Another Monkeyfist rescue post! I found the book this December when I was hewing out boxes from Zoe’s dad’s attic. This was from June 2000.
Some reflections: Thanks to my activity trackers and physical situation, I’m a lot less sedentary (yay!)! The Egan quote remains amazing. The Ivory trilogy is well worth your time. The evidence of the harms of sedentary lifestyles has become more and more voluminous. OTOH, stretching and flexibility beyond a certain point isn’t considered as critical. The evidence is that stretching e.g., before running doesn’t reduce injuries, for example. Indeed, for runners, stiffness of various bits can make them more energy efficient, e.g., you store more energy in a stiff leg than a loose one which means that you need to expend less to maintain your stride.
“He said you don’t get enough exercise. He also said that you don’t live in your body enough.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Where the hell do I live, if I don’t live in my body?”
Doris Egan, The Gate of Ivory
I’m a sedentary fellow, no doubt about it. Aside from my obsessive reading, I was a TV zombie as a kid. I wasn’t only sedentary, of course. I loved roaming the woods along the creek near my house. As I grew older, I had the odd flirtation with dance, an on-again off-again steady relationship with T’ai Ch’i, and a passionately settled long-term affair with rambling about. Though I was a soft little wimp (which had more to do with my parents, peers, and personality than with my intrinsic physique), there were times, over the years, where my body surprised me with strength, skill, and flexibility.
People who work with their bodies—dancers, athletes, manual laborers, and so on—acquire knowledge with a content and a form generally inaccessible to many, if not most, people in industrialized countries. But “body literacy” is an important skill…as important to our well-being and overall integrity as reading is thought to be to our citizenship.
Schools teach body literacy even more poorly than they do anything else. Aside from the absurdity of most “physical education” programs, most of the school day is devoted to ossifying pursuits in uncomfortable and anti-ergonmatic situations. Movement is discouraged, stretching frowned upon, and comfort almost completely eliminated.
(My high school resembled nothing so much as a prison, increasingly so as various gates and barriers were installed over the years. I visited it a few years back and was revolted to see that my memories were of a much milder oppressiveness than that of the new reality. No, there weren’t any metal detectors, but you could film a scene set in a minimal security prison with ease there.)
(Is this what we want for children? How are they to learn to touch and interact? To simply be with each other as friends and classmates? How can teachers stand as mentors, friends, advisors, and models if they are, almost literally, guards. This is in a nationally respected, bleached white, rich, suburban school!)
As I said, I’m a sedentary fellow, made more so by my arthritis and occupations. However, my physical therapist finally convinced me to use a kitchen timer and get up every twenty minutes to stretch and get some movement. (Also, to sit up straight!) I’ll even do this in class now, and damn the funny looks.
This book, Stretching at your computer or desk, provides a slew of stretches and exercises tailored to the office, and other sedentary habitats. You can sneak them in at the copier, do a stretch while a document opens, or make crashing the computer a relaxing, rather than stressful, experience. The book is nicely illustrated, and one can get large posters of the postures to hang in the office or in the classroom.
If we taught our children to stretch sensibly and move wisely frequently, yet unobtrustively, they wouldn’t need kitchen timers. They would learn to feel when a muscle needed relaxing or a joint wanted articulation. And they would take care of it instead of ignoring discomfort as a matter of course.
We just don’t live in our bodies enough. Many of us are more or less imprisioned in them, and we respond the way we respond to dirty dishes piling up—ignore ’em until we need a clean cup or get evicted by the health department. I suspect that living well with others requires that we live well with, and in, ourselves. If we are trained to ignore discomfort, indeed, to shun comfort, in ourselves, how can we learn to care for the discomfort of others?