Jun 25, 2020

Me-time



What is me-time? This is a question I'm pondering about. 

These are the activities I earlier considered as me-time:
reading, browsing my phone (Instagram, Youtube), browsing my laptop (articles, blogs), watching movies.
I've started to take a different perspective these days.
Me-time is when I'm with myself and my thoughts without any distractions.
All the activities I had listed above are not really my thoughts. I'm investing my time and energy in the thoughts of others in the form of books, movies and social media updates. These are filtered information that is being shared. There are quite a few insights that I have gleaned from these sources over the years. But only when I started incorporating those insights in my life, I learned more about what works and what doesn't work for my situation.

Learning from others doesn't give a complete picture of the context. What we see/hear/read is only the final outcome that a person shares on any platform. This blogpost is a filtered output of my thoughts on how I have started to interpret me-time.

Let's take social media as an example - we only share what we want others to see. We don't share a complete view of us - the good, the bad and the ugly. Firstly, it is humanly impossible to share each and everything that happens in our day-to-day lives. Even if we roam around with a camera on hand all the time, we filter and show only the parts of our day which we feel like sharing.

When we see a post, our mind immediately creates a perception of the person sharing that post. These perceptions are shortcuts that our mind creates to categorize people. This happens subconsciously based on our beliefs, the environment we grew up in and many other factors.

These mental shortcuts are useful for us to foresee any danger and be prepared to fight/flight. But they can also mislead us and we might end up forming false perceptions of a person. "Don't judge a book by its cover" equivalent of "Don't judge a person based on what he/she shares on social media", if I may say so.

Recently, I had assumed something about a person based on what she shared on her social media feed but later when I realized the assumption was wrong, I felt a tinge of disappointment.

My point is that we try to grab our "me-time" from our loved ones, in order to scroll through our phones and absorb these false perceptions created on social media. Same goes with youtube channels where many people show their perfectly crafted lives in the form of vlogs but the reality is totally different. 

Yes, we can take inspiration from many people but a mere collection of ideas will not take us anywhere. As I reflect deeper, the books I love the most are those from which I have been able to incorporate certain ideas into my work or personal life. 

I'm trying to be more mindful and conscious of my "content consumption" these days. I have started to ask myself the following questions:

How much time I'm spending on consumption?
What is the quality of the content I'm consuming? Is it worth my time?
How much is the quantity of the content I'm consuming? Is it worth the context switch I'm experiencing, consuming on a wide range of topics?
How do I feel after consuming the content? Is it triggering or influencing my emotions in any way?
What are the learnings/takeaways from the content consumed? How do I plan to apply the same?

As I'm reducing my content consumption patterns, I'm also trying to grab me-time opportunities where I'm with my thoughts completely. An important idea I learned in my minimalism workshop with Durgesh Nandhini is this - "Chores are a form of meditation with eyes open". This statement was an eye-opener. Though I never detested doing chores at home, I never thought of it from this perspective.

Thanks to lockdown, I'm more engaged in household chores for which I had a house-help earlier. I'm also now making sure that I don't multitask while doing chores. I used to proclaim, "multitasking is my strength" but I now seek out opportunities to focus completely on a single task at hand without any distractions.

My me-time is now shifted to the following activities:
  • Cooking
  • Washing dishes
  • Sweeping and mopping
  • Folding clothes
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Yoga and Pranayama
  • Walking (no step counters, no music, no podcasts, no audiobooks)
  • Sitting quietly without doing anything - toughest one but I'm trying 🙂
What is me-time according to you?

P.S. The structure of this blog post came to me while washing dishes last evening :-)


Jun 20, 2020

Birthday cake

 
 
For the past few months, whenever I attend a birthday party or see pictures of a birthday party, I ask myself, "Why do we need a birthday cake?" The immediate answer that comes to my mind is "Duh, that's how people celebrate birthdays all over the world".

I haven't researched the history behind birthday cakes but as I look back, my brother and I never had a birthday cake during our childhood. Our parents used to buy us a new birthday dress every year. We would wear it to school and distribute chocolates to our classmates. We would take blessings from grandparents and they would give us a small token of money as a gift. Our grandmother would make payasam (kheer) on our star birthday date (which would mostly be a different date than the English calendar date). That's the ritual for kids' birthdays up to the age of 10-11 years. Our parents never celebrated their birthdays. I don't think it is due to financial constraints but more about the mindset. When we ask why they don't celebrate their birthdays, Appa would just say, "ezhu kazhudai vayasaachu, inime enna birthday celebration!" (We are old enough that we don't need any celebration for our birthday).

