7. Exercise and Stretch Your Body, Mind, and Soul Every Day

This essay is part of my 42 Deep Thoughts project.

Ok, maybe not every day. But regularly and often. Not everyone can do all the things. As I mentioned in my intro post to this series, that these are my values, and goals, they may not fit everyone. But I hope that they help you in your journey.

This essay took longer to write than I had planned. This project is about writing out my thoughts, and sometimes when they come out on paper, they don’t come out how I’d like. So this took several tries.

Exercise and Stretch Your Body

Apparently everything we know about stretching is wrong. Not exactly, but several studies have come out recently debunking the common wisdom around stretching.

What’s wrong? In short, stretching before and/or after other exercise won’t necessarily help prevent injury or promote recovery after a workout. Warming up before is more important. And apparently some types of strength training does the same thing as stretching.

Stretching, though, is still good for you, and important. It can help with recovery when muscles get tight. It also improves the health of your circulatory system. So stretching does lots of good things.

You need to stretch to ensure mobility and balance; however, stretching for the sake of flexibility isn’t great, because flexibility for the sake of flexibility isn’t healthy. It can be bad for your joints.

So you should stretch, it helps you improve and expand your mobility, but please don’t overstretch.

As for other forms of exercise, the list of benefits keeps on growing. It’s good for basically every aspect of your life, current and future welbeing.

It’s good for your brain, your mental health, your sleep. It helps you reduce your weight, it reduces your health risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer. It strengthens your bones and muscles, improves your life expectancy, it’s crucial for your health as you age. And it helps manage many chronic conditions.

Metaphorically, we exercise to get stronger, and stretch to expand our capacity. In practice, we stretch and exercise to both get stronger, expand our capacity, and improve how everything works.

If you want to live a long, healthy, and happy life, it’s clear that it’s important to do what you can to maintain your health. Ideally through multiple forms of exercise: cardio, resistance training, and stretch.

* * *

I’m going to borrow from the metaphor for the rest of this essay, and perhaps expand upon it a little. We exercise to strengthen, and deepen our skills, we stretch to extend the boundaries of our mobility. Just like too much stretching too quickly can hurt your joints, pushing beyond your capabilities too quickly can hurt you too. But if you don’t stretch you will lose your mobility and balance.

Exercise and Stretch Your Mind

Lifelong learning is a key to fighting cognitive decline when you age. So if for any other reason, learn something new (stretch), and deepen your current knowledge (exercise), for maintaining your health longer into life.

I’d argue that the exploration of our minds, and the world around us, is the essence of being.

There are so many things to learn — languages, arts, skills, anthropology, history, architecture, mathematics, sciences… I could keep going for quite a while, but I’ll spare you.

In today’s world, with almost any knowledge free and accessible, it’s easy to devalue it.

Yet knowledge is the one thing you acquire, that becomes a part of you. It grows you, changes you. It can’t be taken away, once you have it. It can be given to you, but you have to participate in the acceptance of it in order to actually acquire it.

Your brain is also like a muscle, as in, if you don’t actively use it, it will atrophy.

We see the world through our understanding of it, as we broaden our understanding, we deepen our perception of our experiences. If all you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail. However, if you have all the tools, you will look at problems differently.

Learning more and new things is akin to stretching. Just like stretching, though, flexibility of mind, for the sake of flexibility can be detrimental.

Knowing a little bit of everything, can be deceptive. Too often I’ll walk away from a podcast on a topic I have mastery over, by very smart people, who think they know a topic well enough to discuss it. Unfortunately they only know enough to get it wrong.

Deepening your knowledge of what you already know is essential too. There is an incredible power when you truly understand a topic, or skill. Mastery comes over time, and takes a lot of work but is well worth the effort. Similar to exercising your body, in some cases you stretch as well.

There are entire areas of philosophy dedicated to knowledge, how and why, so I’ll have to stop somewhere. However, I cannot stress enough the enjoyment of deepening your knowledge and skills, and learning new things, instead of just watching another show, or scrolling forever down a rabbit hole of internet.

Exercise and Stretch Your Soul

I originally had creativity, heart, and soul, as separate sections, but after contemplation I believe they belong together here. I am no expert on any of them, but I do try to exercise and stretch them often.

I don’t know what a soul is. The Bible describes god breathing life into man when he was created. It’s the breath of god that inspires us, that inspires us to be greater, to dream beyond.

Rudolf Otto described religion as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans — the tremendous mystery that fascinates. There are limits to what we know, and while we are constantly pushing those limits, the mystery that is beyond is where god lies.

You don’t have to believe in god — I’m not sure I do myself — to experience your soul or be fascinated my the tremendous mystery and beauty of existence.

Your soul lies in the infinite depth of love you can feel, that is so great it overwhelms you, and it just keeps growing. Your soul lies in that same infinite feeling of being loved.

Your soul is found in that experience of inspiration that feels otherworldly, a gift from the muses. An idea that came with a spark that tingles throughout your being.

Your soul rejoices in experiencing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and is shaken by Picasso’s Guernica. It can be found or running along roads littered with pottery from your ancestors millennia ago.

Your soul is filled by a breathtaking sunset, and as the sky fills up with stars. And your soul expands when you contemplate quite how large that expanse of that starry night really is.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

- Emily Dickinson

About the image: Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus from the Uffizi, Florence.