Our civilization is one of chronic stress. It’s a commonplace, but it is vital to keep in mind: we pass our whole lives in attempts to repair the damage we sustain by trying to live. To deal with this, many are tempted to fitness regimes … This has become a real social phenomenon. Two and a half billions are spent on in this business in France; and that is only the start: gyms spring up everywhere at a frantic pace, even though surrounding countries are way ahead of us. Beside the palette of activities centered on muscular contraction (body building, calisthenics, cardio, various mixes of gymnastics and dance), are also found other activities centered on joint hypermobility, especially Yoga (more of that in a minute). At the bottom of this infatuation is hidden a desperate need to calm autonomous nervous systems which have become hyperactive.
Good questions, bad answers
Like many other answers to stress or its consequences, elaborated by our societies, these solutions are disastrous … To be concerned about one’s health, one’s weight, and even one’s appearance is a good thing in itself. To combat the sedentary nature of our existence is more than legitimate. But perhaps we should worry about the need to drug ourselves with endorphins, to overcompensate a failing ego, or to conform to surrounding social norms. Many envisage their evening workout as a compensation for the stress suffered during the day, which has been added to the stress built up previously without finding an exit. We want to ‘empty’ ourselves, to feel nothing but fatigue.
But let’s not judge these survival strategies too harshly. They show our desire to live pushing us to adapt to stressful situations. They have been established by people who suffer from anxiety, or a wounded self-image, or who fear social exclusion – indeed a deadly threat. To resolve emotional problems like these with a bodily solution is relevant; furthermore, problems like obesity, atrophied musculature, or faulty posture are serious; one cannot blame wishing to remedy them.
But what the fitness industry proposes makes no sense: an absurd series of movements even more absurd, resulting in the destruction of our biomechanics. They program segmented exercises which uncouple the neurologic and muscular associations of human movement. The ultimate objective – especially for men – is a physique swollen with muscular hypertrophy but devoid of any functional capacity. In the process, the posture and motor skills provoked by sedentary living are dodged, not solved; they will only get worse.
Homo sapiens is the upright animal
There is a fundamental ignorance of what we are: bipeds whom evolution has sculpted to run, shoot, and hunt, not to lift enormous weights (including our own). Even when we lift a heavy object, its form constrains us to movements which are totally different from those which one repeats with barbells. Our bodies are an elastic ensemble operating around an axis, anchored on powerful hips, in a contralateral manner, by transverse rotation, different, say, from frogs or kangaroos, whether we walk, run, or throw. The impact on our anatomy of repeated stressing movements, which do not respect this fundamental biomechanical structure, is terrible: our bodies learn to dislocate themselves, a muscle as fundamental as the transverse abdominal looses its stability, posture deteriorates and increasing painful complications …. Through this dislocation the digestion and respiration are affected. Further, even the positive impact on our lives of these exercises is limited by their temporary aspect; it is not very different from eating fast food all week and then a balanced meal on Saturday.
Is the body superficial?
This violence against ourselves is the image of what we live inside. It is the reflection of a society which does not offer a manner of living which is really human. The impotence, the resignation felt before these stressors is translated into a posture which is more of a crawl, sagging shoulders and head down. In turn, this bad posture anchors the feeling of impotence at the heart of our emotions … our physiology is the reflection of this society, which creates dislocated beings, imposing on their bodies the violence of sedentary stress and the lack of freedom. The absurdities propagated by the fitness industry are an all too visible symbol of these dysfunctions. An intellectual cut off from the body could be tempted to ignore the problems posed by physical activity today, to judge them anecdotal or unimportant. But they are at the heart of what we are living: these are the compensations which we have constructed to survive in a world which forces human beings to devote themselves to sedentary activities, to which they can only adapt by cutting themselves off from what they are.
© Matthieu Smyth
Collaboration : Tanit Agency