Since childhood, I had always wondered what the ideal fit person would look like. Would they be muscular and stocky, thin and toned, healthy and large? As an impressionable teenager, I did the best I could and found my answers in the Arnold Schwarzeneggar-starring documentary, ‘Pumping Iron.’
But when suffering from a liver disease in my early twenties left me unable to exercise for the first time, I had to revisit the idea of what it meant to be “fit.” After about a year of maintaining a restricted lifestyle (no exercise, zero alcohol parties, sustaining on boiled food, tackling mild bouts of depression, etc.), I did recover. But it took away the habits that had once defined my personality.
This transformative journey changed the way I looked at fitness forever. I wanted to know if Axelerant team members also had to overcome similar challenges, and how Axelerant helped them in doing so.
What Do You Understand By Being Fit?
Most motivational videos would have you believe that the picture of health is evocative of a Greek god. They run marathons to reach places and help distraught travelers fix their cars by acting as a human car jack.
Though such a person might undoubtedly be fit, at least physically, it says nothing about what’s going on inside their minds. For instance, would they have the strength to take time off to heal as Naomi Osaka did before the 2021 French Open?
Yes, It Includes Physical Fitness
Oxford dictionary describes the word “fitness” as — "the condition of being physically strong and healthy." This definition lacks a holistic purview of the idea of fitness. But undeniably, physical fitness does have a deep impact on how you feel mentally and emotionally. Binny Thomas’ story, too, revealed something on similar lines.
"I didn't consider myself as a very healthy person," confessed Binny. As a child, Binny had a thin physique. "I was more into books. Because of some poor choices imposed on me, I didn't lead a very active life," he recalled. Apart from a regular bout of cold and cough, he never faced any severe health problems growing up.
But things changed as he started his career. "I tried going to the gym when I got a job for the first time," he said. Lacking proper training, he tried his hand at lifting weights. Soon, the consequences were evident — Binny developed a severe back issue.
It made it difficult for Binny to continue working out, and he had to stop. The result — undue weight gain and a crooked back.
Working in a permanent remote working setup, how and where one works can affect one's health. Sunita (name changed), People Operations Specialist, Axelerant, faced persistent back pain, too. Sunita joined Axelerant in April 2021, and remote work was new to her. She would work sitting on the sofa with her back hunched — all day, every day. Unknowingly, her posture created and sustained her back pain.
But It Also Includes Mental And Emotional Fitness
Fitness doesn't stop at the physical level. Sure, how physically energetic you feel will be a crucial indicator of your overall health. But the same applies to the other side of the coin as well.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
How you feel emotionally and mentally will undoubtedly affect your physical health, too.
Maithili Pednekar, Drupal Engineer, Axelerant, is a cheerful woman. After falling in love with her husband in college, they got married in Pune, India. As we talked, I learnt how the couple always supported each other through ups and downs.
“We wanted to start a family of our own,” Maithili shared.
When she conceived for the first time, things went well until the fourth month. "I took all the precautions necessary," Maithili said. She even took a break from work to take care of herself. But unfortunately, she had a miscarriage. "At that time, I didn't want to work, I didn't want to eat, I didn't want to do anything."
With time, they decided to try again. But even this time, they faced the same outcome. "I was devastated," she shared.
After that, she started avoiding attending social and family gatherings. "I had always been healthy, even as a child," she said and continued, "whenever I would go to a party, people would say, 'focus on reducing your weight and things will become better.'"
Maithili's parents invited her to visit them in Nagpur for a change. But by then, it seemed easier to lock herself in the house, away from the world.
But, Is Fitness Needed At Work?
In 2018, Binny moved to Bangalore from his home in Kerala and joined a new office. “I started commuting to work by bicycle. It was six kilometers one way,” he recalled. Although he swiftly began losing weight, it was a short-lived delight. They soon put him on night shifts, and feeling uncomfortable cycling at night, this, too, came to a halt.
