Having edited an iconic health magazine for over a decade, I am trained to look at every fitness professional with a degree of suspicion.

Is this chap trying to make a fast buck off of the insecurities of an unfit person? Is this woman a smart-talker with no real knowledge of the subject? Are these people overpromising what is really not theirs to deliver?

Believing that no fitness trainer or nutritionist you employ can ever be as effective as your own resolve, I meet integrative wellness expert Luke Coutinho, 42, with some apprehension. The venue is The Chambers, the members-only club of the Taj Hotels, and I am conducting a Q&A for a select audience. Midway into my questioning, I hear a silent sob. Seated in the audience is a former client whom Luke has helped fight cancer.

“I was in Bombay a few years ago and got a call at 2 am,” Luke Coutinho tells us about one of his first cases. “The call was from a big industrialist family, and they said ‘listen, we are sending a car to pick you up. We’re five hours away and there is someone dying of cancer’.

“So, I immediately asked, how do you want me to help, because I am not a doctor. I am in the field of integrated lifestyle medicine. I can’t possibly handle an emergency case.

“‘Can you just please come?’ they insisted. “It has been recommended and the patient has asked for you himself.”

“When I met the patient, I saw that he had a metastatic cancer that had spread from his prostate to his lungs, and then to his brain. The doctors had given him about a week to live.”

“As I went through his reports,” continued Luke, “I realised that no one had looked at this guy’s immunity. They had given him chemo, radiation, everything! But his immune factors had always been low. Now, you cannot put a cancer into remission if the immune system is not worked upon. Cancer is not a disease you can cure, but you can put it in remission.

“So, I said, let me try. I set up a plan for him and left. Two weeks later, they called and said, ‘he’s still living. He’s feeling better.’ His immune factor was going up. So, I went back and spent some time with him. He was looking better, with higher energy levels, he was sitting up. I started to work on his nutrition, and he went on to live for another five and a half years.

“That is the case that made word of mouth go around, and in the next couple of weeks, I was flown to different places to meet people in different parts of the country… people with cancer… that’s how ‘integrative nutrition’ really took off in India. Before that, it was always just nutrition for weight loss or weight gain and all of that stuff.”

The stories of our other two fitness trainers are no less inspiring.

In the face of stiff challenges, Deepesh Bhatt, 39, or Shivohaam as he is popularly known, returned to India to India to set up CrossFit, dismissed by many as just another fad, and became one of the most sought-after trainers in the country. “One thing I implement in my life is something the books will never teach you,” he declares. “It’s about being true to yourself, to your passion, to what you love… because if you love something truly, you will never be able to give anyone wrong advice in that regard.” As per reports, Shivohaam is set to train actor Ranbir Kapoor for his next physique-intensive role. Note that in times when Bollywood has the bandwidth to employ the best professionals money can buy from across the world, his being assigned this job cannot be disregarded.

Sohrab Khushrushahi, 39, aka Sohfit, HT Brunch columnist and the current favourite of Bollywood stars, has a story that’s even more dramatic. He went from a high-flying career in corporate law to becoming a fitness coach to the glamorous. (See below).

It’s true. A misprint in a health magazine can affect your life. But just one bit of the many pieces of great advice in this story could also change your life.

On sleep as medicine

Luke Coutinho: Sleep is my lynchpin. Because sleep is medicine. You wake up fresh, your hormones are working in balance, you’ve detoxified automatically, and sleep controls all the hormones that get us through the day. People who are emotional eaters don’t understand that sleep plays a huge role. If you haven’t slept well, you’re low on productivity and creativity, you miss your workout because you’re tired, and then you are cranky and irritable so you say the wrong things, behave the wrong way, and now, you have new problems and conflicts with people.

So, sleep is the core of what I do because sleep is what we use to balance ourselves naturally. A lot of spiritual leaders also say that if you don’t meditate, at least sleep deeply.

For me, everything is planned around sleep: my flights, my patient calls—unless there’s a huge emergency. My socialising is planned around my sleep as well!

Busting popular fitness myths

On keeping at it

Sohrab Khushrushahi: The one learning I’ve implemented my entire life, not just my time as a fitness professional, is consistency. Nothing is achieved overnight, nothing worthwhile comes easy or without a consistent amount of hard work over a period of time. That’s the one learning I’m going to implement my entire life.

On the power of why

Shivohaam: The most valuable information or advice I have given to anyone is that first and foremost, whenever you want to do something, whether it is training or following a diet, ask yourself why you want to do it. You will automatically get the answer, and you cannot lie to yourself. Understanding why is always the first step in doing anything in life.

On anxiety

Luke: Anxiety is a root cause of most problems today. Top doctors, cardiologists, surgeons that we work with around the world, say that stress is the biggest cause of all diseases today.

The most valuable advice I give people is to accept that anxiety is real. Don’t try to resist it. It’s a human survival mechanism. And it’s good. It warns us about some threat or something that’s happening. So, whenever anxiety hits you, ask yourself: what is the problem, and what can I do to fix it? If there is something you can do, do it. If there is nothing that you can do, let go. There is no point getting more and more anxious trying to control something that you cannot control. But if there is an action to take—no matter how little or how big—take it. Most people’s anxieties grow more and more due to chronic stress, fears, illusions and stories that may never be true… If you don’t take action, you are stuck.

I tell people, you come to me for your health, but are you willing to change the things that have made you sick? Or the things that have made your weight go out of control? Or the things that have gotten you your cancer?

Are you willing to change that first? Because, no diet, no medicine, no meditation, no spiritual path can ever, ever help if you are not willing to change the things that have actually brought you to this point in your life.

