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Source: As A Matter Of Course
REST, fresh air, exercise, and nourishment, enough of each in
proportion to the work done, are the material essentials to a
healthy physique. Indeed, so simple is the whole process of physical
care, it would seem absurd to write about it at all. The only excuse
for such writing is the constant disobedience to natural laws which
has resulted from the useless complexity of our civilization.
There is a current of physical order which, if one once gets into
it, gives an instinct as to what to do and what to leave undone, as
true as the instinct which leads a man to wash his hands when they
need it, and to wash them often enough so that they never remain
soiled for any length of time, simply because that state is
uncomfortable to their owner. Soap and water are not unpleasant to
most of us in their process of cleansing; we have to deny ourselves
nothing through their use. To keep the digestion in order, it is
often necessary to deny ourselves certain sensations of the palate
which are pleasant at the time. So by a gradual process of not
denying we are swung out of the instinctive nourishment-current, and
life is complicated for us either by an amount of thought as to what
we should or should not eat, or by irritations which arise from
having eaten the wrong food. It is not uncommon to find a mind taken
up for some hours in wondering whether that last piece of cake will
digest. We can easily see how from this there might be developed a
nervous sensitiveness about eating which would prevent the
individual from eating even the food that is nourishing. This last
is a not unusual form of dyspepsia,--a dyspepsia which keeps itself
alive on the patient's want of nourishment.
Fortunately the process of getting back into the true food-current
is not difficult if one will adopt it The trouble is in making the
bold plunge. If anything is eaten that is afterwards deemed to have
been imprudent, let it disagree. Take the full consequences and bear
them like a man, with whatever remedies are found to lighten the
painful result. Having made sure through bitter experience that a
particular food disagrees, simply do not take it again, and think
nothing about it. It does not exist for you. A nervous resistance to
any sort of indigestion prolongs the attack and leaves, a
brain-impression which not only makes the same trouble more liable
to recur, but increases the temptation to eat forbidden fruit. Of
course this is always preceded by a full persuasion that the food is
not likely to disagree with us now simply because it did before. And
to some extent, this is true. Food that will bring pain and
suffering when taken by a tired stomach, may prove entirely
nourishing when the stomach is rested and ready for it. In that
case, the owner of the stomach has learned once for all never to
give his digestive apparatus work to do when it is tired. Send a
warm drink as a messenger to say that food is coming later, give
yourself a little rest, and then eat your dinner. The fundamental
laws of health in eating are very simple; their variations for
individual needs must be discovered by each for himself.
"But," it may be objected, "why make all this fuss, why take so much
thought about what I eat or what I do not eat?" The special thought
is simply to be taken at first to get into the normal habit, and as
a means of forgetting our digestion just as we forget the washing of
our hands until we are reminded by some discomfort; whereupon we
wash them and forget again. Nature will not allow us to forget. When
we are not obeying her laws, she is constantly irritating us in one
way or another. It is when we obey, and obey as a matter of course,
that she shows herself to be a tender mother, and helps us to a real
companionship with her.
Nothing is more amusing, nothing could appeal more to Mother
Nature's sense of humor, than the various devices for exercise which
give us a complicated self-consciousness rather than a natural
development of our physical powers. Certain simple exercises are
most useful, and if the weather is so inclement that they cannot be
taken in the open air, it is good to have a well-ventilated hall.
Exercise with others, too, is stimulating, and more invigorating
when there is air enough and to spare. But there is nothing that
shows the subjective, self-conscious state of this generation more
than the subjective form which exercise takes. Instead of games and
play or a good vigorous walk in the country, there are endless
varieties of physical culture, most of it good and helpful if taken
as a means to an end, but almost useless as it is taken as an end in
itself; for it draws the attention to one's self and one's own
muscles in a way to make the owner serve the muscle instead of the
muscle being made to serve the owner. The more physical exercise can
be simplified and made objective, the more it serves its end. To
climb a high mountain is admirable exercise, for we have the summit
as an end, and the work of climbing is steadily objective, while we
get the delicious effect of a freer circulation and all that it
means. There might be similar exercises in gymnasiums, and there
are, indeed, many exercises where some objective achievement is the
end, and the training of a muscle follows as a matter of course.
There is the exercise-instinct; we all have it the more perfectly as
we obey it. If we have suffered from a series of disobediences, it
is a comparatively easy process to work back into obedience.
The fresh-air-instinct is abnormally developed with some of us, but
only with some. The popular fear of draughts is one cause of its
loss. The fear of a draught will cause a contraction, the
contraction will interfere with the circulation, and a cold is the
The effect of vitiated air is well known. The necessity, not only
for breathing fresh air when we are quiet, but for exercising in the
open, grows upon us as we see the result. To feel the need is to
take the remedy, as a matter of course.
The rest-instinct is most generally disobeyed, most widely needed,
and obedience to it would bring the most effective results. A
restful state of mind and body prepares one for the best effects
from exercise, fresh air, and nourishment. This instinct is the more
disobeyed because with the need for rest there seems to come an
inability to take it, so that not only is every impediment
magnified, but imaginary impediments are erected, and only a decided
and insistent use of the will in dropping everything that
interferes, whether real or imaginary, will bring a whiff of a
breeze from the true rest-current. Rest is not always silence, but
silence is always rest; and a real silence of the mind is known by
very few. Having gained that, or even approached it, we are taken by
the rest-wind itself, and it is strong enough to bear our full
weight as it swings us along to renewed life and new strength for
work to come.
The secret is to turn to silence at the first hint from nature; and
sleep should be the very essence of silence itself.
All this would be very well if we were free to take the right amount
of rest, fresh air, exercise, and nourishment; but many of us are
not. It will not be difficult for any one to call to mind half a
dozen persons who impede the good which might result from the use of
these four necessities simply by complaining that they cannot have
their full share of either. Indeed, some of us may find in ourselves
various stones of this sort stopping the way. To take what we can
and be thankful, not only enables us to gain more from every source
of health, but opens the way for us to see clearly how to get more.
This complaint, however, is less of an impediment than the whining
and fussing which come from those who are free to take all four in
abundance, and who have the necessity of their own especial physical
health so much at heart that there is room to think of little else.
These people crowd into the various schools of physical culture by
the hundred, pervade the rest-cures, and are ready for any new
physiological fad which may arise, with no result but more physical
culture, more rest-cure, and more fads. Nay, there is sometimes one
other result,--disease. That gives them something tangible to work
for or to work about. But all their eating and breathing and
exercising and resting does not bring lasting vigorous health,
simply because they work at it as an end, of which self is the
centre and circumference.
The sooner our health-instinct is developed, and then taken as a
matter of course, the sooner can the body become a perfect servant,
to be treated with true courtesy, and then forgotten. Here is an
instinct of our barbarous ancestry which may be kept and refined
through all future phases of civilization. This instinct is natural,
and the obedience to it enables us to gain more rapidly in other,
higher instincts which, if our ancestors had at all, were so
embryonic as not to have attained expression.
Nourishment, fresh air, exercise, rest,--so far as these are not
taken simply and in obedience to the natural instinct, there arise
physical stones in the way, stones that form themselves into an
apparently insurmountable wall. There is a stile over that wall,
however, if we will but open our eyes to see it. This stile,
carefully climbed, will enable us to step over the few stones on the
other side, and follow the physical path quite clearly.