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7-min read

As Modi Launches Fit India Movement, a Peek at His Fitness Secrets

While the prime minister has been spreading the message of healthy living, there is a system honed since childhood that keeps him unflagging despite a punishing work schedule.

Brajesh Kumar Singh |

Updated:August 29, 2019, 8:32 PM IST
As Modi Launches Fit India Movement, a Peek at His Fitness Secrets
PM Modi as seen during a fitness video released on his Twitter on June 13, 2018.

It would be in the fitness of things to observe that Narendra Modi is one of the hardest-working politicians India has ever seen. And carrying forward his enthusiasm for health and well-being, the prime minister launched the Fit India Movement on Thursday. Let’s take a peek at the steps he has taken so far to promote healthy living and the fitness secrets of the untiring 68-year-old who says: “Body fit toh mind hit (If the body is fit, the mind is at its best).”

Modi chose the National Sports Day to launch the Fit India Movement, as he appealed to his countrymen to make exercise part of their lives to keep themselves healthy. “Earlier we heard of people getting heart attacks in the 60s but now you hear men in their 30s and 40s suffering heart attacks. Lifestyle diseases and disorders are on the rise. Small changes in our lifestyle can make all the difference,” he said. Yoga, physical exercise and fitness should be an integral part of discussions in each family, he urged. “There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs,” the PM said. And to take the stairs, you have to be fit, he added.

Modi has underlined the importance of yoga on several occasions and campaigned spiritedly to augment its international recognition. The ancient Indian tradition got a global boost when the United Nations upheld his proposal to designate June 21 to be celebrated as International Day of Yoga every year.

Narendra Modi’s emphasis on health and fitness is visible in his own life. He turns 69 on 17 September but leaves younger political allies and rivals far behind when it comes to work ethic. His fitness proves that age is just a number. Whenever he returns from foreign tours, he goes straight to work. After landing in India on Tuesday morning following a three-nation trip, he rushed to the house of his old friend Arun Jaitley who passed away on August 24.

So how does Modi keep himself so fit? His passion for yoga was visible during programmes on International Day of Yoga. The seeds were sown early in his childhood. A person close to him since his childhood days, who did not wish to be named, said, “It is now well-known that he caught a baby crocodile in Sharmishtha lake in his hometown Vadnagar and brought it home. But what is not known is he was a regular swimmer in the lake in his childhood days. Many doctors say swimming is the best form of exercise because each part of the body is in movement. This is a key reason behind Modi’s evergreen health.”

While attending a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha as a child volunteer he also picked up the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). After Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar founded the RSS in 1925, exercises in the shakhas were conducted in the same manner as military drills. All the volunteers of Sangh wore military shoes. But, the second head of the Sangh, MS Golwalkar, who was better known as Guruji among associates, emphasised on practising Surya Namaskar. By the time Modi started attending the shakhas, Sun Salutation had already become an integral part of regular activities there.

Modi’s life underwent a big change when he left home as a teenager with focus on renunciation of worldly life (sanyas). He visited various places in the country and lived in the Himalayas for a while, notably at a hermitage near Garud Chatti in now Uttarakhand. He came in contact with many seers and learned the breathing exercise pranayama from them.

When Modi became a full-fledged RSS pracharak, swimming took a back seat but Surya Namaskar and pranayama stuck. The situation remained the same even after he joined the BJP.

Modi’s life went through another change in 1992-93. He was playing an important role in Gujarat BJP till then. Being secretary (organisation) of the outfit, Modi had to visit and stay at various parts of Gujarat to strengthen the party’s foundation in the state. A lot of travelling and bad postures at work led to spondylitis. It was a major setback for such a workaholic man. To fight against the condition, Modi took a train to Bengaluru where he went to the famed Vivekananda Yoga Research Institute, was founded with inspiration from RSS leader Eknath Ranade. A special centre of this foundation runs by the name of Prashanti Kutiram, which is renowned for yoga researches, especially in the field of refraction of meditation. Its coordinator doctor was HR Nagendra, nephew of Sangh leader HV Sheshadri.

