Back in the day, once upon a long, long time ago, when Sparta, one of the most powerful city-states in Ancient Greece, gave the heebie-jeebies to its neighbouring city-states, Spartan mums were considered the foundation of its society. In the belief that warrior-like women birthed strong babies who could be nurtured into professional and physical and mental resilient warriors, Spartan women trained their bodies and minds as intensely as Spartan men did — birthing and breeding their offspring into disciplined and dedicated Sparta soldiers. Historians claim Spartan mums left their babies out in open fields, to see if they’d endure the elements. When other mums wept at the thought of losing their sons to battle, Spartan mums sent off theirs by handing them a shield, saying, “Either with this or upon this,” i.e., either return victorious with the shield, or dead, on it. Minus getting their sons to fend for themselves, Spartan mums live among us — matching the high-intensity training and fitness levels of those from Ancient Greece. Meet four desi versions of Spartan mums sharing their kickass training and their motivation to keep at it.
Fit for good
Dhanya Nair, 35, Search Engine Optimisation Consultant, London, mum of a 6-year-old Aria
Fitness routine: 3–4 days of CrossFit; 2 days of yoga; 2–3 days of Zumba; weights; walks
Self-noted achievements: Marathons, Olympic-style 70-kg deadlift.
A chubby kid who was bullied in her school in Chennai, Dhanya had added several kilos by the time she completed her PG and moved to Mumbai. Despite trying walks, fitness was not on her radar. “Regular walks and jogging helped me lose weight. I just wanted to be super-skinny,” says Dhanya, who also started lifting weights after she met her husband. But fitness became a serious concept only in her late 20s. “And since, I find it very therapeutic,” she says, adding that she did weights, walks and yoga even when she was pregnant with her daughter. The delivery sent Dhanya into postnatal anxiety. With her family’s support, she got back to gymming, walking and doing yoga. “The fitness regime I’d begun for vanity’s sake was making me stronger, helping me ward off anxiety,” says Dhanya.
Impacting her world: Dhanya’s 6-year-old daughter takes to exercising with her — doing simple jumping jacks, squats and running (her favourite activity). One of the few girls in her school’s football team, she has a very healthy relationship with food, understanding good food including vegetables will strengthen her, and that too many sweets and junk food are unhealthy.
Impacting herself: Fitness has taught Dhanya discipline and resilience. “I’m up on most days by 5.30 am and finish my CrossFit class by 7.00 am. On days I don’t feel like waking up my discipline kicks in and gets me going,” states Dhanya, who hopes her daughter builds those values and principles in her.
Building a strong relationship
Vijayalakhsmi Govind, 42, Teacher and Academic Coordinator for Middle School, Bengaluru, mum of 21-year-old Rajeev Govind
Fitness routine: HIIT; strength-training and conditioning; cardio; functional
Accomplishments: Attributes her positivity and optimism to her fit body; has won various Indian Army pageants.
Lakshmi, as Vijayalakshmi is fondly called, firmly believes that a fit body
houses a fit mind and fitness has remained a priority for her. “Fitness is part of loving yourself, and exercise to be fit, not skinny. If you’re not in a good relationship with yourself, you really can’t have a stable one with another person. Change the way you look at yourself and the world will look at you differently,” elaborates the wife of an Indian Army colonel.
A regular gym goer until COVID, Lakshmi wondered what she’d do to stay fit until she got online with a trainer called Rufaid in Bengaluru. “His fitness routines completely changed my perception about going to a gym for fitness,” exclaims Lakshmi, who normally works out in the evenings.
Impacting her world: Watching his mum’s persistence and dedication, her 21-year-old son Rajeev Govind, who never worked out previously, has started now. “He goes for walks and exercises watching YouTube,” says Lakshmi of her son, who’s also been pushing her to participate in the Mrs India contest.
Impacting herself: Lakshmi sees many advantages to being fit. “My immune system has gotten stronger, I’ve become more agile and my laziness has decreased,” says Lakshmi. “I believe fitness has moulded my personality.”
