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Some Novel Advice

March 8, 2015

A writer friend of mine did an impromptu survey of her Facebook friends: “Can you think of any good advice (that applies to real life) that you’ve gotten from novels?”  I quickly zipped a response to her before my next client came in:

“It’s a waste of time to rail against the universe that your technology or machine is broken, and still a waste of time to apply a poor quality quick fix. A better use of time is to learn how to fix it in a quality manner, or just release your reliance on it completely.”

On my walk home that night, I wondered why I gave that response, especially since I stopped reading the book that had inspired it, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, after just a few chapters. Surely I could have thought of something from other novels I liked enough to finish?

Some background: With themes like Quality, Identity, Rationality, Duality, etc., Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a semi-autobiographical novel that armchair philosophers have discussed in-depth since the book came out in the 1970’s. Those that have less interest in the author’s philosophies love it as a travelogue.

What stayed with me the most from the chapters I read was the narrator’s observations of a couple who love to travel far and wide on their motorcycles yet resist and even resent the need for maintaining the vehicles. On my walk home that night I realized this struggle is often lingering in the background when I work with clients.

Many resist knowing how their body works. Ask them to look at a skeleton, or a chart showing how our systems cooperate, or a demonstration of the body’s response to load, and their eyes  roll back into their heads. And that’s ok. It’s my job to know the details. However, I often see how certain romantic attitudes and beliefs about their body leads them down a road certainly no one wants to travel in the near or distant future.

These “Romantics” usually fall into one of two groups.

There are Romantics that feel we shouldn’t have to think about our bodies at all, and it’s a waste of time and possibly immoral to do so. For them, the body is just a husk for the brain to rest on, and sometimes an incubator for a bundle of joy. Their life is about doing good work and helping others, and thinking about the body seems like a navel gazing waste of precious time. When injury or pain strikes, this TooBusy Romantic feels unjustly put upon by a body that demands maintenance and pulls their attention away from more important stuff. Some know that eventually not maintaining their body will catch up with them but finding a good surgeon or medication when the time comes will make everything good as new.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Romantics who LOVE to EXERCISE. They focus on how the body looks and the emotions they experience during their workouts. They tend to gravitate towards workouts that drive them to a frenzied edge each time, leaving them both exhausted & exhilarated. They assume that athletes are always the healthiest among us, and thus working out like an athlete preparing for competition must be healthy for them too. Often they describe their favorite workouts with words like KILLER, HARDCORE, or INTENSE. And it’s not always spinning or boot camp that attracts these Romantics. Any type of exercise can be made to fit what they are looking for, including even yoga (albeit probably a power or hot version) or a souped up version of Pilates. After their attempts to push through their pain or injury don’t work, the Fitness Romantic feels let down and betrayed by their own body.

Trust me when I say I understand these feelings. As a young ballet dancer, my attitude was a mixture of the two. Pain was interpreted as devotion to my art, and injury was a cop-out. In the competitive world of dance, this attitude seemed necessary to stay in the game. When injury did strike, I didn’t understand how the universe could allow me to get injured when I had worked so hard and given up so much from a very young age to be a professional dancer. So, I get it.

But I now understand that my thinking was faulty. There’s really nothing romantic or magical about body maintenance, and the simplest actions done daily can make a big difference in how your body stands up in the test of time.

For instance:

  • Brushing your teeth daily will keep your teeth from falling out
  • Moving your body often and sitting less will keep your muscle-skeletal, cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and digestive systems working optimally.
  • Choosing footwear that is the most like barefoot will also keep your bodily systems in good working order.
  • Eating a balanced diet of foods that do not have artificial ingredients will give you the nutrition you need to prosper without overburdening your system.
  • Getting 8-9 hours of sleep on a consistent basis is needed for body and brain to work well.

body systems

What makes these simple actions seem “not so easy to do” really comes down to the desires and expectations we’ve accrued growing up in our current western culture. How many times a day are we presented with ideas like:

  • Only children or the uncivilized sit or stretch out on the floor
  • Women who wear flats more often than heels aren’t taken seriously
  • Eating right or “detoxing” for one day a week can balance out six days of eating junk
  • A crazy intense workout can safely undo hours of being sedentary if you’re mentally strong enough to endure it
  • Only those that are injured need to pay attention to form when exercising
  • Getting a knee or hip replacement will be an easy fix when the time comes
  • After a certain age, only intense exercise can keep extra weight off
  • Listening to your body is weakness, driving it mindlessly above the pain is what “winners” do
  • Getting 8-9 hours of sleep is only for boring people with no life

These are just some of the beliefs that lead us to become frustrated when our body doesn’t do “as it should.” However, our bodies usually react quite predictably to various stimuli.  It’s our beliefs, often handed down from earlier generations or created naively in the face of innovations, that are usually incorrect.

So no matter how much our parents, peers, Madison Avenue or Hollywood try to sell us these ideas, it doesn’t change the simple realities of body maintenance. Move more and sit less. Mind your feet. Eat the right amount of real food and get quality sleep. These simple operational guidelines apply to human bodies of every race, gender, and culture.

If health and longevity are your goals, it is a waste of time attempting to override the parameters our bodies evolved to optimally operate within.  Accept this, and your personal vehicle will be ready for many miles of journey.

One Comment
  1. Terry Fister permalink

    ThanIs for the novel ideas, Leslie!

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