How to Think About Exercise by Damon Young

Chad is a personal trainer. Many people think there is a conflict between mind and the body. Brains over brawn or brawn over brains. You can develop either the mental or the physical aspects, but you will sacrifice the other one. Old philosophers thought that the mind and body were separate and could not be associated with one another. To Descartes, his mind was almighty and very powerful. He wanted to be defined by his brain alone. This is known as dualism. Workers are walking less and less. The white collar worker doesn’t exercise a lot. This sort of lifestyle promotes dualism. Humans succumb to temptations and this affects their exercise routines. However, dualism does not exist in reality. In reality, we think with our whole body and walking helps to stimulate the mind. Angry and other feelings can be expressed through actions in our body. The mind and body are actually intertwined. If you believe in dualism, it can kill off how much exercise you do. You might think sportsmen are stupid. Even if you head to the gym, people will get the impression that the mind and body are separate as you need to wear gym attire before entering the gym etc. For a tennis player, he feels the racket as part of his body. If your exercise, you can improve these tools at hand. Many people believe that exercise is only used to fix ailments. Once the ailments are not present, they stop exercising. However, workouts can actually be intellectually stimulating and ethically challenging. Keep an eye out for humanity. The Greeks celebrated physicality. To them, the mind and body worked happily together. Socrates believed in the power of endurance and exercise as it would aid philosophy. For the Greeks, exercise was a form of striving. Exercise was a way to savour humanity. It is possible to derive pleasure from exercise. Virtue involves the whole human being. It comes about from habit formation. Virtue also involves desire and choice. Therefore, virtue can be seen as a combination of habit, desire and free rationality. The Greeks appreciated dance and saw value in education. We get from the gym a more defined version of ourselves. There is an existential joy to working out. Exercise can have massive pay-offs. Intelligent exercise is a combination to wholeness. The book describes the psychological rewards of exercise and ethical virtues

Exercise is something done with one’s body. It is public and physical. Thinking is something done with one’s mind. It is private and ethereal. – Damon Young

Many people’s minds are so invaded by forgetfulness, despondency, irritability, and insanity because of their poor physical condition. – Socrates

Reverie (Walking). Darwin liked to talk long strolls. His life was like clockwork and it followed a fixed routine. He walked a lot more than the common man. Even in poor health, he continued walking. To him, it was a lifelong exercise. He walked a lot even during his later years. To him, walking was an exercise in reflection and he could appreciate nature along the way. Exercise also improves problem solving skills. If you are stuck on a problem, take a stroll and you might come back refreshed and ready to go again. Most other sports required powers of concentration and this prevented you from reflecting on life. Walking allows you to stop and notice things. Reverie thrives in a dynamic environment. Exercise helps to improve creativity as well. Learn to take a walk around your neighbourhood once in a while. Exercise need not be an anti-social activity. Plucking into devices when walking causes you to focus on ‘in-attentional blindness’. Distractions from devices are myopic to the brain. It affects mindfulness. Exercise helps to loosen our minds.

Pride (Sprinting). Exercise is a pleasure of your own existence. I tried doing hill sprints. The sprints felt like freedom, like a form of release. To some people, running felt like flying. There is a purity that is associated with running. Pride is a form of pleasure now. Make yourself the source of your pleasure. To David Hume, pride meant ‘pleasure in oneself’. A heart beating steadily suggests power. This is the cause. The object is yourself. Pleasure, is of course, subjective in nature. Pride is now a virtue. Dogged exertion was something of pride to the Greeks. The goal was to impress upon the world the stamp of our existence. You can be tough without the need to be on the battlefield. Enjoy your muscles when you can. To Pindar, physical pride was virtuous in nature. Intense muscular effort is bliss. We must create ourselves. To the philosopher Albert Camus, Sisyphus was happy even though he tried rolling the boulder up the hill for eternity.

In the pride of sprinting, powerlifting or pedalling, we rightly celebrate ourselves for our committed exertion; for the willingness to move as hard and fast as we possibly can, instead of watching others do so on television. – Damon Young

Sacrifice (Team sports). There is joy that is associated with sacrifice. This involves giving something up. Understand what you are sacrificing for. Sports are an area of striving and pain. For some sports, it requires more sacrifice. Sports are a second world. Rules have changed. There are different rules in a sport which doesn’t apply to life. During sports, you can define yourself for a brief moment in time. You can develop a specific mind-set when approaching a sport. Sports lead you to a state of enhancement. Some believe that we are imprisoned in society and can’t get out. The primary world is where we seek approval and applause of others.

To commit, as a human being, to anything is to renounce some quantum of pleasure – a measure that is enlarged by every increase in dedication. Every game exacts a cost. – Damon Young

Exercise can be a reprieve from confusion – from the anxiety that comes with not knowing one’s place in the world. It involves sacrifice, as does schooling, marriage and work. But sport allows us to say, with far more confidence, whether we have won or lost, and played the game well. – Damon Young

Beauty (Gym & Weights). Fitness and beauty often go hand in hand. Even in the Greek era, this was so. What is pleasurable about a hard body? Muscles are useful. They are a means to an end. Form follows function. A human body is beautiful when it is strong. With beauty comes accomplishment. Muscles are a revelation of potency. To most men, bulging muscles are unnecessary. A proportionate body can mean a proportionate soul. The philosophers were always interested in harmony. Muscles are a way to ‘express’ natural beauty. A muscular body can suggests more than just power for punching or courting. In the past, people talk about the golden ratio. It is important to craft our own ideal. One of human’s basic instincts is the strive for unity. Have an interchange with the environment. Rhythm marks our exercise routines. Define your physical form by building muscles. Which parts of your body are beautiful? Bodybuilders score high on narcissism tests. See muscles as aesthetic achievements.

