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The Dining Table Syndrome

May 15, 2019

My primary school from Pre-kg to Standard 5 was with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mylapore. Later this school closed and Rajaji Vidyashram, the branch school in Kilpauk opened. The Mylapore school became a full time concert hall for performing arts.

Even when I was attending school in BVB, there used to be film shoots, Carnatic music vocal and instrumental kutcheris, functions etc  in our auditorium. We were regularly screened animated/wildlife films with projector, on the wall of the auditorium, once a few months. That is how I got to watch King Elephant! My elephant fascination began thus in my primary school! Have memories of watching Rajni Kanth and Sri Priya filmy dance shoot on our stage. Attended once a function in our school when MGR was our chief minister. My mother and I were in the audience. She was fascinated to see her hero and CM of the state in flesh and blood. As I was a kid, i was given a small doll as gift by the reception committee that welcomed all guests.

BVB was an all-round school. Even if the school does not function in Mylapore any more, there are still music classes conducted for classical Carnatic instruments like Veena and Mridangam, spoken Sanskrit, etc.

We had a Yoga master in our school who i guess was a resident teacher. He taught us Yoga upto class 5. Without knowing its significance therefore, I learned a lot of Yoga in very young age. Girls mostly don’t get to play cricket. I never had any sporting interest either. However we walked a lot those days. Walking to beach, temples, everywhere. Walking 10 km a day easily was not strange.

Life got busier shortly and I lost touch with fitness totally. It was only after crossing 40, I could catch breath again and have time for myself. My ‘Me’ time started too very late in life. When I really needed a good facial, pedicure, nice clothes and exercise, I did not get it! Life is like that! After 40, when you don’t need it, you have time for all these extras.

Until 40, every once in a while I still tried to do at least the Padmasana at home. My knees and calf muscles and thigh bones were still flexible. I used to think, I needed no more exercise. My body was perfect. In daily errands, unknowingly we work out so much. Even chopping vegetables is a work-out for your fingers. I climbed stairs a dozen times everyday. All this, I convinced myself that, somehow substituted for physical exercise. So I gave the gym and Yoga classes a deliberate miss. It is also true that I had no time till then for extra curricular activities. Life consumed me full and total.

All this Zumba, Yoga and friends and friends reunion are happenings in last 7 years only! Unbelievable, nothing was there before that!

One day some years back when I tried Padmasana, i found that I had lost it, i could no more do it. Exactly when this happened, I was not sure. My bones and muscles had become stiffer and the joint fluidity also had disappeared. I still cannot get Padmanasana 100% (after resuming mild yoga that is) and my right leg would not even let me get a perfect Vajrasana. Then I knew, I had crossed into a threshold, where some parts – bones and muscles and joints – in my body, even if not all, had become permanently stiffer almost. To loosen them would be a Herculean task. I also knew, it was time i started exercising.

One of the good habits i still had was, sitting cross-legged on the floor for Puja – one hour a day (at least 10 minutes in half Padmasana pose). I didn’t know then what a life saver it would be! Many of my friends still sit on floor and eat with hands. Some watch tv from floor. Never on sofa. A couple of my friends prefer sleeping on mat on floor as well! Until my marriage, although we had a dining table at home, I never ate at a table. In my house, we always sat on the floor at eat lunch or dinner or whatever. We slept on straw mat on floor even if we had cots and beds. We watched tv sitting on floor. Back in my in-laws home, I gathered, they looked down on you if you sat on floor to eat or watch tv.  Sleeping on floor was unthinkable!They thought we were uncultured and they were actually elite because they ate at the dining table and watched tv from the couch! Don’t even ask about sleeping on floor! Unknowingly, I was fit in every way for the first 24 years of my life because I grew up leading a very simple life. Comforts were there but i always thought of comforts like sofas and chairs as nuisance!

When I rejoined Yoga in my 40s, my Yoga master said, a few of my muscles had of course stiffened forever almost and loosening them might be tough. If I worked out 7 days a week, there was a possibility. Not any gym work-out but Yoga that makes your body flexible. He was still surprised to notice that I was comfortable with some Yoga stretches that others could not manage! Human body is a bundle of confusions and contradictions!

There was also a Bharat Natyam class going on for little girls in the same fitness studio where I started my Yoga sessions. Watching a few classes, I discovered to my shock that most girls under 10 could not sit on the floor, could not get up from floor, could not bend down to touch their toes with their knees straight … that my Yoga master called this condition ‘the dining table syndrome.’ He appreciated me that in spite of a little muscle stiffness that came with age, I was comfortable sitting on floor and raising without help. I can sit on the floor for 2 -3 hours even without shifting. I never knew this was a gift. Mainly because, I used to attend the fortnightly Pradoshams in my street Shiva temple. The ritual would last easily 2 hours minimum. Plus I frequented temples where all I had to sit out for darshan for hours. I realized there was benefit in waiting!