These days, every family who can afford a birthday cake buys one for each family member, irrespective of age. Children enjoy the cake whereas adults eat with a lot of guilt and apprehension - "Let me just take a small slice", we tell the host. Most bakeries and home bakers take birthday cake order of 1/2 kg minimum, which is quite a large quantity for a small family of 3-4. We might end up either overeating, distribute to a few others or end up throwing the remaining cake. The bigger the cake, the larger the wastage. For most birthday parties, people end up ordering large size of cake with sugar-loaded fondant or rich icing, decorated with artificial colors. Again, a big portion ends up in the trash can. That scene from the first story of "sillu karupatti" is heart-wrenching, where the kids scour through trash in a landfill to find fondant of an Elsa doll on a birthday cake. 

A few days back, my husband K decided to bake a chocolate cake. While he was getting the ingredients ready, he screamed out loud, "How much sugar and butter go into this! I didn't realize it this long". The same realization happened with me when I started baking in 2014. The amount of sugar, refined oil and maida that goes into baking a cake is just unbelievable. I try and substitute with slightly healthier options - 50:50 wholewheat flour and maida, jaggery or cane sugar in place of white sugar on the rare occasions I bake at home. But most of the commercial bakeries don't choose healthier ingredients. With home bakers, unless we specifically ask them to make a healthier version, they would also use the same maida, sugar and oil combination.

One might argue, "It is just a once-a-year event. Why fuss over so much?". Let me break the harsh truth - Even if we have reached ezhu kazhudai vayasu (adulthood), birthday cakes are being bought for us. So for a family of 4, there are 4 birthday cakes in a year. Add a wedding anniversary cake and a couple of other celebrations like New Year, Valentine's day etc. Not to forget the umpteen birthday parties in the apartment community, office birthday parties, school friends' parties etc. No wonder, birthday cake bakers are raking in the moolah while we keep wondering how our HbA1C levels are climbing. 

For the past two years, I asked my husband not to buy me a cake on my birthday. I'd rather enjoy a small bowl of paruppu payasam with jaggery on my special day than eat junk. 

Why treat our bodies with junk on our special day? Is this how we want to celebrate?

That brings me to the next question.

"Why do we even celebrate our birthdays?" 

Celebrations are a good opportunity to spend time with loved ones, feel special and be treated extra special. It is a perfect day to create good memories.

But can't we celebrate our lives on a daily basis? Why wait for that ONE special day? Why can't we feel special every single day?

It is okay if you disagree with this post. I'm just sharing my thoughts here. Let's not argue over it.

The one thing that has struck me from Durgesh Nandhini's minimalism workshop is "Question everything". I question the need for a birthday cake through this post. Recently, she posted a picture of her daughter's birthday cake made with fruits. How beautiful is that cake! Layers of watermelon surrounded by grapes and banana slices. Just amazing! Maathi yosikkalaame !! (Let's think differently)




Jun 17, 2020

How to sustain motivation?

 
I was talking to a startup founder a couple of weeks back and one of our common interest areas was "health and wellness". He brought up an interesting point, "I believe the key problem to address in this space is the lack of sustained motivation". 

I have been mulling over this phrase - sustained motivation and started observing myself to understand this phrase in depth. 

This morning, I rolled my Yoga mat to start my morning practice. The next one hour felt so blissful as I stretched and pushed myself. I wouldn't have done this self-practice a couple of years back but now it has become a habit every morning, especially since the lockdown in March.

What has changed in order to feel this motivation and sustain it for a period of time? I think it boils down to these 4 reasons:

Intrinsic desire:
I have started telling myself, "I want to do Yoga". The statement is no longer "I have to do Yoga". This simple change in the conversation we have with ourselves makes a world of difference. We need to feel that want, that desire in order to pursue a goal.

Tiny wins:
While going for my classes, I used to set tiny goals for myself - hold a particular asana for at least 7 counts, hold the plank for at least 15 counts etc. I'm continuing the same habit while doing self-practice these days. Recognizing and appreciating tiny wins matter. Let's not link success with big outcomes like losing 10 kgs in a month OR doing shirsasana as soon as we enroll for Yoga. Knowing our current potential, setting tiny challenges to improve ourselves and valuing these tiny wins is the way to sustain motivation in the long run. 

