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This Is the Only Workout That Calms My Mind

I am forced to be in the moment when I box.

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. Just ask Mitesh Popat, 39, who has been boxing for the past twenty years.

Boxing forces you to be present. A lot of times, if I’m doing another type of workout like a long run, I think about what’s happened in the past, what’s going to happen in the future. Boxing is so fast-paced that it keeps me in the present all the time. The speed bag is coming at me. I have to react. I have to pay attention. I don’t have a choice.

I started boxing in my early 20s. But, in my early 30s, when I had my first child, I kind of let it go. I felt guilty. When I was at work, or when I was working out, it felt like I was just taking away time that I could be spending with her.

I struggled with that. My wife and I wanted to take care of our business, and we wanted to make sure that family time did not suffer. By the time my daughter was about one, however, I managed to get back into boxing again. I haven’t stopped.

Boxing is the only time where I’m just totally by myself. No one is around me. I’m thinking very clearly, like I’m in my own bubble. Most of the time, I’m surrounded by people. Coworkers, my family, my friends. But this is the time I have for myself.

I’m 39, nearing 40. The physical benefits of boxing, of course, are amazing. But I’ve also found that it’s helped me mentally. It’s calming. I’m alone. There’s no one around. I listen to Reggae music. I’m in my own zone.

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Now, my daughter is eight and I have a son, who is five. Some days, I come home and I don’t want to work out. But my daughter will come up to me and say, “You should go work out.” She encourages me because she knows it keeps me healthy. She’s like my little cheerleader.

I get in about four or five workouts a week. I have all my boxing stuff at home. It’s very convenient. My schedule varies. Some days, I’m in meetings all day long, so I get to work out at night. Some days, I go in late, so at 10 a.m., after breakfast, I work out. My gym looks out into the backyard where we have about 200 trees. It’s just beautiful. When I’m working out, it’s almost like I’m in another world.

When I’m working out, I’m not worrying about the meeting that’s coming up tomorrow or about something that happened yesterday or last week. I’m in the present. That has also helped me really be there with my kids. When I’m making them breakfast, when I’m playing with them, I focus on being in the moment.