The parents of the little girls and the dance teacher worked at primarily making the girls comfortable sitting on floor and raising from floor. These were starting stages. Parents have awareness now mercifully which is good. They understand, how important India’s traditional classical dance forms are for little girls and grown up women. Excellent fitness form like none other. Now therefore there is an increased enrollment for Bharat Natyam in the city as parents not only look at Bharat Natyam as dance/art class for their daughters but also as a much-needed fitness routine. Over years, the dance practice becomes the best cardio you can ever dream of.

In last few years, i see fitness studio in every street in Chennai offering Zumba, Yoga, Aerobics, Pilates, Belly Dancing and other fitness exercises. Recently during my visit to the heart of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, I noticed, fitness studios in every town I passed by. It is a big, big awareness. India offers the best range of fitness exercises and at cheapest rates. Even foreign tourists tap it as and wherever possible during their travel in India.

So i started taking my fitness seriously very late in life. Even now I am not a wholly fit person. I have my health woes. Naturally in my age, everyone will have some complaint or other. There is never the perfectly 100% healthy. I do as much walking as possible to compensate for lack of Zumba and/or Yoga if I am not attending zumba. I had an excellent Zumba instructor in Doha for 2 years who went back to the Philippines. Really miss his tough work-outs!

I didn’t know my physical strength until my son drove us parents to Disney Land in Orlando 2 years back and made us walk from 8 am to midnight the entire theme park. We covered all the 4 studios within the park and I couldn’t believe I didn’t tire! I was on foot for nearly 20 hours.  We had had walked over tens of thousands of steps!!! Humanly impossible well! My hubby used to play cricket until a few years back. Against my advice, he was playing cricket in Doha as well (just to show off). Then one day after a match he was moaning at home, but keeping quiet as soon as I entered the room. He was obviously hiding an injury! Too proud to admit he’s getting old. After a good showdown by me, he retired (hurt) from cricket finally. Old man was also making his team lose hahaha ! Anyway, cricket he says, has helped him in maintaining stamina.

We both realized, our stamina in Orlando was because of our regular walking. Every single day in Florida, we walked for an hour minimum in their state parks, etc. Our entire US trip became one marathon walking session!

But even before America, we guys surprised ourselves during our Europe tour. On this one for a continuous 12 days, we rose by 5 am and went to bed by 11 pm but never tired. Of course  the weather helped. And we walked and walked and walked….

My climb, down the Athirapally falls in Kerala with my school friends, was also kind of a fitness test. Walked down steep slopes and mountain steps that were high and acute angled, to the lowest levels of the falls. The climb up took one hour! We girls were 49 then and we wanted to give ourselves a trophy!

My fitness was latest put to test in Bali where we went white water rafting. It required us to walk through paddy fields for 3 km, then climb down steep, uneven mountain and very high and acute angled steps carved out of the hills – some 1300 of them, with our rafting equipment and life jacket. Either sides were deep valleys. Not so deep, still.. The surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful and greenish. We were in the midst of the wilds and nature! Our rafting companions were 3 Malaysian chinese girls studying nursing in Australia. Our guide walked in the forefront. After going down to the raft, we asked the girls how much behind we were. The girls who called themselves our daughters, said we were only 5 minutes late! Yayyyy! They couldn’t believe I was 50 and my hubby 53 and that we wanted to do river rafting! We paddled the life boat together for the next 2.5 hours. We jumped over 30 rapids of level 2 or 3 I am not sure. One or 2 rapids were really serious jumps! Finally the climb back to the top was another 1000 steps. This took another hour. The climb down had taken 1.5 hours nearly. When we finished our rafting, both the guide and the young girls were highly appreciative of our will power and stamina. They could not believe I was a vegetarian from birth! I rowed far better than the young girls! After rafting, we did not retire to our hotel. We went sight seeing again to Tanah Lot where we had more walking to do, and we returned to hotel for dinner only by 10 pm!

It really felt good, we could keep pace with young girls of age 20-21 who were even younger than our son. Both I and hubby also laughed we may not be needing Treadmill test, because we had been on a far rigorous cardio machine designed by nature. We were comfortable after 5 hours of hard manual labour that included steep mountain climbing (sort of) and rowing.

I just now returned from Kumbakonam-Mayavaram temple tour this April. Its already summer in India and I was warned by friends and relatives that it would be foolish to expose myself in such a heatwave. My companions were 4 of my Athirappalli friends – my school buddies – with whom I had climbed up and down to the waterfall base. We all had our health issues. Not a single one is 100% healthy. But we made it in sheer heat of 38 to 40 c for a continuous 5 days, on barefoot, in direct sunlight, walking for hours and catching up hardly a couple of hours sleep at night. We made it, that is it. In our golden jubilee year. More than the spiritual aspect, all 5 of us were amazed at our own fitness this time. The only side effect was severe sun-tan that will not go away for at least 3 months! It happened with me in US, Europe and Bali. Rather than tanning, I think of it as precious Vitamin D dose. Moreover, I am the last person on earth to worry about my skin colour. I refused to go for detan as suggested by some. Already quite a few girls have commented that i have a severe tan.

