Colors of Courage: Yash Birla speaks of childhood memories, his spiritual upbringing and holistic wellness
The ardent fitness enthusiast happens to be a fascinating conversationalist, and gave us a glimpse into his early life and authoring journey.
Most of us see him as a leading industrialist and philanthropist, but we were intrigued to learn that Yashovardhan Birla has a deeply spiritual side. The ardent fitness enthusiast happens to be a fascinating conversationalist, and gave us a glimpse into his early life and authoring journey. Taking a trip down memory lane Yash recalls how his family background and values shaped his perspective on life. “I have grown up in my house with the Birla family, with elders. My great grandfather was alive when I was born and there was always a cultural background given to everything we did, where he said, everything we do is a service to the divine, to the society.
“Simple things like Indian culture, respecting your elders, doing Pranam and greetings with Hari Om and Jai Shri Krishna. These are things which have been taught to me from childhood and go on till today because they are engraved into my entire being and conscience."
He explains that his grandmother was instrumental in his spiritual, philosophical, and mythological upbringing. “Growing up, I was very close to my grandmother. She took me to a lot of spiritual places for temple Darshans. Holidays with her were to simple places like Nasik without any luxurious hotels and fancy holidays abroad. I value those times I had with her and that's why I travel to these areas even today. I go to Nasik very often, Vrindavan, Rishikesh. I go to the Himalayas which she has made me appreciate, love and adore from childhood.
He reminisces about some of the greatest advice she ever imparted to him. “She always told me never to indulge in any kind of intoxicants like alcohol or smoking. And I have never touched it to date. She asked me to always maintain a strictly vegetarian diet, which I do. Doing some prayers from our scriptures every night before sleeping is what she taught me. I really respected her and she brought me up with a lot of love, so I value and do all these things, even to this day. Though she passed away in 1985 almost 30 years ago, these things stuck with me,” he adds with a touch of nostalgia.
Speaking of a time when his life changed drastically, Yashovardhan says, “When I was studying in the United States, I had to come back because of my family's demise in an air crash. When I returned to India, I had to take on all the responsibilities and I was not prepared for it. But never looked back, I never regretted or resented the troubles and the problems I had to face. Though the emotional vacuum caused by my family's departure remains even today, time does not heal it, but spirituality is the only thing which can make you understand that your loved ones never go, they are always with you in perpetuity.
Probe him about how his journey in holistic wellness first began, and he says, “Holistic wellness is spirituality and that’s what I believe is Karmic. I often say that we come with pre-disposed Sanskaras or personality traits. At the age of 12 or 13, I used to pick up books on philosophy, spirituality, re-incarnation, and Upanishads which used to give a lot of mental peace and answers to questions I had internally. But my passion for fitness started when I was pursuing my MBA at the Chapel Hill University of North Carolina.
“I used to study for almost 14 hours a day, and the rest of the time I'd go to a mall or hear some chants walking around in the forest. That’s when, I decided to explore gyms, and it motivated me a lot. I started working out, and the results started showing very quickly in my fitness level, and confidence. That was more than two decades ago, and that journey never stopped because once you taste success in metamorphosing your body, it becomes an addiction in a good way. You never let go because it adds value to everything in your life.
Sharing what a typical day in his life looks like today, the industrialist explicates, “As I am a businessman, that is my dharma and karma. Thus, my first priority is work. And, family is simultaneous. I was very involved with my children's upbringing and the values and Sanskaras and tried to give them. Besides work and family, my personal hobby is fitness. So, when I am driving to my office in the car. I put on some chants or Bhajans and then I meditate, which is almost 25 minutes. I have practised all schools of meditation, from Transcendental meditation to Kundalini meditation. What I am doing nowadays is the Art of Living, Sahaja Samadhi. The second time I do it is for sleeping in the night.
“I work out mostly in the evening, late when I come home from the office. After my workout, sometimes I go into this sequence of yoga asanas called Padmasadhana, which is a kind of yoga, but it is also meditative. Other things in the day there's entertainment and me time where you can watch a movie or I like to go to coffee shops. I do not drink, I do not smoke and neither do I like to eat outside food. I eat very healthy food at my own house, cooked specially with healthy ingredients. So, this how a typical day in my life looks like.”
Discussing his approach to food and nutrition, he muses, “For me, there are two ideas behind food. One is people live to eat and the other way is to eat to live. I am not really passionate about food, but I am passionate about healthy eating and Sattvic eating. The scriptures we know about mention 3 types of food: Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic. Sattvic food is what we generally call health food. Pure fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and everything that we call healthy is far Sattvic. Sattvic is basically pure and it helps you lead a purer life and thoughts. Rajasic is something which is very spicy with lots of chillies and oil.
“Rajasic food makes your personality more aggressive, not bad or good but just makes you more aggressive or more proactive. And then the third category of food is Tamasic which is a stale or fermented food, and intoxicants which make you Tamasic and causes lethargy, negativity, and regression. So, I try to stay away from Tamasic food. I do indulge sometimes in Rajasic but mostly stick to a healthy vegetarian Sattvic diet.
Tapping into his philanthropic side and charities he has been invested in, he says, “I believe that the Birla family has always been in the education sector post-independence and we've got a lot of charitable trusts running schools and charity schools to give a better education. I corporatized the education sector and gave it a touch of holistic and spiritual education, which is required for our professional success in life.
Intriguingly, the businessman and philanthropist has also turned author. He shares, “The person who inspired me into writing was Mrs Shobaa De, who approached me a few years ago, declaring that I must write a book on fitness. While talking to her, I said, ‘I can talk, I can't write’. So, I had a ghostwriter and the book she ultimately supervised and published by Penguin was called ‘On A Prayer’. It was a biography of my thoughts. But that's where my latest book started. What we discussed about fitness came into- "Building the Perfect Body".
Touching upon the importance of well-being and how he practices self-care, he divulges, “I think when you neglect your health, you are not only neglecting bodily health, you are also neglecting mental and performance health. So, self-care for me is practising fitness, gymming, some cardiovascular yoga, pranayama and meditation. Furthermore, introspection and reading spiritual books plays a part. I think I do all these regularly, as much as I can, and I keep reminding myself that the human mind unless regularly taught, can always be distracted. And I try and prevent myself from getting distracted because I think this is the most important essence in life,” he concludes with a smile.