Inner Strength and Self-Perception
I renounce this day my ball and chain, my weight and pulley, my gym and monthly membership. I will, from this day forth, derive my fitness from the free space all around me, the free sky right above me, and the free spirit deep within me.
I will not be dictated and ordered around by a building full of stationary treadmills and one-dimensional muscle stations.
I will obtain the strengthening and conditioning for my physical, mental, and emotional fitness in the free expression of my body as it creatively interacts in a free environment.
I will not be compartmentalized into substations, insulated inside a digital bubble, looking timidly askance at my neighbor on the adjacent hamster wheel.
I will chart virtual courses of action within my home and upon playing fields, whether alone or with friends, and on this note I will express the innate melody of my body in motion and the reflexive weight of the world as my representation, my abundant recreation.
The progression from wild hunting to domesticated agriculture to industrialized specialization was a million years (give or take) in the making. The expansion of machinery and factory jobs as well as blue collar, cubicle office work subsequent of the industrial revolution are the latest but not at all the last in the many phases of human evolution. These office/cubicle/desk/assembly-line jobs that occupy 40 (or more) hours per week of our waking life grind our bodies down into a crumpled slump. It would seem that 40 hours- out of 168 a week- a minimal skirmish, but it is undoubtedly a major stressor in our life reducing our energy levels and preventing us from any extra-curricular activity. But there is an observable “shift” happening now with technology making stationary work virtually obsolete.
Our bodies and minds are extraordinarily different than they once were. We do not have the same primitive stimulus, food, sex, and NOT becoming food. The wild we once inhabited provided endless opportunity for survivalistic fitness, provoking us to simultaneously escape from our predators and dispatch our prey. You were demanded to stand up for yourself, defend and feed yourself and your family. It was a daily struggle of energy conservation and the penalty was statistically high toward our own mortality. We were shaped and molded according to these severely harsh conditions of living. Today, we are no longer kept in such hostile checks and balances and easily stray from paths and behaviors which have for so long sustained us by promoting resilience and virility.
The rapid metamorphosis from self-reliant, nomadic travelers, hunting and gathering an immediate, localized food source, always traveling, following perennial migratory routes, into the sophisticated modern-day media channel-surfers, gathering and marketing data, preying upon consumers, providing our services for a fee of common currency, a wage, which enables us to purchase our own requisite goods and services. These degrees of separation from the original sources of life and the means by which these goods are produced has distorted our emotional and spiritual relation to life, reduced us to servile automatons, tethering us to our own deluded “dreams”, driving fast in a three-year lease, living in the lap of a thirty-year mortgage. We are not a strong and proud reflection of our primitive ancestors and perhaps we have deceived ourselves with technology and other sophisticated trappings to our own weakened demise.
So we purchase storefront fitness as we would a dress or suit to pursue an image that is strong and attractive and very often to further our own personal, professional ambitions. Rarely do we invoke the principled pillars of strength and wisdom– those virtues found in nature and self-perception, the warrior’s creed- over being mirror-ly beautiful. Appearing strong and beautiful- like the shiny, rotten apple- socially supersedes actual strength and beauty, whose roots penetrate much deeper into the psychological soil. And so this current era of fitness still revolves around the large warehouse-size gym where you go to be seen and enjoy the scene, soak up some its more expensive features, the indoor swimming pool, sauna and racquetball courts, and an “affordable” monthly membership.
The modern gym, erected from the pillars of weightlifting and bodybuilding popularized by the titans of the 70’s golden era, guys like Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno, coupled with the jogging/running phenomena spawned by Kenneth Cooper’s 1968 book, Aerobics (which greatly assisted in the production and sales of treadmills), set off the fitness explosion that took shape in the early 80’s. Coincidentally, the invention of the day, the Walkman (which predated the Discman and then the I-Pod in personalized stereo equipment became an indespensible utility for joggers numbed by the monotony of pavement pounding) came hot and ready for a fitness generation eager to receive it, jamming their ears with the hottest radio tunes of the MTV age. In those fluorescent days of yore celebrity-driven media compelled us to work out, to look good. These early gyms, capiltalized on the same business model which pitched “self-improvement through weight-lifting”- principles espoused by the original muscle and fitness entrepreneur, Joe Weider, dating back to the 40’s.
