Archives For Exercise

 

eyechartThe world’s oldest man just died—and I’m not looking forward to ever becoming one of his successors. I mean, I understand the sentiments of non-Christians who quip that any day on this side of the grass is a good one, but I would only be interested in staying around here that long if I still had a keen mind and good health.

I’m not sure most of the people who eventually earn those titles have either. This gentleman was 111, and in the picture of him receiving his Guinness certificate, he actually looks like he had already expired. I mean, no offense, just a statement of simple fact.

As for his state of mind, I’m a bit more optimistic. Apparently when asked a while ago how he had lived so long, he responded, “because I haven’t died yet.” Assuming that was tongue in cheek (I recognize that is merely an assumption), he had retained his sense of humor. A good sign.

I don’t think ultra-long longevity is all it’s cracked up to be. I remember my 92 year old grandmother (my only relative who lived to be “elderly”) telling me that she was ready to go to heaven. She was in a nursing home, but not in pain, and still witty.

She said, “Robbie, I’ll miss you and everyone who is still here, but if you live long enough, more of the people you love are already in heaven than remaining here.” She had been widowed for three decades. And, unbeknownst to us at the time, three of her four children would follow her within three years of her own passing.

I am not eager to die, of course. And, unlike Polycarp, the bishop of second-century Smyrna, I’m certainly not zealous about the possibility of someday being martyred.

Still, God-willing, when I’ve come to the end of my appointed days I will make that transition peacefully, as is appropriate for a child of God who has been blessed with a full life.

When death is seen as a dark end—a soundless void—it’s understandable that many would resist it to the “bitter” end. That theme has been common in literature and cinema.

In a comic light, a character on Parks and Recreation exhibits the desire to live as long as humanly possible. He exercises without pause and takes every vitamin that exists in horse-pill doses. Soon after Chris Traeger was introduced to the show, he shared his view of life:

I take care of my body above all else. Diet, exercise, supplements, positive thinking. Scientists believe that the first human being who will live 150 years has already been born. I believe I am that human being.

Humorous. And, a respectable goal perhaps, if not driven by deep fear.

I don’t share Traeger’s goal of being the first human to reach 150. Nor, as we considered at the outset of our discussion, do I long to gain the title of World’s Oldest Man.

And I take comfort that I find myself, once again, in the comfortable camp of C.S. Lewis. In his essay “Is Progress Possible?” Lewis wrote:

Progress means movement in a desired direction, and we do not all desire the same things for our species. In “Possible Worlds” Professor Haldane pictured a future in which Man, foreseeing that Earth would soon be uninhabitable, adapted himself for migration to Venus by drastically modifying his physiology and abandoning justice, pity and happiness.

The desire here is for mere survival. Now I care far more how humanity lives than how long. Progress, for me, means increasing goodness and happiness of individual lives. For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal.

More important, we believe, is the quality than the quantity, of our lives.

Posing Like a Corpse

December 17, 2013 — 8 Comments

savasanaThere are some things you should never tell an elderly person to do. And, I recently came across a faux pas that certainly belongs in that number.

It may just be me, but I think one should never, ever tell a senior citizen to pose like a corpse.

Nevertheless, in a recent article in a periodical expressly written for “mature” Americans,* readers were advised to assume the “corpse pose.” My discomfort with that directive was not allayed by the description that followed.

Lie flat on your back, pillow under your head, eyes closed. Allow your feet to play to the sides. Rest your arms alongside your body, palms facing up. Then relax, surrender to the floor, and breathe deeply.

Up until being told to “breathe,” one might rightly be confused with precisely how we are emulating a corpse.

While I make no claim to understand what it means to “surrender to the floor,” I can understand how body posture has become a valued part of yoga. After all, even without the counsel of a yogi, I learned at an early age the sheer joy and peace of lying on my back with eyes closed.

I don’t wish to impugn the benefits of yoga; I wish that I were able to master my physical body half as well as many of them do. However, I would like to suggest to the yoga community that they re-label their corpse pose.

Admittedly, advocates for maintaining this verbiage can state it is clearly not intended to refer to a literal cadaver. In arguing this they are simply being human. As C.S. Lewis wrote in “Studies in Words”—“Like all philosophers, Aristotle gives words the definitions which will be most useful for his own purpose.” This approach is not, of course, the domain of philosophers alone.

The fact is that there are perfectly good words that could be substituted which do not reference a lifeless body. “Reclined,” “Reposed,” or even “Resting” or “Sleeping” come readily to mind.

Of course, I may be missing something here. Perhaps the allusion to a corpse is intentional? Perhaps the image of dissipation of energy and effort is expressly intended to be similar to a comatose state? Perhaps that is what becoming one with the floor is hinting at? Flesh to floor . . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

In this case, it might be clearer if we were provided with a definition of what the title of the pose actually means. I suppose that practitioners may learn this as part of their lessons, but to those on the “outside,” the label seems slightly off-putting.

As Lewis wrote in the aforementioned essay:

The fact that [writers] define it at all is itself a ground for scepticism. Unless we are writing a dictionary, or a text-book of some technical subject, we define our words only because we are in some measure departing from their real current sense. Otherwise there would be no purpose in doing so.

Thus, if “corpse” here doesn’t mean what we normally understand it to, we might benefit from a brief definition or explanation of the users’ intent.

This matter—the proper use of the precise word that will be clearly understood—is a concern for all communicators. Writers need to remain vigilant that their own vocabulary or metaphors do not confuse.

One last caveat for those who practice yoga. If you seek to master the corpse pose, be cautious in just how well you perfect it. Please stop short of emulating death so well that your resting body is discovered and a crime scene established.

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savasana 2* AARP the Magazine is published by the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired People. Apparently, the sound “AARP” is considered more dignified than the original title. It remains a requirement, however, that members have survived at least a half century before applying for membership.