Of all the options to get those executive endorphins going, nothing quite beats yoga. It may not have the glamour of gym workouts or the sexiness of skiing, but yoga is recognized as that rare workout that recharges both mind and body. No set of stretches works better than the good old Surya Namaskar, and nothing works quite as dramatically as Sirsasana. We spoke to three CEOs on why yoga is part of their regular workouts and how it has changed their lives.

Elsie Nanji, 55

Fitness factor: Elsie Nanji finds her thrice-a-week yoga sessions rejuvenating. Photo: Jaideep Oberoi

Why yoga: “I always loved the way yoga activates every part of my body. With aerobic exercise I never got the calming effect that yoga gives. Yoga is relaxing and almost the opposite of hectic aerobic exercise, yet it exercises all the muscles."

Having a teacher means: “I can ask him to vary the workout depending on how I am feeling." Along with yoga, thrice a week Nanji goes for marathon training. Her workout ranges from a 7km run to speed workouts with a mix of fast running and walking/jogging and weekly 10km-plus runs. Nanji’s yoga teacher tailors her workout to how she is feeling—on days after her long run, for instance, he does a set of asanas to help her relax and stretch—these include stretching asanas such as Astangyog, Pawanmuktasana and Naukasana. A year ago Nanji, recovering from a slip disc, had to stop yoga and running/jogging for some months. She resumed with a special set of asanas for back muscle toning, with the cat pose, forward bending (very slowly) and side stretches, all built around the exercises recommended by the physiotherapist. So, for instance, instead of doing the Surya Namaskar, which Nanji would do 10-12 times in one day earlier, she now does the Kapotasana.

How often: Three times a week for an hour at a time.

Favourite asana: The pigeon or Kapotasana. This is because it’s a top-to-toe stretch. Unlike Surya Namaskar, which used to be Nanji’s staple asana till her slip disc, Kapotasana doesn’t involve stretching the back.

Other workouts: Swimming is the favourite relaxing sport for Nanji, who enjoys a weekend swim at her house in Alibaug.

Rajiv Lall, 54

Rajiv Lall, CEO and MD at IDFC Ltd, Mumbai, does not go for long walks or play a sport, except during vacations. Neither does he have much patience with the jazzed up versions of yoga that are being offered nowadays. “They’re all marketing gimmicks," says Lall, who has been doing traditional yoga on and off for the last seven years. “I have become consistent and disciplined about yoga in the last four years though."

Why yoga: “It works for the mind and the body. It helps to improve your breathing better, oxygenates your blood, gets your heart pumping better," says Lall, adding that it is consistency and regularity that matter in yoga more than just making your workout more intensive. “Doing yoga regularly has helped me avoid the routine kind of coughs, colds and cope better with jet lag," he says. Lall adds that he also likes yoga because he can practise it anywhere—at home or in a hotel room.

Having a teacher means: “In yoga it is easy to do things wrong and imagine you are doing them right. A teacher helps you make the corrections. Also revisiting a teacher every few years helps in expanding and evolving the yoga regimen," he says.

How long: 55 minutes to an hour, every session.

Favourite asana: “I have no single asana. There is a whole regimen that is necessary." Lall does a pared version of his regimen when he is travelling. So instead of three different asanas for the upper body, Lall does any one when he’s travelling. Similarly he pares the sets of sitting, stretching and breathing asanas to a basic few. This reduces the length of his workout from the regular 55 minutes to 15-20 minutes.

Other workouts: No other workouts.

Susir Kumar, 45

Susir Kumar, CEO at Intelenet Global Services, Mumbai, can do the Sirsasana, a position only the most accomplished yoga practitioners manage to perfect, with considerable ease. But that isn’t really surprising because Kumar has been practising yoga for the last 20 years.

Why yoga: “It’s the perfect way of toning your mind and body simultaneously. Whatever sport you choose to practise, yoga can enhance and complement your ability. Most sports and exercises build muscular strength and stamina, often in specific areas of the body. But yoga can help to check any imbalance in muscular development and enable both your body and your mind to function more efficiently," says Kumar.

Having a teacher means: Kumar used to have a teacher when he began 20 years ago. But now he is comfortable managing his yoga sessions on his own.

How often: Three times a week for an hour at a time.

Favourite asana: Sirsasana. “It improves blood circulation. It also strengthens the immune system and helps to balance the endocrine system," says Kumar.

Other workouts: Yoga is only part of the fitness regimen Kumar follows. He also does a combination of cardio and weights training in the gym and plays squash at least once a week.


Try deep breathing, neck and wrist rolls, and Balasana

Restful: The Balasana soothes the mind and protects the heart.

• Deep breathing is a great way to de-stress while sitting at your office desk. Sit still in your chair, arms by your side. Inhale and hold for a count of four. Exhale and hold for a count of four. Repeat this five times.

• Simple neck rolls from one side to the other, as well as wrist rolls, help the body relax.

• If you have space and some time between work, Clark recommends Balasana. She says it’s an asana that is especially restorative.

Balasana (child pose): Get down to your knees on a mat. Put your hips on your heels. Open up your knees. Bend forward and let your head touch the floor. Your arms can be outstretched in front of you. If you wish to relax your shoulders more, bring your arms beside your legs. Hold for a minute. “Any time you need a resting pose, this is a lovely pose to get into. It’s soothing for the mind, protects your heart. You can feel the length of your spine stretch," says Clark.

—Sonya Dutta Choudhury

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