What Do We Mean By “Fitness”?

Hint: It’s Not Just Puffed Up Shoulders, Chest or Six Pack Abs

Poonam Gupta
Aug 22 · 22 min read

We all have different definitions of Fitness and wellness. In this blog, I share my insights, experiences and journey of holistic fitness while acknowledging that I have a much longer way to go and that you might not even be interested in knowing what I have to say. But if what I have learnt can help anyone become a better version of themselves or reach somewhat closer to where they want to be, I would consider it MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

In a way the growing awareness about one’s wellness and fitness is good and it is even better that people are now embracing the idea of keeping themselves well and putting in time, energy and money into it.

But the problem is a lot of people are following their pursuit of fitness mindlessly, just to look good, or under peer pressure or just to fit in a certain dress, or to put a sexy DP on Instagram.

Because the motives are ulterior and incomplete and hence the results are also incomplete.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Fitness

For the major part of my school life, I was the skinny, seemingly malnourished kid who was pathetic at all kinds of sports and came last in all races.

But as a person, I was extremely competitive. Having been best in academics and social activities, I could not take being absolutely pathetic at sports and games. This need for ego gratification and winning the praise of my teachers in sports also made me suddenly pick sports, practice rigorously, eat well. And hence, I eventually started performing.

I remember in 9th class I threw Javelin for the first time in my life and I won third prize at Zonal level competition. It was a pure stroke of luck though because I never won anything in Javeline again but it gave me a lot of confidence. From not being able to do basic Yoga asanas I went to win gold in Yoga Zonals and district twice.

Within a few months, I was in all major sports team of my school, playing Basketball, Kho Kho, and Kabbadi etc.

But my love affair with sports, games and physical fitness lasted only 3–4 years and it got sacrificed in the preparation fire of IIT-JEE in 11th class, for the next seven years of my life. And In a step by step process from a healthy, happy child, I would become a bordernline suicidial, sick and weak college student.

Due to the following reasons, I became increasingly sick, with a weird pain in my stomach 24*7 during the third year of my college. I would continue to suffer for almost two years.

  1. Borderline depression, immense sadness, borderline suicidal and an introvert loner, wearing the skin of a happening, full of life extrovert.
  2. Due to this immense sense of sadness in my life, I was doing anything to keep me alive, like smoking Malboro Advanced 5–6 times (Please don’t tell my parents :P ) a day, not eating, just surviving on air, water, smoke and canteen food.
  3. Crying in loneliness, not sharing with anyone and carrying a lot of unnecessary baggage causing me lots of stress ultimately hurting my gastric health.
  4. Waking up at 3 pm and sleeping at 8 am.
  5. Not making any conscious effort to undo the shit I was doing with my body, mind and soul.

I was developing serious gastric issues and weakness. I became mentally weak too and kept thinking of dying all the time. I sometimes thought of attempting suicide. A actually tried too. Other times, I would think suicide would make me look weak so, I would pray to God, please make this truck hit me so that I can die an honourable death.

I swear that was my thought process. Now, I find really hard to relate with the person I used to be. But hey, that’s life. We keep changing to survive better :D

No treatment, medicine and doctor seemed to help or mitigate even 0.1% of my pain.

Roaming around in campus, absolutely exhausted all the time, attending classes (occasionally), giving exams, tests, and still running a startup and trying to make it succeed with a broken heart and dilapidated body.

So, basically, I was doing everything to potentially fuck up my body, mind and my health. After a point, my body started to give up. I started suffering from serious gastric issues due to my lifestyle and dietary patterns.

An online search showed that I had symptoms of cancer. It scared the shit out of me.

Never do a Google search for your symptoms, it will make you believe you have cancer. LOL!!

Eventually, I realised that if I don’t do anything about it now, then it might be too late. This seemingly ordinary gastric issue might turn chronic. I decided to quit everything that was to interfere with my gastric system.

I did the biggest intervention of my life.

Within the blink of an eye, I changed my entire lifestyle upside down. I made the following changes in my lifestyle overnight.

  1. I quit, smoking, Tea, Coffe, All kinds of soft drink, and Spicy and fried food.
  2. Started eating in mess (yes, it’s bad but definitely better for your health than canteen food.)
  3. I started sleeping at 10 pm and waking up at 6 am.
  4. I stopped listening to sad songs, stopped playing the victim card in my mind and stopped feeling sad about being myself. Because stress is a big factor in gastric issues (That’s what I read and learnt from various blogs and doctors. I felt it too later).