Results and process:
Since I have been practicing Yoga for nearly 5 years, I have realized the tremendous benefits it has brought in me, both in my body as well as mind. Let me admit - results do motivate me quite a bit. Having brought up in a society that values achievement and accomplishment, I'm not gonna feel bad for saying that out aloud. I have also realized that until I enjoy the process, I don't see myself pushing towards the intended results. The process needs to be fun and joyful in order to feel motivated. For any wellness related effort, after a time period of 3-6 months, our body starts to respond beautifully. Enjoying the process for those 3-6 months is essential for us to start noticing the intended results.

Influence of our family/society:
It is quite upsetting to see the health ailments that my family elders deal with - diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, obesity etc. I don't want to get into the trap of lifestyle diseases and the numerous medications (and their side effects). It is not about anxiety or worry but more about understanding my priorities that prevention is better than cure. I visualize myself to be a fit and active person in my 60s and 70s. 

What motivates you to sustain your effort for a longer period of time? Share in the comments.

Jun 15, 2020

Plant based sources of Selenium

Trace minerals are required in very little quantities but they play a vital role across multiple functions in our body. The nine trace minerals are chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc. Yes, iron is a trace mineral too.

I had earlier shared the plant-based sources of iron and zinc

In this post, let's focus on Selenium as it seems to be getting a lot of attention these days, specifically with respect to immunity. 

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant, protecting against oxidative stress. It plays a vital role in our heart and thyroid functions. It helps to reduce insulin resistance, which makes it an important nutrient for diabetics. It also helps to reduce inflammation in the body.

The intention of this post is NOT to elaborate on the benefits of selenium. You can get the information easily from a Google search. Most of the material available on Youtube/Google search talk about selenium-rich foods either not local to India OR predominantly meat-based sources. 

All I wanted to share through this post is the list of plant-based sources of selenium compiled from IFCT-2017.

According to the note shared by FSSAI, the RDA for Selenium is 40 mcg per day. Many of the US-based health institutions have specified an RDA of 55 mcg per day.

Here's the list of plant-based sources of Selenium:

Selenium
(microgm per 100 gms)
Cereals
Wheat flour, atta53.12
Samai40.4
Bajra30.4
Jowar26.3


Pulses
Bengal gram, dal51
Green gram, dal50
Peas, dry50
Lentil dal (Masoor dal)49.5
Bengal gram, whole41
Horsegram29.5
Black gram, whole27.98
Cowpea, white26.55


Green leafy veg
Beet greens47.75
Radish leaves33.05
Agathi leaves30.7
Amaranth leaves, red22.55
Curry leaves17.25
Mint leaves10.79


Vegetables
Broadbeans9
Tomato, green8.25
Onion, stalk5.22
Lotus root4.61


Fruits
Papaya12.78


Condiments & Spices
Omum (Ajwain)87.04
Mustard seeds71.47
Pippali (long pepper)20.5


Nuts and Seeds
Niger seeds, grey154
Garden cress seeds54.41
Gingelly seeds, brown52.64
Flaxseeds47
Niger seeds, black39
Dry coconut25.25


Wheat is a rich source of selenium. So are the local millets - little millet (saamai), pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar).
Most of the lentils and pulses that are commonly available in India are excellent sources of selenium.
Beet greens and radish greens are good sources of selenium but we hardly get these veggies along with their greens in urban areas. 
There are very few vegetables and fruits (except papaya) that contain selenium. 
Commonly used seeds like sesame seeds and flaxseeds are decent sources of selenium. The other not-so-common seeds such as niger seeds (gurellu / uchellu in Kannada) and garden cress seeds (halim seeds) are good sources, with garden cress seeds being rich in iron as well.
As you can see, it is possible to meet our daily requirement of selenium by including a combination of millets and pulses in our daily diet. Let's not evaluate a food item solely based on whether it contains "carbs" or not. There are high chances we would end up with micronutrient deficiencies with such a mindset.

Jun 11, 2020

எலி ஓட்டம் (Rat race)

எப்பொழுது தொடங்கியது
இந்த முடிவில்லா ஓட்டம்
கல்லூரிப் படிப்பில் சேர்ந்த பிறகா
வேலைக்கு சேர்ந்த பிறகா