Finding herself through fitness
42, Filmmaker, Dubai, mum of 11-year-old Anahita
Fitness routine: Strength-training; HIIT, CrossFit; karate; kickboxing
Self-noted achievements: Olympic-style 50 kg deadlift; chased a thief (and had him apprehended)
Sucheta’s fitness story began with her postnatal journey in 2009 when Anahita was born. She’d leave her then five-month-old baby in her relatives’ care and head to the gym. “Soon, I found a personal trainer who pushes me enough that I cannot work out those body parts for the next two days,” she says smiling, adding that on those days, she works out other body parts.
A filmmaker and the director of the 2014-feature film on child abuse, The Journey to Her Smile, which won much acclaim across various film festivals, including the 68th Cannes Film Festival, Sucheta treats her body like a temple. “I train it to build strength and my reflexes, and am conscious about what I eat, ensuring every morsel is satisfying and nutritional. Of course, I junk once in a couple of months,” explains Sucheta, who’d introduced a ‘Friday family workout’ during the lockdown, involving fun workouts with her family.
Impacting her world: Her family, including mum, husband and mum-in-law, follow her nutritional tips. Her over-60-year-old mum, who didn’t want to take to yoga before, is a fan, as is her mum-in-law. Her daughter Anahita is also a fitness enthusiast and has joined ballet classes. “She does all kinds of splits. Now, inspired by her, I’ve begun learning karate,” Sucheta adds.
Impacting herself: After the screening of her feature film at a Mumbai film festival in December 2015, Sucheta headed back to crash at her relative’s for the night. The family was travelling and Sucheta was by herself. As she was nodding off, she saw someone near her bed, trying to steal her phone. She screamed and grabbed at his collar. Scared, the 20-something man ran into another room of the large house. Sucheta followed. Soon, he escaped, even as Mumbai Police reached her. (Some days, later, she helped them apprehend the thief.) “My instincts and reflexes on finding the guy when I was still groggy with sleep were the result of my rigorous training. Otherwise, I was a timid child who shied away from conflicts,” she adds.
Now and forever, consistently
Pinky Ranjeet, 37, Homemaker, Bengaluru, mum of 15-year-old Ronin Venis
Fitness routine: Marathon training; weights; strength-training; intense badminton games
Self-noted achievements: 10-km runs in 2 hours 11 minutes; 9 high-level local badminton tournament titles since 2019; no illnesses in the last five years
Between 6 and 9 am daily, Pinky is out running, training for her first marathon. While she does interval-training and strength-training across five days a week, on the sixth day, she does long runs — anything above 10 km. Pinky also devotes an hour to badminton daily, playing intense games with advanced players.
Pinky was not always as fit. Despite sports in school and college, a largely sedentary life after marriage added to her weight, adding to complications in conceiving. So the husband–wife duo spent `20,000 on a beauty-clinic fad in 2003, which reduced 3 kg for her — which she promptly put back on.
Then in 2009, after her son was born, Pinky began working again, only to notice her constant tiredness. “I hit the gym and found my mojo in weight-training,” she adds. But seeing her boss doing 10-km runs got her thinking about running. “Initially, I only thought that anyone running so much was a fool!” she says, laughing. But soon, she was running — for a minute initially and then for longer.
Pinky, who’s now between jobs, believes organising oneself around health balances life. “On days I want to sleep in at 5 am instead of heading for my run, I push myself to maintain my consistency. Health is primary, and despite genetics, if you care for your body, it’ll care for you.”
Impacting her world: Watching her, Pinky’s son Ronin understands that health cannot be compromised with. He runs, plays football and badminton and works out on the pull-up bar his mum has installed for him. The mum–sonny duo has regular burpees and planks challenges, too. And the kid’s not fallen ill in many years, unlike many of his classmates and friends.
Impacting herself: Pinky did her first half-marathon in 2 hour 38 minutes, which was 2 hours and 11 minutes in 2019.