After joining Axelerant, Binny stopped commuting altogether. Glued to the screen, he started gaining weight — fast. “I took a gym membership and then COVID-19 started. I was back to square one,” he said. In 2021, his back pain took a worse turn. Binny’s legs ached and often, he wouldn’t be able to feel his legs. “The pain would come back every two months, and then I would be forced to take two days’ rest,” Binny recalled.
His condition also messed up the quality of his sleep, affecting his work further.
Yes, It Certainly Is Needed
Binny was not the only one suffering from poor sleep. Meghana Pethe, Project Manager, Axelerant, experienced something similar. "I worked on two strenuous projects around July 2021," said Meghana. The two projects she was managing faced delayed launches, requiring more effort and time to be put in by the team.
In the final days of the projects, her work bled into late evenings, and things started to go off-balance. Meghana's sleep timing — 10:30 PM to 7 AM — was the first to go off track. "My mind used to get tired, but my body didn't seem to be." It became challenging for her to go to sleep at the usual time. "I had also stopped going for morning walks after a while because I was waking up late."
To divert her mind at the end of the day, Meghana resorted to watching shows on Netflix late at night. "I would stay awake till one-thirty, two in the morning," she said.
Eventually, she faced the same consequence as Binny. Sleep-deprived and with a decreased focus, Meghana started struggling at work.
From my interviews with team members, it was evident that there is a direct correlation between health and work performance.
So, When Things Go Off Track, Seek Help
Knowing when to seek help is the first step towards healing. But even before that, first, you need to accept that something is wrong with the way things are going.
For Meghana, this realization came when she was waking up late in the morning, and that started affecting her son's schooling. "I stopped watching Netflix after I realized that," she shared. Her realization led her to bring this up during her monthly coaching session with her performance coach, Mridula Ujjwal, Director of Learning and Development, Axelerant.
For Binny, seeking help was inevitable — his body was crying out for it.
"One day, I had to seek medical intervention. The doctors diagnosed me with I.V.D.P. (intervertebral disc prolapse). I remember limping to the medical center," he said.
If You Can't Seek, Accept Help When It Comes Knocking
"During a coaching session, Mridula noticed I was sitting on the sofa rather than on a chair and asked me why had I not used the Home Office Set Up allowance," remembered Sunita. Before this conversation, though she was aware of her backache, she did not know what was causing it. Whenever her backache would start acting up, she would prop up a pillow against her waist for support.
"Mridula explained to me how our posture impacts our work performance," Sunita said. She had also received feedback that sometimes she would appear less confident during meetings, which took her by surprise.
If Nothing Works, Introspect
In certain situations, accepting help seems futile, let alone seeking it. That was the case for Maithili. "I was feeling very pressured at that time. I felt like I was not being able to keep anyone happy," she shared.
"I was not at all happy with myself," Maithili said, with a slight tremble in her voice.
Physically, too, she found herself debilitated after the second miscarriage. "I did not have the strength even to bend my legs to take out food from the fridge." Although Mridula tried to reach out to her, she was not ready to accept anything. Maithili took time off from work and severed herself from the outside world. "Four people — Mridula, Yashashree, Trupti, and Parita — helped and supported me a lot during this phase. But at that time, I wasn't listening to anyone."
One day, while sitting alone in her room, the thought bubbled up in her mind: "I will have to do it. I will have to try it. I will do it." And it was the dawn of a remarkable change in Maithili's life.
The Path To Fitness Is Never Easy
The path to fitness, regaining a balance in life looks different for every individual. But one strand remains common no matter what way you tread — it is always going to be an up-the-hill battle.
It is never as easy as it may look from the outside.
It Wasn't For Maithili
Determined to change her life for the better, Maithili consulted a dietician. She got on a diet that measured the calorific value of her food intake and limited it. "Usually, people think that a diet means restriction from their favorite food. But that's not true. I was eating almost everything," said Maithili. She started having lighter meals spread throughout the day. "I felt fulfilled and didn't experience low energy at work as well."
What she shared next made me feel proud and inspired from the core.
Slowly, she began cycling. "At first, I was cycling around two kilometers. But now, I cycle 10 to 12 kilometers every day," she said. She also took advantage of Axelerant's health and wellness allowance and enrolled in swimming classes. Eventually, after months of hard work, Maithili managed to shed 20 kilograms.