Then one fine day, a friend of mine took me forcefully for her evening work out. I went reluctantly. But I just loved it. The breath of fresh air while stretching my body, running on the ground, doing crunches on ground and sweating. Ohh boy what a rush of Dopamine it was. It felt like I got my life again.

I was doing something rigorously physical after almost seven years. And it felt amazing. I felt like now I know how to survive. I took up running very seriously.

And from not being able to run 600 meters properly, within six months, with no trainer I was able to run 20 km at a stretch without stopping even once in 2.5 hours.

It felt like a personal achievement. Running helped me come out of my state of immense sadness. There was a rush of Dopamine in my body. No matter what happened in my life, I have been very regular and particular about my diet, lifestyle, workout and yoga other than occasional bouts of indulgence when I am travelling.

What I Learnt About Being Fit

During this journey, I have observed hundreds of people, including athletes at IIT Kharagpur, people at my gym, my own brother, different trainers, read multiple blogs, watched videos and done loads of experiments with myself to understand what do I really mean, when I say, I want to be fit and how can I achieve it and sustain it.

I made a few observations on my journey and what a lot of people do in their mindless pursuits of fitness.

  1. Puffed Up Shoulders & Chest is Fitness: I have seen lots of young boys just equate fitness to muscular shoulders and chest popping out of their skin-tight t-shirts. Because that’s all that is visible and perceptible to the girls in the college canteen.
  2. Thin Body with flat stomach To Wear Crop Tops: There is a class of young girls that I have noticed are absolutely unconcerned with their stamina, energy and power. They want a body on which crop tops and hawt pants would look good and they work out with that agenda in mind only. And hence, results are also like that.
  3. Muscular Body: There is another category of guys, who work day and night to have a muscular body. Puffed up chest, six-pack abs, ripped thighs but you ask them to run 5 km and they would go out of breath. You ask them to touch their feet or bend backwards they can’t. When the atmosphere is not suitable, they soon catch the cold, fever, or some other allergy. Easily get tired and exhausted on a trek while others with a seemingly feeble body can easily manage.
  4. Working Out Odd times: There is another class of people, who do work out but lack a sense of discipline in it. They work out odd times, whenever they like. Eat odd things at odd times, thinking just adding some physical work is sufficient and anything else is unnecessary.
  5. You Need Chicken to Build a Body: Then there is another class which follows their trainers mindlessly, eating chicken, pork, eggs, taking supplements and dairy in the name of the protein. Because as per their trainers their muscles won’t recover and build unless they eat meat, egg and dairy.
  6. Smoking, Drinking and Fast Food Eating with Excercise: There is another class of people into fitness who do some kind of the physical workout but they are still heavy drinkers and smokers.

And there could be more variety to this. I could add more categories but the agenda of this categorisation is not to criticise anyone for their definition of fitness and how incomplete it is. It is basically to understand our motives behind remaining fit, who and what guides our definition and vision of fitness, and what can we do to practice a more holistic and comprehensive way of remaining fit to live a healthier, happier more contented life.

I have come to a personal definition and concept of fitness that I practice and try to abide in. I broadly categorise fitness them into three categories

  1. Physical Fitness: Power, Energy, Strength, Immunity, flexibility, Adaptability to odd climates are subsets of it.
  2. Mental Fitness: For me, mental fitness is about having strong will power, razor-sharp concentration, ability to think calmly even in adverse condition, managing our emotions, ability to take strong and well-thought decisions in unfavourable situations.
  3. Spiritual Fitness: For me, spiritual fitness is about knowing that every single life form on earth carries the same consciousness that we carry. Knowing that all life forms at the primal root are just the same and hence, we don’t have any reason to be arrogant about anything and rather we should be compassionate to all beings. Spiritual fitness is acknowledging universal oneness and working consistently to achieve and abide in it.

All though there are no rigid lines and all these categories influence each other. Spiritual fitness effects, physical and mental fitness and vice versa. But still, we need to pay attention to all of them if we want to live a life being fit in a holistic way.

