Milind Soman is guilty of many charges—of being 44 and not showing it, of making women go crazy with his looks, of being one of the most successful male supermodels India has had till date, of not only being fit but also healthy, of being intelligent, of being the quintessential alpha male. Did you know that he wanted to be a swimmer and that he is a qualified electrical engineer? But he went against the tide, and how. Today, he is an actor, a producer, a model and an entrepreneur. Recently, he surprised everyone by running continuously for 24 hours for the NDTV Greenathon in Mumbai. The man just doesn't stop. Keep reading to know what eggs him on.
What do health and fitness mean to you?
Health and fitness are the two most important things in my life. Without feeling physically, emotionally and spiritually the way I do, I may not have been able to live the way I want. At this point in my life, looking back, I think it is so simple and so easy. I just allow my body and my awareness to guide me in everything I need to do to keep fit. The food I eat, the activities I enjoy are all in synch with my body and mind. The human body is designed to maintain an equilibrium of efficiency and all we need to do, is to allow it to do its job without interference. For example, I believe that in the absence of any medical disorder, any diet regimen is unwarranted.
Do you find staying healthy difficult?
If you want to be fit and healthy, there are simple rules to follow and your body will do the rest. An active lifestyle with regular physical challenges, regular meals, eating just till you are full and having nutritionally-balanced, simple home-cooked food… is all it takes. Your body will attain and maintain its weight, composition and function, so as to accomplish the level of physical activity it is expected to do, with the maximum efficiency. To me, fitness does not mean a life of restriction in any sense, but rather a life of balance and freedom. You should be fit so that you can live your life to its fullest; otherwise what’s the point of the exercise?
How do you stay fit?
Fitness is not just physical, but has an emotional and spiritual aspect as well. I have always sensed that there must be a strong connection between my physical, mental and spiritual energies. Healthy energies are maintained when I nurture my relationships with people who care about me, when I work on projects that I find stimulating and satisfying, and when I realise my place and my contribution in the larger scheme of the universe.
I find that a strong connection between all three energies is most easily developed when I push myself beyond my perceived physical and mental limits. This is the space where I feel no fatigue, where I feel I am flying—the space athletes call, ‘being in the zone’. Getting here is not as difficult as you might imagine. You just need to choose your sport and go for it, that’s it!
What’s your favourite sport?
My favourite sport is athletics and my favourite event is the marathon, for which I train regularly. If you love a particular sport, it could be a great way to stay healthy as the whole point is to make your workouts as much fun as possible. It can be fun to play the sport yourself and also follow your favourite teams/athletes and feel a greater involvement with your workout routine. Different sports have different fitness workouts, so even if you don’t play yourself, you can exercise with your sport-specific workout.
How do you workout?
During my growing years, as a national-level swimmer, working out 40 hours per week, I gradually realised that it was relatively easy to maintain a good level of fitness by exercising with activities I enjoyed. And that I could exercise anywhere in the absence of special space, or equipment.
There are many exercise routines to choose from, depending on where you are and what you find around you. Every part of your body can be effectively and efficiently worked out using your own body weight and increasing the degree of difficulty with various simple techniques.
I follow no set regimen, but try to make my workouts as enjoyable and challenging as possible. I make sure that I am reasonably physically active all day and just push myself with some form of strenuous physical activity for as much time as I can spare. If I have 20 minutes in the day or one hour, I make it count.
What has been your most trying health/fitness challenge?
It is normal to think of climbing Mount Everest or running a full marathon or even competing in an Iron Man as a real fitness challenge. But frankly, in the times that we live in, the kind of stress we are subjected to every day in our working lives, the pollution, our unhealthy eating habits and the ever-decreasing time we get to nurture our relationships and our selves, achieving and maintaining any level of health and fitness is the greatest challenge of all.
In the pursuit of a fitter, more productive life, the key is to truly dedicate a few minutes each day to yourself, to engage in an activity of your choice, that exercises your mind and your body together.
People often tell me that it’s easier for me to maintain my health and fitness levels because it is part of my profession and therefore my lifestyle. In truth, I have a 12 – 14 hour working day and it is as difficult for me to find the time for myself as it is for anyone else.
So how do you manage?
I have found that running or swimming or doing free hand exercises for 7 – 8 hours per week is enough to maintain the fitness levels that I am accustomed to.
In the interest of spending even less time in the pursuit of fitness and good health, we, at our gym, Breathe Fitness in Delhi, are now in the process of developing really effective 15 – 20 minute daily workouts that can be done by anyone, anywhere.
Does age pose a challenge in keeping fit?
Staying healthy and being fit is most definitely more difficult as you grow older. Your body simply does not function as it used to when you were younger, especially if you have not been kind to yourself all your life. There is a slowing down and a deterioration in the body’s ability to deal with abuse.
It’s much better if you have been active all your life. Even if you haven’t, it is certainly never too late to start. From the moment you begin to develop a healthier, more active lifestyle, your body will begin to heal itself and you will be on the road to a fitter life.
How important is good health for happiness?
Happiness is a transient emotion. Personally, having lived the kind of active lifestyle that I have, I cannot imagine being happy if I were physically unable to do certain things that I wanted to.