சிறிது நேரம் அமர்ந்து
யோசித்த வேளையில் 
அந்த நொடிகள் 
ஆர்ப்பரித்தன கண்களில் 

முதல் மதிப்பெண் எடு
என்ற அம்மாவின் அறிவுரை

பனிரெண்டாம் வகுப்பில்
நன்மதிப்பை பெரு 
உன் வாழ்க்கை
சிறந்து விளங்கும் என்றனர்

பொறியியல் படிப்பை 
தேர்ந்தெடு 
உன் எதிர்காலம்
பிரகாசமானதாகிவிடும் என்றனர்

நல்ல வேலையில் 
சேர்ந்து விடு
உன் வாழ்க்கை
கனிந்து விடும் என்றனர்

மேலாளர் பதவியை
அடைந்து விடு
உன் பொருளாதாரம்
சிறந்து விளங்கும் என்றனர்

இருபதுகள் கடந்தன
இவை அனைத்தும் 
செய்து முடிக்க
மறு பேச்சு பேசாமல்
இளைப்பாற நேரம் இல்லாமல்
சமூக எதிர்ப்பார்ப்புகளை
நிவர்த்தி செய்ய

முப்பதுகளில் காலடி
எடுத்து வைத்தேன்
இன்னும் வேகமாய் ஒடு
இன்னும் சிறப்பை தேடு
என்ற அறைகூவல்கள்

மடியில் என் குட்டி தேவதை
என்னை மீட்க அவதரித்தாள்
வேகத்தை குறைத்தேன்
நிமிடங்களை சேகரிக்க தொடங்கினேன் 

என்னை தேட துவங்கினேன்
என் தனி தன்மையை அறிந்தேன்
சமூகம் மதிக்கும் வெற்றி இலக்கை
நோக்கி ஓடாமல்
என் இதயம்  துடிக்கும் பாதை
தேடி மெல்ல நகர்கின்றேன் 


Jun 10, 2020

5 points to keep in mind when starting your PCOS reversal journey


 If you have been diagnosed with PCOS and are starting on the journey to make lifestyle changes, I would suggest that you remind yourself of these 5 key points daily:

1. Give yourself enough time
PCOS is a lifestyle disorder. It is not an ailment like cold/cough/fever where you take medication for a fixed time and it gets cured. It takes time for the lifestyle changes to reverse the damage done and set you on the right path. The weight gain didn't happen in a single day. Please don't expect overnight weight loss. I know it is easier said than done, given the pressure we face from our family members and the stress we put on ourselves. Be patient. Tell yourself, "I'm gonna give myself 6 months to get my health back on track".

2. Be consistent with the lifestyle changes
PCOS is mostly given attention when you are trying to get pregnant. I was diagnosed with PCOS back in 2004 and the gynecologist whom I consulted with said to me, "We don't need to intervene now. Come back to me when you are ready to get pregnant. We will handle this situation then". I'm sure the treatment protocols have changed now and many gynecologists advise you to make the necessary lifestyle changes. 
These lifestyle changes need to be followed throughout your lifetime. If you go back to old wrong habits, the symptoms would start to reoccur. Even after you have conceived and delivered, follow the lifestyle changes diligently.

3. Give equal importance to all areas
There are four areas under which the lifestyle changes to address PCOS fall into. They are food/nutrition, activity/exercise, sleep and mental wellbeing/stress management. But our attention is completely hijacked towards food and diet. Even if you eat a low carb diet and all the superfoods of the world, if you don't focus on the other three areas, you wouldn't see the desired results. Aim to achieve 80% in all four areas, not 100% in food.

4. Focus on daily habits, not end outcomes
Instead of checking your weight daily, I'd recommend that you focus on your daily habits. Set a daily habit tracker and track them - Did I get a good sleep tonight? Did I eat balanced, wholesome meals? How do I feel today? Did I move around adequately? Did I get my yoga practice done?

5. Take responsibility
It is easier to complain and feel self-pity towards yourself. But the right thing to do is to take responsibility for your health. Start making small changes day by day. Don't feel overwhelmed. Make a list of lifestyle changes to make. Convert them into measurable daily habits. Pick 2 each week and make sure you focus on them that week. For the next week, add a couple more and focus on the 4 habits for that week. 
 
Which of these 5 points resonate with you? Which one do you find it more challenging? Share in the comments below.

Jun 8, 2020

Plant-based sources of Potassium


Most popular packaged foods such as instant soups, pasta sauces, salad dressings, processed cheese etc are extremely high in sodium. Excess sodium affects our health in so many ways - raises our blood pressure, thereby putting pressure on our heart and our kidneys. 

When we consume excess sodium, it leads to water retention in the body. This increases the volume of blood in circulation, leading to high blood pressure. Diet high in sodium increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine. If the dietary intake of calcium is low, our body is forced to let go of the calcium from the bones. Loss of calcium leads to osteoporosis or weakening of bones.

