fear on their faces. At this part of the hike, looking up and down were both scary. I had nowhere to go but up, as heading down without seeing the view and the sunset was not an option for us.
We took a deviation and headed up the bushy trail and merged back on the railroad for the last leg of the hike. When we finally reached  the top, as philosopher Joseph Campbell said “when we are transfixed by beauty we are held in a kind of ecstatic arrest”, we were truly transfixed by one of those views very few people get to see very few times in their lives. I had never seen an ocean from so high up. The white surf produced by the deep blue waters washed on the shores, the very shores enveloped by towering green mountains on all sides. And there, we stood until the sun set, stealing us of the breathtaking view below. Night well when we descended and as we neared our car, we were met by an astonishingly large gathering of cats at a clearing. Atleast 30 pairs of fiery golden eyes followed us as we drove back to the apartment.
The city lights glowed like embers in the black night as I looked down from the window of our room, letting the cool breeze float gracefully past my face. Waikiki was alive that night with the cheerfully loud and vivid Thanksgiving parades. Scores of school children dressed in their best uniforms proudly showcased their newly acquired talents of trumpeting, bag-piping or on many occasions, simply siting atop a car waving at the crowd. From up above, I could see the shimmering lights of the station wagons, and hear the blaring horns playing victorious tunes, as if to commensurate with all the splendid things this island had to offer.