Modi learned the intricacies of yoga from Nagendra. After spending some time at the institute, Modi realised how helpful the ancient discipline was in bringing relief from many ailments. Through repeated practice, his condition was alleviated. This led him to believe mind that the benefits of yoga should be spread far and wide.

After working in the BJP organisation for years, when Modi became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, he formally started popularising yoga among people associated with the government and administration. Even when he was spending two-three days with his ministers and officers to draw plans for development of the state, later named Chintan Shivir, yoga was a central part of it.

Modi himself would teach yoga to his companions and officials while workers from Vivekanand Yoga Research Institute kept visiting to help him. He also organised Karmayogi (a person who follows the path of righteousness) camps to enhance the work efficiency of government employees where yoga was also practised. Later, he inaugurated the Lakulish Yoga University in Gujarat.

After becoming prime minister, he ensured global recognition for yoga. At a key programme being held at Delhi’s India Gate on International Day of Yoga, a chief trainer in white uniform was present on stage with Baba Ramdev. It was none other than Dr Nagendra. He was made the head of the committee formed to celebrate the annual event and Modi advised Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to seek the opinion of Dr Nagendra when his incessant cough was giving him trouble.

Apart from yoga and pranayama, another secret of the PM’s fitness is his food habit. Most people know that Modi is not a gourmand. The poverty he faced in his childhood days, didn’t allow him much in the form of luxury. His mother Heeraben would give him baajre ki roti (pearl millet bread) with tea as breakfast. In lunch, kadhi (curry of chickpea flour), and khichdi (rice and lentils cooked together) for dinner were the usual fare in his childhood. Wheat flour chapatis and vegetables were luxuries afforded when any guest visited. This simple diet kept him from gaining weight. A no-frills diet is also part of the RSS regimen.

When Modi visited Delhi in 1995, his food habits were simple. After returning back to Gujarat, he started cutting back even more. Gujaratis are fond of tea and Modi wasn’t an exception. He reduced the number of cups of tea he consumed daily but and also limited his masala tea drinking. Attending a programme in Ahmedabad as chief minister, when he came down from the dais, he said, “I am fed up of green tea. If possible, arrange some dhaba-style tea for me.”

His preferred tea was arranged but it was a rare occasion when he exhibited any strong desire for something. After holding the chair of chief minister, he started taking tea without sugar, a habit that has stuck. As far as food is concerned, Modi takes a khakhra (thin cracker prepared from lentils) with his morning tea. He has chapatis and vegetables for lunch. Buttermilk is his favourite drink and khichdi is enough for dinner. He stops taking food at night at the time of elections. Modi is conscious of weight gain and often does cycling along with yoga and pranayama. He started cycling after coming to Ahmedabad because he didn’t have a bicycle at his Vadnagar home. He learned to drive a motorcycle and car later while working for the Sangh and BJP.

It is said that one need to take care of four things to stay in good health – food, exercise, cleanliness and rest. Modi pays a lot of attention to the first three things. He is also very careful about hygiene since his childhood days. He used to wash his clothes himself after swimming. Cleaning and feeding his cow was included in his daily curriculum. The cleanliness campaign he launched after becoming prime minister is showing positive results. When he was chief minister of Gujarat, he travelled long distances to inculcate the habit in departments and offices of the state. He had made organized efforts so kids could learn the habit.

The one thing Modi often ignores is rest. He has not slept more than four hours a day since his Sangh days. He stays awake till midnight because it is his study time when he reads his favourite books. Despite going to bed at late hours, he wakes up at 5am without fail. The yoga, pranayama and food habits keep him fresh. Even during elections, when he does many meetings, he does not look exhausted. Visiting abroad, crossing different time zones and carrying out serious diplomatic talks are not able to sap him. There have been many occasions when he has done multiple rallies in a single day and several meetings at night while fasting during Navratras, surviving only on warm water. Now, he has his eyes on a Fit India.

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