I am coming out of the closet now: I don't exercise.
I take my dog for walks and sometimes I do yoga. But I have never owned a gym membership and I have never run a marathon. I really do not know why I should. I am not obese and my health is okay.
There is, of course, overwhelming evidence that exercise is good not only for your body but also for your mind. I just learned, much to my disappointment, that a cardiovascular workout is even better for your brain than meditation and meditation is really good for your brain. This is a hard nut for a meditation teacher to bite. Also, exercise is a great anti-depressant and it helps to keep you slim.
Whenever I think of exercise, I think of my mother. She never exercised. Exercise the way we understand it today did not even exist in my childhood. I don't remember anyone ever jogging, let alone going to a gym. As far as I remember, the gyms appeared in the 1980s but they were definite no-go zones for intellectual art students such as myself. Only the yuppies sweated on treadmills, wearing ridiculous sweatbands and shiny workout gear, brainless disco music playing in the background.
My mother is 90-years-old. Apart from the hydrocephalus her brain developed when she was 80, she is totally healthy. There is too much fluid in the wrong places in her head. This sometimes happens when you get old. I do not know if it could have been prevented if she had exercised. I don't think so.
Instead of exercising, my mother walked. She was a nurse, so I bet she walked quite a bit at work. She also walked to the grocery store and the market place. On Sundays she would go for a walk with my dad. My dad was a fast walker but my mom has always been slow. It drove my dad crazy. Lots of things drove my dad crazy. He did not own a gym membership but he certainly made a fuss over exercising. He constantly told us kids we should go out and be active. He hated seeing us indoors, listening to our compact cassette players and reading our pop music magazines. These were the times before Walkmans and earphones, mind you.
My dad died of heart failure at the age of 68, after fussing over things all his life. My mom, who doesn't even know what the word "fuss" means, shows no signs of dying any time soon. She is a bit ditzy and doesn't always remember things, but physically she is doing too well, in her own opinion. She would be ready to go and has been for a while, but unfortunately the doctors don't give her much hope. With some bad luck she will hit the 100-year milestone.
My mom has always been a happy person. She has also been a bit roundish. When I was a kid I remember her sometimes dieting. It was the 1960s, after all, the age of Twiggy and mini-skirts and go-go boots. But she did not make any fuss about it. When she turned 60, her nurse colleagues gave her a necklace, a glass drop, with a little gold nugget inside. It's like you, they said to mom. Small, round and with gold inside.
I wonder whether one of the reasons I have never been attracted to exercising is the admiration I feel for my mom.
When my mom still lived in her apartment, we used to go the sauna in her basement. After the sauna mom took a dip in the swimming pool. Then she sat on the rattan chair and had a drink, relaxing. I, on the other hand, felt I needed to exercise since the opportunity had presented itself. I must swim 20 times end to end, I once declared. Oh, said my mom, sipping her drink. Why?
She said this with genuine curiosity in her voice and made me wonder. Why, indeed?
The real reason for me not to exercise is, of course, that I am lazy. I don't like to get exhausted. When I was introduced to Ayurveda, I learned, much to my delight, that my dominant dosha is Vata. Us Vata-folks should avoid strenuous activities, such as jogging and aerobics. Instead, we should take hot baths, eat comforting foods and get plenty of rest. Oh how I love India!
I am aware that exercising might prolong my life. But here's the thing: while I mostly find living on this planet quite agreeable, I am not interested in longevity as such. I am ready to make my transition the minute my brain shows the first signs of serious cognitive decline. As the decline has already started, I know I cannot avoid brain mushiness altogether but I don't want to endure it any longer than I absolutely must.
A nurse I know once told me that she would never in a million years start running marathons. Geriatric hospitals are full of exercisers, she said, whose hearts go on and on while their minds are nowhere to be seen.
Being in good shape brings you all sorts of benefits, I am sure. But fussing over exercising is one thing, taking care of your body, mind and soul is quite another. I don't think any of the ladies in my mother's nursing home have ever really exercised. They have lived and loved and taken care of their families and sometimes maybe gone for a walk. If that was enough back then, why isn't it enough today?
I think I know the answer: stress. Our stress levels are so high we need potent remedies to lower them.
Is one allowed to skip exercising if one chooses a stress-free life? I am trying to do just that. What did the Zen masters say: When walking, walk. When eating, eat. They said nothing about running, did they?