Bollywood's Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, the Indian news media tells us, is training to shed her post-pregnancy weight. Now that her daughter Aaradhya has turned one, Ash, as she is known, is gearing for a comeback.
I have a few recommendations for the Indian film beauty (and it's not a new diet or exercise regimen; nothing physical, in fact). What I am recommending has to do with the mind: she must work to improve her neural networks to be precise.
In my eternal quest for self-improvement without too much work, I have developed quite an arsenal of tips and tricks that offer maximum weight-loss for the, ahem, weights. The latest addition to my repertoire is the wobble board, and through it, I hope to get washboard abs.
A wobble board is a circular platform with a ball underneath. You stand on it and wobble. Physical therapists use it to improve balance, core strength, stability and proprioception - a Latin word implying the connections between various body parts. Standing on the wobble board, the thinking goes, connects your feet to your brain and helps focus the mind.
Although that particular theory sounds, well, wobbly, it has precedent. Lots of geniuses have relied on movement for inspiration and focus. Apple's cofounder Steve Jobs famously took a walk to discuss ideas. Mark Twain paced while dictating his stories. Beethoven walked along the Danube River and through the woods for inspiration. Taming the body's nervous energy can, it seems, focus the mind. Perhaps there is a psychobiological element to creativity; and since mine can use all the help it can get, I decided to try this technique.
I ordered a Thera-Band wobble board, mostly because I like how it looks. It is sleek, black, has a tactile roughness on top and wobbles satisfactorily. It took me 20 minutes to get used to the unsteadiness. After that, it was like standing on a swing, albeit a gently rocking one.
I am standing atop it as I type these words. After two hours of this, I feel the muscles in my ankles, calves and abdomen. After a day, I develop that achy feeling that comes after a workout, only - to my delight - without moving my feet.
Traditional wisdom suggests that you use the mind to improve the body. For example, discipline and perseverance are key mental components to getting fit; you stop yourself from gorging on calorific foods through mental discipline and you force yourself to exercise everyday through sheer perseverance. Wobble boards work the same way.
Studies have shown that certain activities expand neural networks and allow the right and left hemispheres to connect. Even small things, such as moving your eye from left to right and back for about five minutes allow the two hemispheres to connect.
Attempting ambidexterity is another activity that triggers neural networks and helps memory, cognition and creativity. If you are a right-hander, try doing activities with your left hand. Brush your teeth with the less-used hand, for example. And shift your eyes from right to left as you are brushing.
In a lyrical article entitled Not only canaries need sing, UK-based voice coach Angela Caine talks about using a wobble board to help singers. The goal, she says, is to be able to stand still on the wobble board. This means that the body weight is balanced evenly between both legs, and improves the voice. My physical therapist told me that my end-goal was to stand on one leg on my Thera-Band, imitating the "tree-pose" in yoga.
So far, I haven't come close. I do my own version of the tree pose by swaying from side to side. I wobble like an egg yolk. But I'll tell you this: I have discovered muscles where I didn't think they existed. I can't tell for sure if wobbling has improved my neural networks. My kids still think I am weird. But weird is good. Weird is one short step away from creative. And creative, of course, is what mums, and actresses for that matter, are striving for.
Shoba Narayan is wobbling and working on her next book. She is the author of Return to India: a memoir