I love this Active Women interview with Sumita Sarma. From growing up with Bollywood in India to discovering exercise through desperation, there’s something we can all learn from it. It really reflects the fact that the benefits of being active go vastly beyond the way our body looks. The sky is the limit for Sumi.
Tell us a bit about yourself Sumi
I’m a Wine and Spirits Consultant, writer, critic and a proud mum of two. I’ve learnt that if we practice healthy living, we can make others’ lives healthy too. So cheers to fitness and strength! My social media sites promote health as well as good drinking and you can find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
When did you decide to start exercising regularly and why was that?
I was never into exercise but loved to dance, probably due to my childhood influence of Bollywood!
Growing up in India in the 1980s, sport was never a high priority in schools. But back then, satellite television, new in India, started broadcasting “Aerobics Oz Style” which is still going strong. I was impressed with their routines, especially by lead fitness instructors June and Jo who are both ex- ballet dancers. I started following the programme as a way to develop my dance skills. June and Jo are very energetic, bubbly and their routines were always accompanied by toe-tapping contemporary pop music which got me hooked and by the time I reached Uni, I was following their videos three times a week. Exercising not only made me fit but also nimble and flexible for dancing, which is what I really loved.
After I had my second child, I struggled with mental depression for over a year when our son was four and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum. It was a difficult time accepting this diagnosis and I struggled daily to come to terms with it. During those years when we lived in Hong Kong, I was at my poorest form mentally and physically, feeling completely shattered and low. It was then during one of my phone conversations with my mum, when I told her that I had nothing to look forward to and felt like running away from my fears. This is when she stopped me out of desperation and very unintentionally she remarked, “If you want to run, what stops you?” The interpretation of this statement in my brain, was the best thing that ever happened. That was the moment when I pulled out my tattered pair of trainers and headed out to what I thought was to ‘run away from my fears’. No more than 20 minutes into running, I felt breathless and could hear my heart pounding and almost coming out of my mouth! By the time I walked back home, I had cooled down and felt like a new person actually feeling happy and smiling. I realised I ‘d struck gold through my mother’s words! Surprised at this feeling of well being, I started researching about exercise and its benefits to mental health and how it is so beneficial to getting rid of depression and mental diseases. This was seven years ago and since then I have never looked back. With encouragement from a fabulous warm hearted running friend Ketty Lieu, and with the support of my lively and ever cheerful trainer, Evelyn Hue, I took up not just running but also Pilates, which I still practise loyally to this day at least twice a week.
What activities have you tried and what’s your favourite?
I love all kinds of sports but probably don’t excel in any! I’ve tried cricket when I was in school but bowling put me off. My mother took me to swimming lessons for a week when I was in school. It’s important to note that swimming was never a preferred sport for girls in India because of the embarassment associated with wearing swimming outfits in a traditional culture, but I must thank my mother for persuading me into taking lessons as a necessary life skill. I also started playing tennis during my late school years.
Over the last five years, my husband has slowly persuaded me into taking up skiing and despite the fact that I’m no more than a recreational skiier, I do enjoy the benefits and the leg and core work out that accompanies it, which balances well with my run training in winter.
Biking has been the latest addition to my fitness regime and I’m gradually working on building my endurance and strength for it.
What has been the biggest barrier you’ve had to overcome in your fitness journey?
I’m not sure whether I consider anything as a barrier. I went into fitness not with the conscious desire of being fit physically but more as a challenge to gain mental strength and peace of mind. Yes, there are days when my body is just too exhausted or lazy but then I’ve given myself simplistic goals and days off for a break. Everything in moderation is good. Exercise along with music is the best form of relaxation and rejuvenation. So one should not over do it and forget it’s basic purpose!
Have you had any negative comments and how have you dealt with them?
I frankly don’t remember negative comments as I have no time or space for them. Any negative comments are possibly more internal, especially during moments when you fail in your goal or are just completely exhausted, but then, instead of giving up, I slow down to accept my short comings and then re-visit my goals, breaking them into simpler sub goals and take pride in enjoying myself while doing them. Sadly, we humans have a nasty potential to be our own biggest barrier. Fitness is a gradual process and it’s vitally important to manage our outcome and aspirations versus the inputs and the hard work and perseverance we put into it.
What goals have you set and have you reached any of them yet?
I’m looking at completing my first duathlon this autumn and would love to do a half iron (wo)man once before I die. However, I won’t rush into anything. I don’t have the goals to be the winner of a series. I want to win my own mind and body’s respect. After all it’s fitness (both mental and physical) that is my first and foremost goal and not coming first or second in competitions.
What benefits has being active brought you?
I can certainly say that I am way healthier, fitter and more confident and active in my forties than ever before. I do know for a fact that I have more endurance and agility than many of my age but I don’t let it blind me. Exercise has given me benefits beyond what I expected – it has helped boost my mental strength, given me courage to deal with life as a mother of special needs kid and also balance my family and needs of our older child. A good bout of regular exercise fills me with positivity and enthusiasm, helps me focus and concentrate on things that matter the most, at the same time helping me relax and sleep at night! The role of healthy mind and healthy body in today’s stressful world cannot be undermined.
What advice would you give to other women who want to start exercising?
It’s never too late. Start off slowly with a sport or a fitness activity (be it yoga or Pilates or martial arts) that you think you can realistically achieve whilst also have fun doing it. Keep your goals short and sweet but remember that fitness is a lifestyle choice and lasts for as long as you live, so it’s a long term commitment. It’s important to balance it out, take breaks when necessary and take time out to celebrate your fitness achievements, big or small, with your near and dear ones as much as possible. You never know when you will inspire another individual on this road to fitness!