Within 10 days of return from Kumbakonam-Mayavaram, I was off to Kerala. The second day there was spent driven through forests and tea estates for over 12 hours  in summer heat again. I was about to tell my friend to call it off because the day after I had an international flight to catch, but I stopped myself. I wanted to take this surprise test. I passed out in flying colours, I must say! I couldn’t believe my body could stand so much and it made me happy!

Sometimes we humans best ourselves. We outdo ourselves. We have no idea what our physical body can endure. We just have to stretch ourselves to do howmuchever we can take. We have to step out of our comfort zone. My friends who used to mock at me for trying belly dance are now seeing the positive side of fitness. I  have been only for a few sessions of belly dance, but those who do it with me include uncles like my hubby – men in their 40s and 50s. Chennai is truly cosmopolitan! Our men may be walking in dhoti, but our men also don’t feel squeamish about bellydancing with aunties for fitness!

My best compliment came when I went for an Ayurvedic massage in Kerala. My mausseur (a lady) told me I had a well toned, exercised body with not an ounce of extra flesh. I said I did not exercise regularly and I never worried about body shape. Fitness was what mattered to me. The previous week i got a similar complement from another mausseur. I went for 2 back to back sessions almost – after getting introduced to massage in Bali. But South East Asian massage is feather touch – like butterfly kiss. Ayurvedic massage of India is the one real massage that we must never miss. It is no teaser like Bali’s and is worth every penny you may pay for it. It it truly therapeutic.

My friends who used to make fun of my Aqua zumba sessions, zumba everything, are finally seeing the point. All of us realize the importance of fitness now. More than ever, we want to stay healthy for our children in future. None of us could take care of ourselves until our kids grew up. Finally we have time for ourselves. Lots of it. Hence the frequent girls’ tour.

The  importance of sitting on floor for at least one hour everyday – I realize now. In my puja, i sit cross legged, which means I am bending my knee at 30 degree acute angle. In a dining table, your knee may not bend more than 90 degree – right angle. Many are of opinion that walking is sufficient. Yes, walking is a very good and wholesome exercise, but Yoga is best to keep your joints fluid and muscles and bones flexible. Yoga is a must. No second opinion on that. Otherwise when will your knees attempt a hairpin bend??? We use laptops and cell phones all the time. Our spine and our neck need realignment every now and then. Nothing can correct it better than Yoga. Even over 50 or 60, one can start Yoga gradually. Flexibility will happen albeit slowly. In 6 months, one can see the progress and change.

Indian parents have to enroll their daughters in Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and such traditional dance classes for their own sake. Once ‘the dining table syndrome’ sets it, it will be difficult to off-set it. Our Indian children are still far better. Other nationalities I notice here are worst. Bharat Natyam footwork, stetches (poses) etc., are great cardio and wonderful workout for every joint and bone and muscle in one’s body. ‘Arthamulla Hindu madham.’ Everything about Hindu dharma is so profound. Nothing is waste. Dances are not mere entertainment value or vanity as some belief systems perceive. They are the best way to sustain health and build strong bones and joints right from your childhood.

I would still confess, I am clumsy at zumba, yoga everything. But I just don’t care. I guess, my dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, oxytoxin levels go for a swing when I do zumba. The feel good factor is absolute. This is what makes me get back to zumba or yoga or pilates or mere walking every now and then. When I come back home after even a 30 min walk, I feel wonderful. I feel lighter.

I am not a 100% healthy individual and i have my share of health woes. Nevertheless, when I see younger girls in 30s tiring fast, not getting regular periods, obese, obsessed with beauty salons, I think perhaps I have lived my life a little healthier without knowing that. Upto my 10th year, even a chemical body soap was a fancy dream for me. Only besan and coconut oil in our home for bath. However, those days may never happen.  In my capacity, wherever I go, I ask children to sit on floor and do homework, watch tv and have food. All Indian habits and customs are best, believe me. We have to bring back what we have lost to westernization in the name of affluence and culture. What is culture really. Losing your native culture???

I don’t know how far I can take it from here, but I shall try to do my best. I suffer from arthritis – head to foot right from my teens. Rheumatoid arthritis. Even typing this is painful but i’ve grown accustomed to it. Today’s youngsters do not want to bear even a slight discomfort. It is very troubling. I wonder what kind of future generation is taking over India. Weak physically, mentally, very shallow, no interest in anything… If I were a school principal, the first thing I would do is, throw away the benches and chairs. Just give the children long desks and ask them to sit on floor. Let them sit down and get up a 1000 times.




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