For example: If you get admission into to your dream college or get into your dream company, your friends and family would be happy too. But you are likely to be the happiest person. Similarly, when we do a physical workout, it enhances our mental and spiritual fitness too but if we really want to improve our mental and spiritual fitness significantly and specifically then we have to put our efforts directed at them specifically.

The indirect efforts give results similar to the happiness given by indirect sense of achievement.

Now, let’s break down these categories further and discuss them and their various attributes in detail.

Physical Fitness

Most of us, don’t even practise, physical fitness holistically. Especially men, they generally want to have a muscular body like their trainer or some social media influencer they follow on Instagram.

Let’s discuss Physical Fitness in Detail (Again this is my own understanding, definitions and classifications):

Strength is about brute force, being able to apply a lot of force to lift weights, move a certain object, punching (this requires timing and speed too but strength plays a prominent role). Generally, people with heavier bodies, have a lot of strength proportion to their weight (Not always true though).

The amount of weight we can lift or force we can apply depends on the strength of our muscles, bone, energy in our body and our own body weight.

Agility is our ability to move fast, run, do swift movements without getting tired or out of breath suddenly. Agility is about being able to run, cycle, do burpees, sprints, Zumba, Aerobics etc comfortably.

People who are overweight generally find it difficult to be agile because of their weight. But at times even lighter people are not agile enough due to lack of energy. Even though they have light bodies, still they don’t have enough energy and strength to run around 5 km.

A lot of bodybuilders with chiselled cuts and ripped body find it difficult to have a 15 min stretch on a treadmill at a speed of 10 km/hr.

Agility requires strong powerful lungs, along with strong muscles and bones. Without lungs of good capacity, we can’t be very swift in our movements, run long distances, cycle, or swim etc.

I have seen seemingly fit people with a great body have poor immunity and adaptability to climate changes. They can lift 200 kg deadweight, do good amount of pushup reps but can’t sustain a few degrees less temperature and can’t manage a few km of the trek.

They easily come under the weather and not able to keep up well if the climate is changed to something they are not used to. They are also very vulnerable to infections owing to their poor immunity.

Hence, physical fitness is not just about ripped, chisled muscular body. One needs to have good immunity too.

Else, you would keep suffering infections, allergies and be on bed sick, tired with that muscular chiseled body every now and then.

Flexibility is few of the rarely appreciated attributes of fitness. People rarely talk about flexibility while they talk about fitness.

By flexibility, I don’t mean that you have to be an Olympic gymnast, but not being able to touch your feet with knee straight, not being able to bend forward and backward properly is not a good sign and not good for your overall well being too. You become susciptible to injuries more.

A lot of bodybuilders, gym goers, and even trainers ignore this aspect of physical fitness balatantly and if they have to bend slightly sideways, forward, backward, they find it nearly impossible to do it.

Are they fit?

The title is self-explanatory. This is another aspect of physical fitness. (This is different from immunity.) Immunity is our ability to fight the microbes and avoid getting infections and diseases.

This is about how fast we heal once injured. Obviously, a certain injury would always take a certain time to heal but we have seen some people heal faster than others.

There is a difference in their physiology, the health of their organs, the nutrients in their body, their will power, attitude towards the injury which causes them to heal at different paces.

This is another important part of fitness because if our bodies don’t heal well and in time then it creates problems in all aspects of our lives. Suppose if you’re a professional athelete, everything about you is great but you take twice the time to heal an injury than normal, then it is gonna cost you good amount of time, performance and medals in your life.

Hence, it is important that we take conscious effort at this too and improve our capacity to heal our injuries and wound whether internal or external.

This is the ability of your body to maintain balance in odd positions and poses. A lot of yoga poses seem simple but people are not able to hold them for even 5 secs because they lack balance.

Physical balance is an important part of physical fitness. Balance requires a certain degree of strength and concentration of mind. If you really want to be physically fit, you can’t ignore this aspect of physical fitness.

Good balance is important for holistic improvements, better performance, and timings. If you’re as good as almost other players in a tournament but you lack balance like others, you’re not likely to match up to their performances.

Mental Fitness

Mental fitness and its attribute are not as easy to define as of physical fitness but I would give it a try here. Mental fitness is really crucial in fact might be more important than physical. Mentally fit person can eventually achieve physical fitness too owing to the sheer force of his/her will power.

