Swati Bhargava, 35, co-founder of CashKaro.com, a cashback and coupons website, developed a skin allergy while she was in school. Her parents tried everything, from allopathic anti-allergen medicines, to homoeopathy, and even naturopathy, but these treatments only gave her temporary relief. Over the years, Bhargava gained weight due to the steroids she consumed. During her stint at Goldman Sachs from 2005 to 2010, the long working hours, often 15 hour a day, took further toll on her health. Eventually, the allergy got worse. “I felt completely out of control as far as my health was concerned at that point of time and realized that I was taking my body for granted. I needed to pause and learn to listen to it," she says.

Changeover

In 2004 , Bhargava was introduced to pranayama, which involves deep-breathing exercises. It is based on the fact that oxygen has life-changing properties, and if we ensure oxygen is reaching all the millions of cells in our body, it helps rejuvenate them. But it took her other six years to make this as routine. “As I started doing Anulom Vilom pranayama regularly, my allergy disappeared. As I did Kapalabhati everyday, combined with cutting out sugar and salt from my diet, I reached my optimal weight too," says Bhargava.

It has been eight years or so that she have been practising pranayama regularly, and her skin allergy is now under control. “Yoga has given me the valuable gift of life and energy. We still don’t know what caused the allergy, but at least it is gone now," she says.

The fitness trail

When Bhargava decided to become an entrepreneur in 2011, she realized that she needed even more stamina for her long days and work pressures. She worked on her exercise regime accordingly. Now, she wakes up around 6.30am, spends 30 minutes doing pranayama, and then does various chanting and meditation sessions for 30 minutes. This has substituted her morning walk regime, which she tries to do after dinner. Bhargava’s morning regime is geared towards relaxing the body and expanding her horizons.

Bhargava is disciplined about the food she eats as well. She sticks to home-cooked food as much as possible and has frequent small meals, usually vegetarian. Her diet is protein rich and consists of eggs, paneer, dal and vegetables on a daily basis. She also does coconut oil pulling, which is an alternative medical practice in which coconut oil is “swished" and swirled around the mouth. This process helps maintain dental hygiene.

Mind matters

Like most working professionals, Bhargava says that she too struggled to take out time to exercise and take care of her health. However, she has learnt the hard way that nothing is more important than health. “As cliché as it may sound, if you aren’t well, you are not employable and certainly cannot run a business where hundreds of people are dependent on you in some form or the other. So taking out time for ourselves is not a choice, it is a pre-requisite to making most of our lives. It took a lot of effort and discipline but I am glad I persisted and did this," she says.

Lifestyle changes

Keeping up your health resolve often needs you to do things you may not feel like. Bhargava has cut down on parties with friends and is usually in bed by midnight so that she does not skip her morning routine. “I’ve reduced eating out and 90% of the time I go out with friends after having my dinner at home. I always try to be present in the moment when I spend time with colleagues and family, and ensure that even if I am spending 15 minutes with them, it is as high quality as it can be," she says.

A fit leader

Every team feeds off their leader’s energy and as the captain of the ship you have to stay sharp. “I feel an average team under a great leader can do better than a great team under an average leader. Plus, when I say ‘fit’ I don’t just mean physically—you and your mind both have to be on your toes," says Bhargava.

Finding Fitness is a series that looks at how a health scare prompted senior executives to work on their lifestyle habits.

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