It is a stagnated fitness model for the type of mobile, out-of-the-box “flow” that we now live our lives and definitely does not encompass the virtues of a spiritual fitness. Driving a car in grid-locked traffic only to wait in a longer line at the incline bench or the rowing machine is not a humanizing experience, or even natural means to fitness. Neither is paying for membership to a blocky warehouse replete with scientific, “state-of-the-art”, digital pushing and pulling machines, and hamster wheels tragically positioned directly in front of tv’s fast-food media cycle, with rows and stacks of dumbbells and free-weights where you compete for the same poundage and mirror-space with other heavy-metal operators. It’s an adrenalized circus. *Please note: if you are currently in a membership or are resistant to letting go of the gym completely I am not suggesting absolute abandonment or rebellion- there are tremendous benefits as I have mentioned. Yet we must venture, for our purposes, to evolve, beyond its brick and mortar for expanding fitness in all the “normal” areas of our lives, the places where we function and live, day to day and to also penetrate into nature and explore its calm and vibrant energy for broader and more playful interaction.
The first module of our program as we graduate from the warehouse gym environment and back into the aesthetic realm of nature is about awakening our inner strength through self-perception, practicing focused and continuous self-acceptance through natural affirmations, rather than superficializing your body to a one-dimensional end for others to judge.
Where the gym was deceptively multiplied by the clustering of mirrors surrounding us, and unfamiliar to intimacy and- not so ironically- self-reflection, the outdoors has no such confining feature. It is expansive without end. Our reflection in the gym “funhouse” of mirrors is an unrelenting reminder of our visible manifestation and may cause vanity and/or self-consciousness or both, neither of which should be our end game. Perhaps a background of tall trees and broad mountains might provide a more profound reflection of our inner spirit than mirrors. Mirrors limit our self-perception to this moment only and are confining as such. They are not the most honest portrayal of you. This is where self-perception becomes pivotal as the lens by which we can truly perceive ourselves and no longer require the trappings of the mirror. The world is your representation and will become a pronounced reflection of your power and natural forces.
In an open-ended, natural environment you are not in constant reference to a silvery looking-glass, you are elevated to a more conscious appreciation of oneself, in terms of strength, speed and measures of success or improvement. These are aspects of power and growth that, when you let go of the scale and the mirror to constantly rate yourself, you will begin to feel. You will FEEL faster, FEEL stronger. We are all distorted by the media in positively affirming our size and shape, constantly comparing ourselves to other celebrity bodies. Stepping away from this judgmental environment leads us to an insulated high ground for deriving not merely beauty- an absolutely subjective matter- but channeling strength -a more objective pursuit- through greater intuition and self-appreciation. Natural environments are a more holistic space for attaining a heightened experience; looking out on open panorama is much more uplifting than the enclosure of the gym and offers an important release from the emotional duress with which life is inevitably entangled.
For all the exercising that we CAN do outside when the conditions are right (i.e. running, swimming, push-ups) there are some exercises that are not as immediately imitable. When you look down the row of the gym’s equipment, free weights and machine resistance are indeed quite valuable for contriving resistance of particular muscular functions that are sometimes not actually found in nature. Everyone has that one machine that they can’t imagine their routine without. I’ve always considered the leg (quadriceps) extensions and leg (hamstring) curls along with the fly machine machines that I needed to have in my rotation. These muscle isolations are not easily replicated without the specialized machine and you really have to be creative and athletic to create these muscle functions in free space. My opinion of these machines has now become if I don’t encounter their specific type of resistance in normal life then they are outside of having any functional value and should be considered unnecessary. (I would wager these muscles can be affected indirectly through a range of activities we will discuss that call them into action.)
Arm curls, for instance, is an unnatural isolation of bodily movement. The biceps “normally” interact with correspondent groups of muscles like the back or the legs to produce an upward lift, but with “disciplined” curls single out a normally multiple-network muscle to create an abnormal growth which may imbalance a person’s inherent musculature. And, yes, this is the desired effect of those who seem to pump the iron directly into their bulging biceps. Indeed, this is true for any exercise that seeks to isolate one particular muscle and enhance it with focused intensity. Doesn’t running isolate the legs and not the arms as much? And aren’t BOTH involved in the act of running?
It brings us to a question, in this instance, whether you are running to become faster and produce more power from the legs or if you are trying to “tone up”, look good in a bikini. It is not always a clear divide between these vain and virtuous intentions, and although the superficial motivation may be subverted for its vacancy of virtue, is not an undesirable outcome altogether, but the intentions frame the satisfaction and sense of success educed from the willfulness and discipline that regular exercise requires. Results-based gym training enables it’s customers to custom-fit their workouts and design their bodies through an abundance of props and devices to choose from, isolating this or that muscle to enhance this or that desired effect.