This is the ability that makes us think that mind is over matter and some of us end up achieving seemingly miraculous and impossible feats by the sheer force of will power.

Not just in sports and games but in all walks of life, will power, is an ability that helps us in everything we want to be or want to do. Stronger the will power, stronger the results. Will power of someone is not related with their size, weight and strength.

It’s an attribute which can make people attain the desired results in physical fitness too.

And the more physically fit you become your will power and confidence is also likely to increase but this doesn’t imply that a physically weak person will have weak will power as well.

This is our ability to concentrate our mind on the activity that we are doing at any moment. Our ability to focus on one thing at a time without getting distracted and singing “Shape of you” in our head.

Most of us get easily distracted with the strong momentum of thoughts in our head, a song, or anything else. Concentration is not an attribute easily found in people. There are very few people, who do one thing with complete focus without getting distracted every now and then.

Even most of the students are not able to study for five minutes without getting distracted due to WhatsApp notifications, thoughts of the new hot girl in class, the upcoming world cup final etc.

Being able to concentrate on our workout, the ball, class, work, without getting distracted is something that can deliver results in a much faster and efficient manner and keep us much happier and contented.

Even the people with strong will power and concentration lack this ability at times. They can stick to their decisions after it is taken and pursue them wholeheartedly but lack decisiveness to take a decision when it is required.

This is the ability to evaluate all the inputs from all the sources and take a decision that you find most suitable before it’s too late. This is an ability that differentiates good players from good captians.

Not every good player can be a good captain but a good captain has to be a good player. Hence, a good captain or leader along with physical fitness, will power and concentrations should possess ability to take strong decisions and stick by them in the times of crisis.

At times this puts them in conflict with others but they still do it for a broader purpose not thinking about the criticism they receieve.

The ability to see the good in everything, the ability to not get disappointed by an injury, or loss, or poor performance or something else is known as optimism. It is one of the very important life skills to lead a happy and satisfying life. It’s easy to complain and crib about everything but it takes a certain degree of mental fitness to see the right in every wrong and understand that everything happens for a reason and there is no injustice in the overall scheme of things.

Optimistic people rarely get devastated or heartbroken, they would always find a reason to be happy about it and do better next time.

They always take everything as an experience, learn from it and move on. This attribute of mental fitness, helps us not just in sports but in all walks of life.

This is another important attribute of mental fitness. I can say it because I am physically fit with good immunity, flexibility will power and optimism too but I still find it very hard to manage my emotions.

I can cry so easily even at a place where I should absolutely not. If I don’t like something, it generally becomes obvious on my face. It is probably because I always wear my opinion and emotions on my sleeves but it is not always advisable to do so.

Sometimes maintaining calm is more important than shouting from the rooftops about how you felt when your colleague gets the promotion, or when you lose a crucial match, or when your teammate doesn’t perform as per expectations, or when your girlfriend tells you that you’re not romantic enough in front of her friends :P

I lack this ability. I am working at it and becoming better at it. So, last time I had an emotional breakdown moment in office, I didn’t cry, managed to play cool, did my work with ease and left home without anyone getting to know that I am having an emotional breakdown. :D

In fact, you would see in sports also, some players manage to keep their calm and emotions under control under extremely adverse condition and this helps them take well thought decisions, and perform well.

This is an important mental fitness attribute for leadership, and hence captains of teams in sports and games, leaders of companies, and countries are supposed to have this.

Spiritual Fitness

Spiritual Fitness in a way is related to both physical and mental fitness in a way and in a way it isn’t. Because in a way everyone is on their spiritual journey to become one with the supreme consciousness. The difference is some make conscious effort to progress in that direction whereas some are just learning and unlearning not realising we all are heading to the same end.

For me, spiritual fitness is about acknowledging the single goal of all life forms in the universe and striving towards it consciously.

At different stages of life, different kind of loss and sadness made me find something that could give me infinite happiness, permanent and unblemished bliss.

During this, I have met some people and felt some of the saints' energy and presence around me strongly. I was guided by different things, books, texts people and ideas at different times. I share whatever I have been able to grasp and execute due to grace.

We all generally have a very strong sense of body consciousness, ego and hence a very strong sense of being the “DOER” (कर्ता भाव). Our ego and sense of being is a control freak and wants everything our way.

