The Art and Science of Fitness | Soul and soles connection - Hindustan Times
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The Art and Science of Fitness | Soul and soles connection

Jun 19, 2023 05:59 PM IST

Humility and empathy help us reach our optimal best even in physical performance. The art of letting go is crucial - more so, the art of letting go of one's ego

I’ve just finished reading for the fifth time in the last three decades, a book titled Siddhartha: An Indian Tale, which was published in 1922. The author, Hermann Hesse, received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. Each time I read the book I discover a deeper layer. I don’t plan on giving you a summary because you must read this masterpiece for yourself. What I will share here is how the book reminds me that we lose touch with fitness, and more importantly life, when we chase metrics and tools — from apps and gadgets to the latest running shoes.

Siddhartha Sharma, who ran a yoga school in Goa before Covid, is a runner and has gone deep into the connection between the soul and the soles.(Amit Pratap Singh) PREMIUM
Siddhartha Sharma, who ran a yoga school in Goa before Covid, is a runner and has gone deep into the connection between the soul and the soles.(Amit Pratap Singh)

“The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts, his calm face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly. With a hidden smile, quiet, calm, somewhat resembling a healthy child, the Buddha walked, wore the robe and placed his feet just as all of his monks did, according to a precise rule. But his face and his walk, his quietly lowered glance, his quietly dangling hand and even every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace, expressed perfection, did not search, did not imitate, breathed softly in an unwithering calm, in an unwithering light, an untouchable peace."

"Thus Gautam walked towards the town, to collect alms, and the two Samanas recognised him solely by the perfection of his calm, by the quietness of his appearance, in which there was no searching, no desire, no imitation, no effort to be seen, only light and peace.”

This time, it was this section from the book, when the author introduces Siddhartha that excited me like never before.

What is so special about it?

Buddha "modestly" and "deep in his thoughts" went on his way. He had a "hidden smile" and was quiet and calm, resembling a child. He wasn’t thinking about his next step, the position of his head, shoulders, hands, and fingers. They were just "quietly dangling". He wasn’t walking for anyone else. He was at peace with himself, not forcing himself to perfect himself. His breath was soft and calm. His glance was lowered, making no effort to be seen, or recognised. He was comfortable being himself. He wasn’t searching for anything.

What is your takeaway from the passage?

Unlike the Buddha, folks who think they know everything there is to know in any sport or activity, make too much of an effort to put all of that into practice. They end up stiffening the whole body with laboured breathing, frowning all along. They look repeatedly at the watch if they are walking or running. The art of letting go is crucial, more so the art of letting go of ego.

Getting into the flow

All this might be a bit too much to put into practice, even the book highlights that early on. As luck would have it, I met a friend also named Siddhartha (Sid Sharma) recently, after nearly a decade. He gifted me his recently released book titled Meditation Maverick - Why You’re Not Meditating Right (and How to Fix it). The first chapter is aptly titled 'Stop Meditating Now' and is aimed at everyone, who in today's instant gratification world, wants to meditate by taking a short-cut to peace. And when they don’t find peace instantly, they shred meditation to pieces.

Sid, who ran a yoga school in Goa before Covid, is a runner and has gone deep into the connection between the soul and the soles.

According to him, the connection between mind and body has long fascinated philosophers, scientists, and spiritual seekers alike. It is a symbiotic relationship where the body acts as nothing less than an extension of the mind, and the mind, in turn, governs the body. By recognising this interconnectedness, we begin to understand the immense power that lies within us.

Something remarkable happens when we immerse ourselves in the present moment, fully engaged in the task at hand. We dissolve the barriers separating our mind from our body, allowing them to synchronize perfectly. It is as if the task becomes an extension of our very being. In this state of flow, we transcend the distractions of the ego and the conditioned brain, no longer fixated on the process, tools, or results.

Paradoxically, when we let go of the need to control, we tap into a wellspring of untapped potential. In these moments, we discover a higher level of achievement, far beyond what we could have ever imagined. The apps, gadgets, and gears that once preoccupied us fade into insignificance.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s easier said than done.

Meditation is not an activity

Here's an excerpt from Sid’s book:

"Meditation is a great way to relax and de-stress, but it's more complex than it sounds. It takes practice and proper guidance. I spent years attending various meditation camps, temporarily leaving me mildly ecstatic. However, the experience only lasted once I learned the fundamental essence of meditation and shed all misconceptions surrounding it.

Here are a few things I learned:

Meditation is not an activity. It's a state of being. You can't meditate; you can only be meditative.

The idea is to be present and aware of everything you're doing without judgement.

The first step to becoming meditative is to learn to become a witness. This means observing your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.

Once I learned these things, I started seeing meditation in a new light. It wasn't just about sitting still and clearing my mind. It was about learning to live in the present moment and to be aware of my thoughts and feelings.

All this sounds quite simple, but remember, simplicity is born out of the depths of complexity. Whenever you see an artist like a singer, a dancer, or an acrobat effortlessly showcasing extraordinary skills, they often have countless hours of practice behind it to exhibit the most enchanting skills.

Thankfully meditation does not require physical efforts such as mastering control over your vocal cords, exquisite body movement, or the ability to generate strength and flexibility. It's quite the opposite. The very requisite in mastering the art of meditation is the ability not to do anything. Ironically most of us find it extremely hard not to do anything."

Wear a silent smile

Even though Siddhartha (Sid), the author, had read Siddhartha, the book, more than 15 years ago, Meditation Maverick seems like a sequel to Siddhartha. Sid, through his book, takes you on a journey on how to become Siddhartha, the protagonist. After all, walking or running aren’t just exercises. They are meditation in motion, like Gautam Buddha walking.

When you do go out for a walk or a run, or for that reason while you play any sport, before you even wear your shoes or sports clothes, you need to wear that silent smile and be at peace with yourself, and then everything will start to be as it’s meant to be.

Keep miling and smiling.

Dr Rajat Chauhan (drrajatchauhan.com) is the author of The Pain Handbook: A non-surgical way to managing back, neck and knee pain; MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days

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