and another one from the archives…
In the beginning there were rocks. They needed moving, whether it was to clear space or for building. Man has been known to lift rocks by the sheer strength of his arms and legs, but the primitive man’s dilemma is as follows: “Rock too big. Me no move rock.” He overcame this deficiency through strength in numbers or, with time, strength in persistence. One day he moves the rock, only to reveal another, bigger rock. Man eventually moves mountains, but only by the ingenuity of intelligent design. With the rock came the slingshot and the catapult, with the spear came the bow and arrow and the gun. Man “makes” (got run over by) the wheel and our burden was no longer such a drag. We were on our way to the superhighway of invention and innovation and with our developing rationality and technological sciences began the great atrophy. We no longer needed brute strength to extract the raw resources from the earth, we had mechanized power.
Man goes on to build pyramids, windmills, airplanes and as we marvel at the grandeur and spectacle of progress we recline in our hammocks of entrepreneurial languor. It seems not uncommon in the stature and girth of “successful” men (the kings, the landowners, the wealthy) a propensity to gluttony and diminution. I think it rather notable that both Napoleon and Hitler are strikingly mediocre, at best, in physical proportion. Yet these are the men that ascend through the rank and defiled fragility of human nature as it has been constricted and depressed into compartmental blockwork. We are shuffled away neatly, en masse, into cubicle ditches digging ourselves deeper into debt with time and space. But with the onset of the industrial revolution was the arising of a new movement to counteract the claustrophobia and malnutrition that were becoming the staples of urban existence.
Near the end of the 19th century was a grass-roots campaign to invigorate the average citizen through the new “scientific” findings of the day, which recommended dietary regimen and daily exercise to promote health and long life. There were many self-ascribed prophets who became health gurus and sold their products to willing consumers. Who didn’t desire youth and vitality with their newly afforded leisure now that the machines could do all the mindless pushing and pulling? People stepped away from their tools and instruments as immediately life-giving and into a recreational lifestyle, where health and fitness were seen as attractive.
A new found appreciation for sports, as the Olympic games are reestablished in the modern era, becomes the gateway into the 20th century’s exponential rise in athletics and the development of the aesthetic in the human physique, which callously marginalizes inherent health for appearance.
While people from around the world celebrated the triumph of the highest, fastest, strongest, the market grew for the awesome spectacle of the showman. From Strongest Man in the World sideshow to popularizing competitive bodybuilding the audience was always resounding for the incredible and illusory. Venice Beach was transformed into a contemporary carnival and physical specimens such as Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno came to center stage and we lost sight of an authentic ideal as steroids metamorphosed our bodies into testosterone encrusted muscular frames. It was not long before athletics was rampant with these enhancements and their unsustainable effects. From football to baseball and straight across the Olympic scoreboard we experienced the rush and dizzying blur that was made possible with these products. It was only a matter of time before we crashed and looked toward alternative approaches that were more naturally life-giving.
We have come to know yoga and dancing (two areas of fitness that certainly do not benefit from these “advancements”) in a new light over the last thirty-something years and have gained respect for the muscular fluidity both require. They, in turn, have been utilized for their emphasis on flexibility and balance, which is a premium regardless of athletic discipline. The size and shape of our muscles is directly effected by these free movements as they are stretched long and trim, unwinding from the mechanized functions of linear movement. As the balance shifts from technical rigidity into formless physical phrasing we begin to witness the evolution of unrestricted athletics and an awakening physical aesthetic.