Humility (Climbing & Gymnastics). Climbing can encourage humility. Understand the difficulty involved. We fear being judged by others if we make a mistake in public. These feelings will pass if our failure is accidental. For some sports, you need a lot of practise to get it right. Failure is normal. Failure will teach you to be humble. You cannot change the rock wall, but you can understand your limitations. Even if vigour and enthusiasm, sometimes you need to exercise caution. A mountain doesn’t endure lies and won’t care about you. Gymnastics are as equally brutal as climbing. A gymnast must learn the techniques properly if not the person will hurt themselves. Success requires both pride and humility both drive and caution. Surely football is useless, when you just kick a ball around and get nothing done. Such sports are autotelic, meaning that they are enjoyed for its own sake, and not for the sake of something else. This is known as the flow experience. Flow requires a match between skills and challenge. The task must also require clear goals. Flow is about enjoying the journey itself. Try an exercise which is challenging and which you can receive instant feedback. To achieve good things, you must understand your insufficiency and imperfection too. Humans are incomplete and will not achieve perfection.

Pain (Martial Arts). Martial arts demonstrate how pain can be enjoyed. Pain is better than comfort without liberty. Punching can be good fun. In the past, martial arts were seen as a form of protection. Not anymore. Now, martial arts are more used to develop character than anything else. They are peaceful people. You can channel your aggressiveness into a safe channel and learn to be braver and more humble. Karate teaches you to be a good and honest member in society. Training in violence can actually help you to avoid violence in future. Do not deny your aggressive stance, but rather, learn to use them in a controlled environment. Pain and how you feel about it are two completely separate feelings. Even some women enjoy fighting too. For ballet, there is also a lot of pain involved. When dancing, you do not feel the pain. Pain is not a raw stimulus and that it is shaped by what we feel about it. Pain is better when you have a choice over it and that it is freely accepted. Pleasurable pain is a sign of freedom. It is your pain and you are autonomous over it.

Pain is a test of value: it sharpens our perception of what is worthwhile in life, and just what we are willing to sacrifice to get it. Exercise, precisely because of its discomfort, is a touchstone for an emancipated existence. – Damon Young

Consistency (Running). Murakami balances running and writing. He has a consistent routine. He has run marathons as well. Murakami has run marathons every year for almost 25 years. Running brings him mental benefits. Your mind will argue with the body. It keeps him fit and strong. Writing was a profession that required constant endurance. In the past, he was a chain smoker. Also, later, he started to eat healthily. Try to include exercise in your daily routine. Running on the treadmill helps as well. Let your body support the mind. Our lives are narratives and stories and we need to write our own plot. Consistency helps pull our life to find a purpose. Jogging can be a tool to maintain consistency in your life. Self-regulation is improved by exercise. Running is painful and exhausting. But to build consistency, you need to confront something that is not pleasant. Running allows you to overcome that pain. Even though he is slowing down, he doesn’t stop. Aim for a greater striving.

We easily become fractured, divided and conflicted. We can ‘lose the plot’. This is why we need the virtues of integrity and constancy. Integrity is achieved in changing circumstances; constancy over changing times. Both character traits are tendencies towards wholeness: virtues of consistency, which pull our stories together. – Alasdair MacIntyre

The really hard steps are the first ones. Not the first running steps – even those are enjoyable – but rather the impossibly difficult task of getting ready to run. If getting out of the chair seems difficult, then you really need to do so. – David Lebedoff

The Sublime (Swimming). The sea, boat and submarines. Water simply invades us. It doesn’t kid around. It was blissful in the water. The sublime requires both enjoyment and fear. The sea is huge and it is mind-boggling. The sea is also inherently dangerous. In the sea, you are never really in charge. When swimming, we use more muscle groups. It is also more tiring than other sports. In a chaotic situation, we are forced to work harder. Your adrenaline will start pumping as well. Learn to enjoy the power and size of water, even in a swimming pool. The beachgoer feels eternal and tranquil looking out at the sea. We become part of the water once we are in it. Water has also a role of god in certain cultures. The sublime reminds us that we cannot escape biology, pain and death. Humans are part of the cosmos. The world can be savoured.

When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible. But at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be delightful. – Edmund Burke

Instead, the sublime is a revelation of ordinary human contradiction: the reality of our solitude and smallness, together with the intimation of safety and immensity. We are isolated and feeble, yet somehow joined with the world of security and strength. – Damon Young

Oneness (Yoga). This chapter is on yoga. Yoga can provide a distinctive calm to us. Despite the weird poses, I am actually at ease during class. We are usually not aware of our muscles, even during physical sports. However, yoga allows you to feel that. Which of your muscles are tense right now? You get to concentrate on one part of your body at a time. You become more of yourself during yoga. We are making ourselves feel more at home. You get to lose yourself in the workouts. In some yoga, there is no need to distinguish mind from body. In Hatha yoga, your body is spiritualized. Most forms of yoga teach the transcendence of ‘I’. Yoga is not a state of mind, but the combination of physical and mental self. Many Westerners have taken up yoga. It is evenness of the mind. Yoga also helps to reduce stress and blood pressure. Meditation is at the heart of yoga.

The key is not to be obsessed over the development of muscles, but to enrol humanity in your fitness. This is what is known as intelligent exercise. Develop a fullness of character. Commit to a more balanced life. See fitness as a personal adventure. Try a variety of sports. Exercise can cure existential incompleteness.

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