On Exercise

Since today is one of my exercise days, I thought I would say a few words on how I exercise and why.

I have to confess that until I was forty I never did any sort of sustained organized exercise.  I dabbled in it, played sports for fun (especially basketball), and walked a lot, but I have one of those metabolisms that allowed me to eat as much as I wanted of anything I wanted without it showing.  At forty, though, the spread did start to show.  I didn’t like it and decided to do something about it.

Since I worked nights, during the day I took care of whatever son was currently too young to go to school, so stroller before me I would head for a park, both for his well-being and mine.  While he was playing around on the outdoor toys, I would work out on the overhead bars – the kind that allow you to walk hand over hand from one end to the other.  I figured out all sorts of tricks to keep me going:  how many times I could go back and forth without stopping, using the outside bars instead of the inside, hopping along by moving both hands at the same time, and so on.  After a while, I noticed my shirts getting tighter as my shoulders got broader.  Alas, once I tried it without warming up at all, and tore a rotor cuff in my shoulder.  I had to go to the States to have it looked at, and that put an end to my playground exercise time.

But I didn’t give up.  After I recovered full use of my shoulder, I came across a book written by a Navy Seal outlining the Navy Seal exercise program of sit-ups, leg-lifts, pushups, pull-ups, etc., and decided to try it.  I got fanatical about it, doing it six days a week for an hour or more a day.  I was in great shape.  My older sons credit their own diligence at exercise from my example during this period.  Alas again, disaster struck.  I was so into it that I overdid, and I got a hernia.  Ouch.  I had it operated on here in Greece.  My health insurance put me low man on the totem pole at the public hospital, and instead of keyhole surgery which would have had me up and around in a day, they did the old fashioned slash-and-open style.  I was three days at the hospital (a horrific experience) and months recovering.  Sigh.  No more Navy Seal stuff for me.

After I was well enough to start getting back in shape, I asked one of my brothers who has studied sports medicine for a recommendation of what I should do.  He said I should try either Tai-Chi, or yoga.  I researched both.  Tai-Chi appealed to me, but I felt it was too complicated to do without a teacher.  So I got some yoga books from the library and worked out a routine for myself.  It evolved along the way to include some careful calisthenics like pushups, balancing practice during which I stand on one leg in various poses, an extended headstand, but most of it is what would be called power yoga.  I do it three times a week for about an hour and twenty minutes each time.  During this time, I practice power breathing as well; every breath is counted, even between poses.  I know that many enjoy music as they exercise, but as for me, I concentrate better in silence, so the only sound is the sound of my breathing.

As far as I am concerned, exercise is important for everyone, but it is essential for a writer.  It reminds me of something I read about Jack London early in his career.  He was spending so many hours in front of the typewriter that he felt himself getting flabby, and when his body got flabby, he felt his thoughts getting flabby as well.  So he bought some weights and forced himself to take time off to get himself back in shape, and his intellectual vigor returned as well.

For me, too, I write best if I am whole and healthy in body, mind, and spirit.

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