On the other hand, human beings are supremely adaptable and I am sure I could find happiness eventually, in any situation. However, more than a pursuit of happiness, in a situation of emotional or physical illness, I think it would be more valuable to develop a positive attitude and take each day as it comes. I have met and been tremendously inspired by many people, some of them wheelchair-bound, like Rajiv Virat in Delhi, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis several years ago. Rajiv now finds great happiness and strength in helping others who are suffering.
Are you a calorie-conscious eater or does taste rule your choices?
My food choices depend completely on nutrition and taste and not at all on calories. I love my cheesecake and my tiramisu, my aloo paratha and aloo chaat. Having made fitness a lifestyle choice, I can eat what I want, go where I want and do what I want. However, it is very important to develop an awareness of our body’s nutritional needs. We all have our craving for comfort foods in times of stress, which could even be unhealthy food like colas and chips. So, it is necessary to understand whether the food craving we feel is physical or emotional. If the craving is emotional, just a taste will suffice and I don’t have to finish the whole tub of ice cream. If physical, my body will indicate what food to eat and how much it needs. I only need to listen.
What is your favourite cuisine?
My favourite food is chocolate, preferably Belgian, and I eat a lot of it! Of course, I love my mother’s cooking, which is a delicious mix of Maharashtrian and Goan [cuisines], but my all-time and forever favourite cuisine for taste and sheer variety is food from East Bengal. I also love to experiment with food from all over the world, especially in street markets, which are sometimes the most authentic.
So you don’t diet?
My only personal dietary regulations are eating extremely light after 7 pm and not eating non-vegetarian food for dinner, as it does not allow me restful sleep. In fact, for anyone, the only reason to modify your diet is if you don’t sleep well and wake up tired or have problems with digestion.
Tell us about your first failure and first success.
I do not define or evaluate my life by perceptions of success or failure in any particular business or activity. Both these perceptions are negative and create an obstacle to progress. A perception of success could make you complacent, while a feeling of failure is demoralising and discouraging. Thus, I prefer to view everything I do as something that teaches me more—about life, about people, and about myself. For me, the pursuit of a full life and becoming a better person is never-ending, and I will never give it up.
What keeps you going through tough times?
The way I live my life and the kind of person I am today is due, in large part, to my background and training as a sports person from the age of 10.
To explore all potential, all opportunity, the pursuit of knowledge and the desire to push myself beyond my limit in all I do, is almost a habit. Every day was a challenge to better myself, in all respects… sometimes I did better and sometimes not so, but I learnt that the most satisfying endeavour is to always be the best you can be—no more, and no less.
Where do you get the zeal from?
I would go back to the priceless contribution that sports made to my life. My sense of wellbeing, the belief in myself, the enjoyment of challenge, my optimism that hard work and dedication will always pay, and my addiction to feeling fantastic—all come from a life of seeking to do something positive every day, through good times and bad.
Do you practise any form of meditation?
If meditation means to focus, to contemplate, or to think deeply about, then there is a measure of meditation in everything I do. To allow your thoughts to follow a simple path, without confusion, in perfect freedom, with no expectation…it gets easier as you practise and that is what I do when I am running, swimming, preparing for a shoot or just spending a routine day at office.
What do you need in life?
My personal needs are so few that, left to myself, I would have probably been happy to live in my father’s house forever or working my way around the world as a backpacker.
Which relationships mean the most to you?
Every relationship in my life has been special. Each has really influenced the decisions and course of action I have taken in my life in a big way. While some have opened new worlds and ideas to me, others have made me work harder and explore more opportunities that would have otherwise remained untapped.
But family is different...
I was lucky that my parents always let me choose my own path; it was not an easy decision for them to allow me to concentrate on sports. As we all know there is very little in terms of career prospect for sportspersons in India. But my parents did their best to encourage a balanced lifestyle for me; I will be forever grateful to them for that.
It is only recently that people have begun to understand the value of balancing a child’s academic life with a routine of fitness training. Encouraging a habit of fitness in one’s child is one of the best gifts a child can receive from a parent.
What role have family and friends played in your life?
The unconditional love I have received from my family and my friends has supported my emotional health and wellbeing all my life. It has caused me to reciprocate in ways that always changed the course of my life. And always for the better, whether it was building a house outside Bombay for my mother and sisters, or the space I am in today professionally, which is completely due to meeting someone a few years ago, who made me feel like settling down.
Who are you closest to?
My most important relationship has been with my mother, from whom I learnt very early on in life, to be non-judgmental and to always seek to understand the other person’s point of view. Even today, at the age of 70, she inspires me and everyone she meets with her indefatigable spirit and sense of fun and adventure.
One principle or life philosophy?
When I was 16, I complained to my swimming coach Sandeep Divgikar that my performance was suffering because I was bored with the routines and life at the training camp. He said that if I was bored, it was my choice. This is one of the most important lessons I have learnt: I have a choice in everything. To be happy or not, to help or not, to be productive or not, are all choices that we must make. And to make the right choice for ourselves is in our hands.
Boredom is the most common disease that afflicts all people. It is the root of a lot of mental, emotional and physical disorder. So I learned: to be bored or not, is a choice.
The simple truth is that if you open your mind and take a good look inside of yourself, the world is too big, life is too intense and there are too many things to see and explore to ever be bored.
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