Gyms also specialize in movement-replicating machines like the rowing machine and the StairMaster. These are certainly invaluable to those who might experience seasonal climate restrictions to their outdoor activities due to rain or snow. Running on a treadmill, rowing on a row-machine, cycling on a stationary bike are all advantageous when wind or rain or AZ heat make the conditions outside intolerable. These exercises could (should) be re-created in a natural environment, at least as often as possible; there is no need to produce biomechanics as fundamental as running or cycling on machines. But sometimes these machines bridge the gap between the favorable or at least functional months of weather. A swimming pool, in particular, is an enticing amenity of a local gym that provides an otherwise unimaginable exercise for certain times of the year seized up by freezing temperatures, or to people who don’t have access to a pool.
The large-box gym is an all-encompassing workout environment decked out with exclusive features, but it is blocked into its dimensions. It’s fixed to the floorplan, its machine orientation, it free-weight alleyway and its treadmill formation, its clustering of people divided and conquering, rolling Han Solo or teamed up with their roommate Chewbacca, hi-fiving and flexed out in groups of two. (People don’t usually workout in groups of more than two, unless we include Cross-Fit, and that is a topic for later). And those described conditions at certain times of day will not change. It has no variance, the way it is will not change for you, YOU must change for IT, workout around it.
You have no control over the dynamic design of your workout, machines are stationary and fixed and other people are variable and unpredictable. You can either allow yourself to be subjected to the uncontrollable variability of the gym or you are compelled to determine a new course. There is a “corner” that some people turn when they realize they are restrained and really not empowered in this limiting space, and, perceiving an insult at the mass-produced dis-membership and distortion of their self-worth, walk out the door and leave.
So what happens when we leave the gym? Stepping out into the great open spaces can be initially intimidating. The balance, control and self-discipline required for pure body-resistance training in an environment not overwhelmed by media stimulation, is vastly more intuitive than the man vs. machine interface that is the foundation of the gym. It may seem static at first, or deathly quiet but there is an immense connection being formed between the strength of the muscle and the weight of the body that are voided when inputting energy into a stationary pulley machine. Machines are not totally ineffective, but they dim the inherent dualism, the one-to-one correspondence that arises from interacting directly and intuiting the immediate weight of your own body through counterbalance. It is not easy at first to make the connection, but with time, as we all did when we were introduced to the indoor, factory-style warehouse gym, you will acclimate and get your bearings without ”paying” for it.
Adjusting to an omnidirectional, 24-hour, free, outdoor gym, we are rejoining ourselves to the primacy of our immediate body in space and time (a child’s imagined playground) rather than in the cockpit of an oversized, mechanical muscle station (an adult’s constricted reality). The movements are simple and plentiful, the range of motion is infinite and the hours of operation are up to your discretion. Furthermore, the natural flora and aural meanderings give rise to a mild euphoria; the sentient exposure at full throttle, our body’s pistons firing at a feverish tempo, ingesting not only oxygen, but vivid streams of perception.
In other words, turn off your headphones. Life is creating it’s own resplendent symphony. This will require you to open up your soul a little bit.
Step outside, breathe in the infinite wealth of oxygen, and see what is unveiled as you tease out the magic that is caused by “normal” movement (we’ll get to the “extreme” soon enough). Every giant leap of mankind is preceded by an infinite series of calculated, minute deliberations. But nothing great happens without an ounce of “dive right in”. Brace yourself, the storms will surely come and when they do you will dance like rainbows in the rain, splashing in the puddles, animated with the power and joy of both earth and sky.
We are not continuing from here until we recognize the immanent tranquility and sobering littleness announced in our loudest effect when we walk in nature. We are not projecting barbaric “Yawps!” with false pretension but seeking to envelope ourselves in this virtual frontier. As we said at the beginning, whenever you’re ready to begin, Nature is ready to receive you and will provide you everything it has available without discretion, sans membership. It is up to you how you receive its offer.
Before we get too high-minded with the scientific and philosophical aspects of this natural fitness it is enough to admit the spirit of nature into your heart. It will utter many great passages and deliberations of life. These are not meant to be rooted in momentous whims, but in the grounding of long spaces of time and upward through the corridors of our imagination. We will need to slow down to hear it, to move with it. We are re-wilding ourselves through aspects of life that desperately call for it: fitness and play.
This spiritualized, experiential fitness model is built for sustainable daily exercise and purposeful movement for today and the rest of your life. So as we invite into our soul the wisdom and poetic breath of Nature we likewise release the pretentious distortions of who we think we are or what we think we should be or look like. Strength will no longer be measured in the mirror, nor beauty on a scale, but stirred and felt from deep within. We can only move forward, inward and outward into all the spaces in between. The world IS yours! Just remember to be safe. Enter life at your own risk.