On fitness fads and marketing

Sohrab: I am not a fan of fads. Whether it’s diets or exercise routines, I believe that you need to keep things simple. You need to work consistently over a period of time, and if you do both these things, you will see the results you want to see. I wouldn’t call them fads… they’re different concepts or different philosophies that work over a short period of time. But in the long run, they don’t always balance themselves out.

Shivohaam: People are marketing fitness in different ways, and in doing that, different fads have come up. My undertaking is first, acceptance: yes, it is your opinion and your way of doing things, which you probably understand better than somebody else. But something only becomes a fad when the person fails and gives up halfway down the road.

When I moved to India and people told me that CrossFit was just a fad and that nobody would do it after a point in time, I said I don’t care. This is something I love doing, and I stuck by it. The reason it is what it is today, and the reason I am known for what I am is that I stuck with it and did not waver from my path.

On fitness wearables

Shivohaam: Technology is very helpful. But we must all understand that as tech is increasing, we humans are becoming slaves to technology. Our minds and bodies are the strongest and most intelligent gadgets that will ever be. Trying to be conscious of your own fitness is all you need.

Luke: Fitness wearables are reliable, but people must understand that there is a variance, not accurate data. I use a watch for a benchmark: it tells me 10,000 steps, it tells me, Luke, you’ve been active or not active, it can be motivating for people who are number-driven. At the same time, it can be destructive for people who don’t have strong minds.

Machines are great to give you some amount of advice, but you should never lose focus of the intuition that you have. The problem with gadgets is that they are moving us away from our gut instinct. We don’t need an app to tell us how much food we are eating. Our body tells us when we have eaten enough when we feel full.

So, we should inculcate mindfulness instead. We have to use our own body: our body is the best wearable as it tells us everything we need to know at any given point of time. We just have to listen!

On being a work-in-progress… forever!

Sohrab: I was brought up to never think you have achieved it all; to look at yourself as a constant work-in-progress. And that’s what I tell people I train when they get too excited about their results: that we are a work-in-progress, and we should keep working towards the person we want to be five years from now. Keep changing your goals and try to be one per cent better every single day. There is no competition with the rest of the world, you are competing with yourself. Don’t try and look like someone else, don’t try and be as fit as someone else. Try and be better than you were yesterday. If you do that consistently over a period of time… you’ll be fine!

Mysore Pak maketh the man!

Luke Coutinho’s disciplined upbringing is what parenting manuals can be made of.

Luke says anxiety is real, one shouldn’t try to resist it as it’s a human survival mechanism (Subi Samuel)

“Good health was infused in our family from a very young age, as our mum and dad were very health-conscious people,” says integrative lifestyle and wellness specialist Luke Coutinho. “Our lunch boxes had healthy food, we had to work out and play every day, and there was a point in our childhood, when we were abroad, that we slept at 6.30 pm. We did a meal outside once a year only, probably on Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary, and that made us appreciate it so much more.”

Today, Luke is one of India’s most sought-after health professionals, with a waiting list of clients from all over the world. “My science revolves around five fundamentals: deep, advanced cellular nutrition, exercise or movement, deep sleep and emotional wellness, and the thing that holds all this together, the spirit. When the spirit is disconnected, we all mess up with food, emotional wellness and with sleep. But when we are connected with our spirit, everything falls in place.”

The cheesiest superfood ever!

Shivohaam travelled very far only to realise that his true calling was back home.

Shivohaam says as tech is increasing, humans are becoming slaves to technology (Subi Samuel)

“I’ve always been into fitness,” Shivohaam, one of India’s best-known CrossFit trainers and much-awarded Best Fitness Trainer, tells us at the onset. “At the age of five, I started competing in swimming, at the age of 11, I went for my first Nationals, and then in college, I was also the water polo captain.”

But, says Shivohaam, he realised that personal training was his calling only after he took on his first client in Australia. “This was just a test,” he explains, “I was meant to move back to India and look after the entire region for the Fitness First chain of gyms. I had already done sales and I was getting into personal training to understand how that aspect of the business runs. But as soon as I took on my first client, I knew this was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.”

His enviable physique is inspirational, but not as impressive as his approach. “I have evolved from being someone who likes to train people and give them my way, to understanding what people want and giving them workouts and solutions based on their own temperaments.”

The banoffee pie boost!

Once a lawyer, Sohrab Khushrushahi always nurtured dreams of following his passion: fitness.

Sohrab says he was brought up to never think you have achieved it all; to look at yourself as a constant work-in-progress (Subi Samuel)

“Until a few years ago, fitness trainer to Bollywood’s biggest stars and HT Brunch columnist Sohrab Khushrushahi was a high-flying corporate lawyer in Singapore, working in a profession he had nurtured for over a decade. “But it wasn’t until the managing partner of my firm told me that I was going to be the next capital markets’ partner, that something clicked,” says Sohrab. “This was not something I had imagined myself doing for so long. I had gotten into law when cricket didn’t work for me—my mother was a lawyer—and many times I had thought about a career in fitness, but had never had the courage to make the switch. At this point, I started to think about what I was doing with my life. I sat down with my family, especially my wife, and she was very encouraging. When I made this switch, there was no business plan, no massive idea. It was just me following my passion and working really hard, hoping things would fall into place.”

Sohrab recalls first going to the gym as a 13-year-old. “As a batsman, I found it difficult to hit boundaries and sixes. I realised I had to get stronger. So, I started working on it [at the gym],” he explains. Was this a good move? “I don’t look back,” he replies honestly. “I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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From HT Brunch, April 9, 2022

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