As our diet becomes more and more Westernized, we end up consuming way more packaged foods. Our daily meals are being prepared with highly processed sauces, dips, spreads and dressings. As much as we are cutting down on our sugar intake, it is equally important to cut down our salt intake as well. 

Along with cutting down sodium, let's also focus on increasing our potassium intake. 

What's the role of potassium in our body? 
Potassium is an important mineral that plays a vital role in multiple functions of our body - 
helps to manage the fluid balance
regulates our blood pressure, 
reduces potential stroke risks,
helps in muscle contraction/relaxation
and much more.

According to this Harvard article,


Too little potassium and too much sodium is bad for the heart and general health.


Potassium and sodium together play a huge role in regulating blood pressure.

When the kidneys flush out excess sodium from the body, it also removes potassium. 

One way to flush sodium out of the body is by getting more potassium. The higher the ratio of sodium:potassium, the greater the chance of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Increasing potassium and reducing sodium intake => both need to happen together
The article also states that the sodium requirement of our body is 200 mg a day, whereas the potassium requirement is around 4700 mg for adults.

According to WHO, the potassium requirement is around 3510 mg per day for adults.

Potassium is found abundantly in fruits, vegetables, greens, lentils, nuts and seeds. Here's a list of plant-based sources of potassium compiled from IFCT - 2017 (Indian Food Composition Tables).



CerealsPotassium
(mg per 100 gms)
Quinoa474
Ragi443
Amaranth seeds420
Bajra365
Jowar328
Wheat flour, atta311


Legumes
Red gram(thuar dal)1395
Rajma1360
Moth bean1356
Green gram, dal1268
Cowpea1241
Black gram, dal1157
Horsegram1065
Bengal gram, dal957
Peas, dry922


Green Leafy Veg
Agathi675
Betel leaves660
Brussels Sprouts639
Spinach625
Curry leaves584
Amaranth leaves570
Coriander leaves546
Mint leaves539
Parsley466
Ponnanganni457


Other Veggies
Red gram, tender, fresh616
Lotus Root611
Colacasia514
Yam, Elephant501
Plantain flower488
Potato474
Garlic450
Drumstick419
Ginger407
Plantain, green402
Mango ginger384
Jackfruit, seeds376
Plantain stem373
Ashgourd372
Broad beans362
Sweet potato345
Cauliflower329
Jackfruit, raw327
Knolkol327
Bittergourd326
French beans315
Beetroot306


Fruits
Raisins1105
Tamarind836
Dates804
Bael fruit409
Avocado377
Wood apple347
Banana330
Custard Apple278


Condiments & Spices
Turmeric powder2374
Red chillies2245
Cumin seeds1886
Pipali (Long pepper)1852
Omum (Ajwain)1692
Black pepper1487
Coriander seeds1473
Cloves1434
Cardamom1262
Fenugreek seeds891


Nuts & Seeds
Pistachio1053
Garden cress seeds952
Dry coconut739
Niger seeds716
Almond699
Mustard seeds694
Groundnut679
Flaxseeds655
Cashewnut635
Gingelly seeds480
Walnut457


Jaggery488
Coconut water215
Button Mushrooms318



  1. Most green leafy vegetables that we easily get in India are rich in potassium (>250 mg per 100gms). I have highlighted the top 10 above.
  2. Similarly, the various lentils and pulses that we eat on a daily basis are all so high in potassium
  3. When it comes to grains/cereals, millets like ragi, bajra and jowar are on the top of the list. They are not only rich in potassium but various other minerals such as calcium, iron etc
  4. Many of the local (country) veggies such as plantain flower, colocasia(arbi), drumstick etc can provide us enough potassium, along with other nutrients.
  5. Most of us are aware that banana is a good source of potassium. 100 gms of banana contains 330mg of potassium. Including this fruit on a daily basis isn't a difficult task, given that bananas are available throughout the year.
  6. The various condiments and spices that we use on a daily basis in Indian cuisine contribute significantly to our micro-nutrients intake, not just potassium. 
My intention to compile these nutrient specific sources is not to move our thought process towards nutritionism

As you can see from my earlier posts as well, all I want to highlight and emphasize is this crucial point -  Local produce available here in India are so rich in various micro-nutrients, be it the veggies, greens and the local fruits. The indigenous millets and pulses also help us significantly to meet our recommended dietary intake of various nutrients. There is no need to take additional synthetic/artificial supplements or buy expensive health mix powders unless you have a serious medical condition.

Let's plan our meals to include a variety of veggies, greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and pulses. I had shared some thoughts in an earlier post - How to plan for nutritional variety?

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