If freedom is given then everyone would like to have everything in the universe their own way. Due to this desire, we try to control whatever we can and whatever is being done or experienced by us as a medium we, have this feeling that we are doing it.

From the spiritually uplifted people that I have in my surroundings and some of the timeless texts like “Tripura Rahasaya”, and “Ramayan” and anecdotes I learnt the importance of “WITNESS” (दृष्टा भाव) attitude. So, generally, we have this DOER attitude that “I am the DOER”.

But for a seeker who wants to experience and abide in the best state possible for mankind it is important to abide in Witness Attitude. Witness attitude basically means that you start considering yourself just the witness of everything that is happening around you and that is being done by using you as a medium.

The one who practises witness attitude consciously, stops taking credit for good that he does and stops criticising him/her for anything wrong he does. In all situations, circumstances, they try to remind themselves consciously that a higher power/intelligence is running the world and it knows what it is doing.

In fact not just for you but for everyone else too. When others wrong you, or do something that hurts you then also think that is not them it is the higher power that’s running you and everything else in the universe.This helps in dissolution of ego and it helps in removing the impurities and vices in our conscience.

Because all the vices are driven by a strong sense of ego, and superiority. When we practice witness attitude consciously in everything ego starts dissolving, we mellow down, we complain lesser, we feel sad less frequently for lesser time.

This will not come naturally to you in the begining, you have to consciously remind of it everytime you crib about something you did or take a sense of pride in some of your accomplishments. Just keep reminding yourself you’re just the witness not the doer.

This helps the seeker progress spiritually faster and develop the right attitude, temperament for relatively difficult spiritual practices and life in general as well.

Another important thing is to acknowledge and embrace is the universal oneness. Understanding that from a grain of sand to the oceans, air, all life forms have their origin and existence in the same source and would eventually dissolve in the same source. That same source is said to be God, Atman, Parambramah, Allah and many other names in a different religions, and regions.

Consciously trying to see that essence of that supreme, pure, unblemished consciousness in every life form and nook and corner of the world is important for spiritual progress and fitness. It doesn’t come easy.

We are used to seeing things in a differentiated unconnected way. So, you might take time in imbibing this but it would come to you eventually. Just keep reminding yourself that we all are one.

Everytime, you remind this to yourself, you choose to be happy and take a step closer to the penultimate goal of Sat-Chit-Anand.

We keep having all kinds of thoughts all the time and we keep powering them by giving them attention and they drain our energy. By vigilance of thought, I mean that we have to be vigilant about the thoughts that keep coming to our mind, not power them by giving them attention and try to understand where are they coming from.

Like for example your friend scored more marks than you and you are feeling bad inside but you’re showing as if you’re happy for her. You’re feeling bad about feeling jealous of your own friend too. Now, in this case, rather than criticising yourself or your friend, you should just sit calmly all by yourself and ask what is making you feel bad.

Is it the fact that she performed better? That means I want to be superior and better than her. But why? Because everyone wants to be the best? But why? What would I get from it? Scoring more marks will make me feel superior to her and gratify my ego. Okay, so I am hurt because my ego missed an opportunity to get gratification and rather it got hurt. And then think of universal oneness and witness attitude too.

When you start objectively assessing your thoughts and their root, they start bothering you less. Whenever you do something, just ask yourself honestly, why exactly are you doing it. What’s the real motivation, whether you wanna make someone happy, or you just like being praised, or you want money, or you want fame, or want vengeance or your simply doing it because it is your responsibility.

Don’t power the thoughts that nurture your ego.

For example, while I am writing this blog, and when people read it, some will appreciate it, there would be likes claps and comments. Some would criticise it, some would ignore it. Every clap, like and comment of appreciation boosts my ego and I know it. I feel a sense of achievement and in fact everyone does, that’s why social media is so addictive. I know that if I don’t get good response or if someone criticises my views, my ego would get hurt and I might react too.

But while I would go through all these emotions and thoughts, I keep myself vigil about them. I keep reminding myself, of the superficial pleasure, I am getting by feeding my ego through these likes and comments and hence, my attachment and the influence that social media response has on me has decreased drastically.

We all get all kinds of thought, some are docile, some are harmful, some are violent, some are hienous, some are pure hate, some are love. We don’t have to get attached to these thoughts and nurture them by giving them energy in form of attention.