In addition to the physical activities, Mridula, her performance coach, helped reinvigorate her spirit through the power of affirmations. The following were some of the affirmations that she practiced daily:
- I am willing to accept support
- Life always supports me
- I love and accept myself exactly the way I am
- I am a powerhouse. I am a creator.
After consulting gynecologists, Maithili discovered a uterine condition that was likely the source of these challenges. In early 2021, she underwent surgery to ensure a safe pregnancy. The couple is now looking forward to conceiving again…
After the intervertebral disc prolapse diagnosis, the doctors recommended immediate weight loss for Binny. They put him on a strict diet. "Within a week, I came down to 73 from 84 kilos," he shared. Binny also took physiotherapy sessions as well after taking a leave. "Axelerant was kind enough to give me a one-month leave," he expressed. In his journey, Axelerant performance coach Nanditha Krishnan played a significant role.
"I pinged Nanditha many times. Coaches are always there for you," he said. "There are many things you can't say to your spouse or manager because they are not qualified to listen to you like a coach." Checking up on his progress regularly, Nanditha was a constant support for Binny.
"I was starting to feel that I am becoming lazy. Because I was enjoying myself too much," Binny smiled and continued, "but Nanditha assured me that it was a good thing that I was finding time to enjoy life outside of work as well."
"I used to play shuttle [badminton] every evening. Axelerant's flexible work culture allows one to do that. It is very refreshing," said Binny.
It has been more than three months since he restarted working out in the morning. "I am being careful. I always maintain proper posture and do not push myself too hard," he said. Binny has also made changes in his diet. "Earlier, I didn't understand the importance of a balanced diet. But now, I feel much more energetic.” The biggest benefit of maintaining an active lifestyle and diet was the improvement in sleep quality and overall mood throughout the day.
But All Of Them Succeeded
"I don't know if you believe in them, but Mridula gave me some affirmations to help with the sleep," said Meghana. Although she had stopped streaming Netflix at night, she struggled with shutting off her mind and body. Moreover, even after sleeping late, she found herself waking up around four in the morning.
"I needed a nudge to help me start following my routine regularly and [find] some ways out of the problem," she said. To help her calm down and sleep, Mridula suggested silently chanting whenever she would wake up early or struggle to fall asleep. "The results weren't immediate. But in due course, it calmed my mind. After four months, I can say I am back on track," said Meghana.
She shifted her morning walks to the evening.
"I make sure to take a break in the evening. I go out for walks with my son now. He cycles while I walk beside him. Sometimes I go cycling, too," said Meghana.
Mridula also suggested affirmations to Sunita for her backache. "I couldn't believe that you could say affirmations and do away with your symptoms. After the first two months of sitting on the table and chair and practicing the affirmations, my backache was gone," said Sunita.
I realized that she radiated confidence and positive energy throughout the video call, and I conveyed as much to her. These were the affirmations Mridula gave her:
- I am supported by life itself
- I feel emotionally supported
- I release all fears
- I release the past and all past experiences
- I let go of that which is in the back of me
"I say these affirmations out loud in the morning and before going to bed," shared Sunita.
And So Will You
When team members reach out to Mridula and the other performance coaches, they work with them to understand the underlying issues and belief systems that often sit at the root of the problem.
Mridula's process involves "identifying the cause, cleansing the 'not so helpful thought pattern,' and reframing the inner dialogue to the one which is empowering to lead a healthy life." Affirmations play a significant role in this.
"Affirmations are positive statements that can help you challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When you repeat them often and believe in them, you can start to make positive changes. Once you shift your mental state, you also shift the physical state of your body," explained Mridula.
Louise Hay, the American motivational author, believed that the causes of "dis-ease" include stress and unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs about oneself. She advanced that the most fundamental way to effect positive change in the body is to change the way we think, using tools such as "mirror work" and affirmations.
If you're going through something similar or having trouble getting your life back on track, accept it and seek help. Everyone's path to getting better looks different. It is not a race or competition. You get a little better, grow a bit stronger with every step.