Oh, to be in England now that April ’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
When I had a David Lloyd, Oxford, membership, I used to be surprised by how happy everyone seemed. Smiley, happy, positive and ebullient.
Most or all of the staff were probably not Christians, so there was no spiritual explanation at work. I had to look for natural explanations for why they seemed more happy and upbeat than the average person.
Undoubtedly, it was partly because of good management. Bad and mean management hurts business because employees become disgruntled.
However, the number of exercise classes the staff led each day, and the endorphins pumping through their bodies no doubt made them feel better physically, which made them feel better emotionally. And, if they were spiritual, the glowing health, and the well-stretched muscles, would have made it easier for them to experience God.
* * *
I used to hate PE and games at school. I am now surprised at how good I feel after vigorous exercise, like a run. How euphoric even, how tolerant of human annoyingness, how clear-headed, how able to work for long hours. So resistant to annoyance and disappointment.
It’s like an inoculation of the mind and emotions, making me able to work longer and harder, to withstand reverses, to handle rudeness or shortness with equanimity.
Exercise makes us better people. It may not change the heart, make a stingy person generous, a malicious or malevolent person benevolent. But its short-term effects improve our personalities. If persisted with, it would change our characters (not least of all, in developing discipline). We become sunnier. Happier. Easier to live with. We sleep better. Think better, more clearly and rationally. We work better and for longer.
It injects sunshine into the personality. We are much less irritable and snappish; our mood is better; we feel better about ourselves. We feel more energetic, positive, optimistic, calm, forbearing, tolerant. In other words, we feel more like Christians.
In fact, perhaps exercise makes it easier for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. I do believe it.
I have been struggling to develop the habit of daily exercise for 22 months (during which I have lost 24 pounds!!), and it’s still not as much of a habit as writing is, say. But I do exercise at least a little most days, and am miserable and cranky when I do not.
I am convinced of its benefits, and enjoy it once I have hit my stride, and so I will persist, until it is as much of a habit as writing is.
I am doing quite well with waking up a little earlier every day because I do have a perfect, and perfectly restful nap later on, if I need to. One of my favourite descriptions of a nap is Iris Murdoch’s “Two days for the price of one,” in “The Good Apprentice.”
I also love Thomas Edison’s way of working– he had a couch in his lab, and would steal a nap whenever he was tired, and then get back to work, fresh and green.
Getting up with the sun has been a holy grail for me all my life, and I am now getting closer to achieving this, through the habit of stealing a nap or two when I am tired, so that when I do read, or write, or talk to my family and friends, I am fresh and full of beans. (Though not overwhelmingly so, I hope).
Of course, working at home makes this a lot easier.
I remember a nice phrase in Andrew Solomon’s book on depression, “The Noon Day Demon,” which I first read in the New Yorker. That “exercise exorcised the depression from his body”.
That’s exactly how it is with me. In a typical depressive pattern, I often wake up sluggish and with low mood, and gain in alertness and spirit as the day winds on, ending up wide-awake at night.
The light therapy I am trying is helping.
But running also helps enormously, filling me with alertness, endorphins, serotonin, all that is good.
Yoga too fills me with calm, alertness and a feeling of well-being.
And, it is one of the mysteries of being me that I run almost every day, rather than every day when running makes me feel so good. Ditto with yoga
Hmm, interesting article from New York Times.
I used to use lightboxes 13 years ago, and it worked.
Then I forget to do it, then forgot how to do it. As happens with many things. (Faith, for instance, or prayer.)
After reading this, I dug out my old lightboxes, started using them the moment I woke up, and am indeed waking up earlier, and refreshed.
Yay. Jogging helps too. I almost never sleep badly when I have gone for my 30 minute jog. Especially if I have also done my 30 minutes of yoga before going to sleep.