Just be an observer keep observing them and try to go to their root. This way slowly, the frequency, momentum and frequency of unecceassry, mindless thoughts would decrease and eventually if grace likes it would become zero too.

Acceptance is a rarely found virtue and it eventually leads to complete surrender to that supreme intelligence, that is running this universe. It is important for true seekers to accept everything gracefully that comes their way without complaining.

Acceptance of all kinds of things and events. Whether you win or lose, whether you break your leg, whether someone really close to you backstabs you, whether someone really close to you dies, whether your company goes bankrupt and you become penniless. Anything, that may happen, we try to accept it with grace and humility without reacting much to it. If we become the king of the country then also we accept with humility as a prasad and responsibility not as the power to rule.

Acceptance is one the biggest virtue, and keep practising acceptance, eventually leads to complete surrender, where you take every event as God’s (The will of the supreme intelligence that is root of all creation) will and align with it without any conflict or tension.

Once you surrender your preference, your choices, your will to that supreme intelligence then suddenly you will see miraclous all around, things falling into place. Your thoughts start becoming reality. Your desires start fulfuling much faster, and you become more and more peaceful. You start getting closer to that pure consciouness evey moment and hopefully eventually become that.

I have felt going closer to it but becoming that is something I can’t speak with authority at the moment but I trust the scriptures, saints and their words.

If so many of them have achieved it like Buddha, Nanak, Adi Guru Shankracharya, Kabeer, Sai Baba then it must be acheivable.

This is my idea of fitness and its pursuits. We need to strive for holistic fitness if we want to be healthy, happy, peaceful, contented and free of conflicts as much as possible.

Although, this is very subjective statements and depends on spiritual maturity of an individual.

Because for some amateurs like me, physical fitness and mental fitness becomes important to strive for spiritual fitness. I have observed multiple times, when I am in physical pain or mentally disturbed due to something then I am unable to meditate or follow witness attitude or anything.

I try but it becomes difficult. My mind doesn’t cooperate with me and hence, I take very good care of my physical and mental well being.

Since morning at 5:30 am to the evening at 10 pm, I plan my day in a way that I try to maximize my happiness quotient in life by practising holistic fitness but without being finicky or completely non-accommodating about it.

Because being flexible to accommodate unexpected changes and events in life with calmness is also important along with practising with discipline. We have to be disciplined and flexible at the same time.

For example: Earlier, I used to get irritated when I had relatives at home because due to the noise, I won’t be able to sleep on time and hence, would not be able to wake up on time for my morning rituals which is a 3 hours long process. It made me agitated and hurt my mental peace. Then I realised I am defeating the very purpose of my morning rituals by reacting like this. Hence, now, I make slight changes in my daily routine when we have relatives and friends over. So, that we host them well, I also attend them well with attention when they are around and when they are gone I am back to my usual life.

But there are mature seekers and saints who don’t get affected by physical pain because they have risen above body-consciousness (Sense that I am the body or the body anyhow affects me) and their universal oneness and witness attitude is also so strong that they don’t feel mental tensions also. Hence, they don’t need to focus very much on their physical fitness by various methods, although some of them may still choose to do it, it doesn’t affect their mental peace in any way. They are still and stable, always.

Now, I understand that if you really understood and saw value in what I shared in this blog then you would like to know how to practice holistic fitness at such busy times when practising work-life balance is difficult for working parents, people working odd shifts and times, etc.

If you see value in my thought process, and insights and want to know more about practising holistic fitness, the role of diet in it, what do I do, to keep me physically, mentally and spiritually fit and to keep striving in that direction then let us know.

If people really want to know further, then I would write the next blog and publish it next week itself, else I would write on

Love and Light to all. May you all achieve fitness in all walks of life.

Four Pursuits Ventures

Four Pursuits Ventures is an incubator for people and ideas that have the potential and passion to bring the social transformation towards a more just, equitable and hospitable world.

Poonam Gupta

Written by

I am working as a Manager, Strategy & Operations at Four Pursuits, which is a social impact incubator

Four Pursuits Ventures

Four Pursuits Ventures is an incubator for people and ideas that have the potential and passion to bring the social transformation towards a more just, equitable and hospitable world.

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