Monday, December 1, 2003

Bodies in Motion - Pt. II

Ever since I stopped working as an archaeologist, my physical condition has been in decline. Daily hikes at 12,500 feet above sea level have been replaced by sitting at my desk. Despite very much enjoying what I do now, everything I know and feel tells me that my body was built to be in motion - not sitting in front of this bloody machine. And it's going to take way more than mobile computing to solve this problem.

Despite predictions of almost unbounded mobility, most people in industrialised nations are less physically active than ever before. Certainly not all forms of mobility are equal: being able to take our laptops into the park to work doesn't change the fact that we work at something that requires our bodies to remain relatively still for eight hours a day. And that we often enough play at the same tasks only increases the duration of that stillness. Are we forgetting that we have bodies - and that all live creatures move?

I have always despised exercise - especially aerobics or anything involving a gym. I am a hedonist - and working out in a gym offers more suffering than pleasure for me, so it only makes sense to avoid it. And since I no longer have a lifestyle that requires constant physical activity, my daily exercise has dwindled to walking the city. No way I could hike over the Andes now!

Anthropology taught me that bipedalism is a liability as much as an asset - and in August 2002 I injured my back and got confirmation on that. I didn't walk for weeks. Pain killers made me sick. Physiotherapy didn't help. Then I found a Chinese doctor who, through herbs and acupuncture, eliminated the constant searing pain - and she became my hero and saviour. But the pain never entirely went away. This past spring I went to a chiropractor, committed to a daily stretching regimen and started getting regular therapeutic massages. Things have improved, but the pain still lingers. For the past 4-5 days, I haven't been able to sit for longer than 20 minutes before my spine and legs start screaming. It sucks.

The problem when you are injured is regaining strength - but your body hurts all the time and exercise causes even more pain. (Did I mention that I am a hedonist - and hedonists hate pain?) So my semi-regular lack of exercise has been compounded by an inability to do all sorts of exercise. Not surprisingly, I have slowly but surely gained weight over the past year or so, which puts even greater strain on my bones and muscles. Add to that working on a PhD - which can be rather stressful and demanding, weakening the body as much as the mind and spirit. Now, whenever I get upset, my back hurts.

And so this week I realised I am losing the battle and - before inertia takes over - I have to do something. (How dramatic!)

Enter Pilates - exercise to strengthen my body rather than exercise to make me look better in a thong. These folks are decent: they only care if my body is properly aligned and balanced and strong. And work to become properly aligned and balanced and strong is what I shall do.

Here's to the ultimate beauty of bodies in motion.

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