THE MEANING OF EXERCISE
If you were to sit down and examine your reasons for exercise, you would respond with one of three things:
- I want to be healthy - I want to perform better - I want to look better
How could we possibly know this without having met you? How would we know your motivations? Because it's what we ALL say.
It sounds like the right answer. While health, performance & aesthetics are what initially gets us in the door, it's also sometimes boring. Possibly, it's not the full answer.
BORING We've all been inoculated with the message that in order to be healthy, we should have strong bones and muscles; we should be able to walk up a flight of stairs, etc. It's so routine that even my 3-year-old knows it's "what we should do".
It's so boring that it's natural to put exercise into the classification of activities such as brushing your teeth or getting your car inspected; just something you are assumed to do. But why?
In Being and Time, German philosopher Martin Heidegger came up with this term "ready-to-hand" which means that tools that we use (like a hammer to strike a nail, like a racket to slice a ball) become extensions of us. When they work well we tend to forget about them.
Only when they break or fail to work properly do we notice them again. It's still a tool, of course, but it has lost its invisible connection to us. Heidegger called this "conspicuousness of the unusable"
Our bodies are not tools, per se, but are usually thought of the same way: invisible to us until something goes wrong. We become acutely aware of what's broken when we feel our heart palpitations, our inflammation, or our bellies blocking our jeans from closing.
When we head to the gym, track or yoga class to improve our health, we are treating our bodies like a tool that is broken. Malfunctioning equipment that requires tinkering. This is a cute analogy but it assumes that your body is this separate part of who you are. Our minds servicing our stupid bodies that won't cooperate. If this is true, then a coach or personal trainer or instructor is no different than the mechanic you take your car to in order to remove the squeak.
This can be harmless over weeks and months, and one could argue it's where most of us start: something is wrong and we want to fix it. But once the obvious ailments are gone, it's an easier negotiation to stop exercise altogether. It's not completely rationalized by our laziness or being forgetful; it's due to our limbs and body becoming invisible again. The fear of obesity, injury, or illness is gone and so is our awareness of our needs.
THE FULL ANSWER Could there be more to it? In the weeks to come, let's unpack the idea that there is a greater meaning to exercise, health, and function. Could our minds, as well, thrive with the right understanding of why we exercise? Stay tuned.