body. week 1.
city. new york city
It’s kind of funny how the body resists being thought about.
I’m a few weeks into my ‘experiment’ (I couldn’t resist starting early), and here’s what I’ve done so far.
Running: I run 2.5 miles about three times a week. It takes me about 20 minutes; averaging just over 8 minutes per mile. (My route takes me up and over the Williamsburg Bridge, so it’s possible that my tracker isn’t accounting for the elevation gain but whatever.) In addition, I’ve heard (from Andy Galprin) that it’s important to occasionally reach your maximum heart rate, so I’ve begun sprinting the last quarter mile or so. This has brought my average mile down to just over 7 and a half minutes. Regarding running in general, this has been by far my most consistent form of exercise over the last decade. I began running when I lived in Jerusalem when I was 18 or 19 and, although I’ve taken frequent breaks, I’ve kept it up ever since. My dad and older sister were marathon runners, so I guess it’s something that just runs in the family.
Resistance Training: Rather than signing up for a gym, I went out and bought a set of 15 and 20 pound dumbbells from Target. At first, I would follow some YouTube classes, but lately I’ve been using the classes on the Peloton app. I’ve done some very occasional lifting in the past (for a few months in college and then a few more months when I lived in Montreal back in 2017). So this is a very new concept for me; and one that I’m really enjoying! Especially since I get to do it at home. I probably work out 4 times per week. Two 20 minute upper body sessions, two 20 minute lower body sessions, and four 10 minute core workouts. I’ll also do a 10 or 15 minute stretch pretty much every day. The Peloton app also includes stretching classes, but a friend told me about these mobility classes on the SaturnoMovement YouTube channel, and I’ve really been enjoying those as well.
Dancing: My younger sister has always enjoyed choreography and Zumba, so I asked her to teach me how to dance. Once she finished laughing, she agreed to come by once a week and teach me a dance. We’ve been using the Fitness Marshall YouTube channel for inspiration. I’m terrible at it, but it’s still fun. And what a workout! Also, I’ve been letting myself just dance more in general when I have the music on in the background.
Eating: I once asked a friend of mine who studied nutrition what his number one piece of advice would be for someone who wanted to start eating healthier. He said, “Eat more vegetables.” Although I completely ignored him, I still have that idea floating around in the back of my mind. So, to begin with, I’ve tripled the quantity of fresh fruit, vegetables, and raw nuts that I buy each week. (Sadly, this is not saying much.) I try to use these as snacks, instead of the usual pretzels and chocolate. I’ve also tried to consume fewer calories in general, but since I don’t track it, I doubt that I actually am. Mostly, I’m just feeling anxious about consuming fewer calories, which isn’t really the same thing, is it?
Music: I started learning piano about two years ago. I haven’t made much progress. But I’m giving it another shot. I use the Yousician app on my tablet. I know this probably isn’t what you’d normally think of as a ‘body’ activity, but actually I’m finding that I need to build an entirely new relationship with my hands and fingers. In playing piano, I’m asking them to do things they literally have no idea how to do. Most sessions devolve into me screaming in frustration and pounding my fists against the keyboard. But I really do love piano (in fact I’m listening to some right now). Oh, also, I want to include all of my senses in my ‘body experiment’ and that certainly includes the sense of hearing.
For the record, I’m 30 years old, 5 foot 9, weigh 160 lbs, sleep at least 8 hours a night, and am in overall healthy shape. Until this year, I have rarely if ever danced, cooked, worked out (other than jogging), played sports (not including elementary school), or learned an instrument. I drink a few times a week, smoke weed a handful of times per month, sneak a few cigarettes per month, and drink loads and loads of water. I consider myself an omnivore, but try to limit my meat intake when possible (for ethical reasons).
I’d say that I have a mixed body image. I think I look pretty okay. But I also know that I don’t really look good. It’s not that I dislike my body or think I’m ugly. It’s more that I treat it with casual disregard. It just hasn’t been a priority. On a good day I’d describe myself as ‘chill’, on a bad day as ‘boring’. Overall? I get by.
My Initial Thoughts
I’ve been surprised by how each activity (whether it’s been running, lifting, stretching, or dancing) invites me to use my body in a completely different way. No matter how good I am at running, I’ve had to begin from step 1 when I started resistance training. And then again when I started stretching. And then again with piano. And then again with dancing. And then again. And again. It’s cool to begin to explore these different sides of my body, and glimpse the potential that each holds.
I’ve also reallyyy enjoyed having all this time to take a break from my mind. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and find it very hard to just take a break and relax. Whether it’s reading, meditating, writing, planning or working, I spend almost all of my day exercising my mind. But when I’m exercising my body, I can just relax my mind and let my body handle everything. It comes as a huge relief that I can stay occupied and productive without having to actually figure anything out. Just do it. There’s a simplicity and honesty about the body that just feels magical.
I would like to ask each of my family members and friends to send me their favorite recipe. And then I want to start cooking them.
I would like to buy one thing each week for my body. It can be clothing, a cosmetic, a nice dinner, or a haircut. Anything at all. I just want to start showing my appreciation and taking better care of myself.
Michael Pollan talks about how food in the US has become equated with nutrition: “We forget that, historically, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than biological necessity. Food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity.”
Guilty as charged. I fall squarely among those who eat only out of biological necessity. If I could take a nutrient pill that would give me everything I needed to survive, I’d hardly eat another bite.
But, at the same time, I understand the poverty of this sentiment. The missed opportunities to enjoy my body, my world, and my community. When I lived in Italy, I felt the sanctity and love that surrounded each meal. How dinner was not just a time to eat, but also a time to celebrate, reconnect, and relax.
I’d like to carry that intention with me into this experiment.
When my friend Lisa asked me what I’ve been up to, I told her about my body project. Her advice? Be careful. Too much focus on the body can be a bad thing.
At the time, I brushed her comment off, assuring her that I’m just not that type of person.
It wasn’t until a day later that I realized that not only had she been completely correct, I’d actually already been focusing too much. It’s been only a week or two since I’ve committed to eat more healthily, and now I find myself craving food all day. And not just any old food. The really bad foods. I want chocolate. I want candy. I want cake. I want ice cream. I want it all, and I want it now.
I’ve never, in my entire life, craved sweets like this. I’ve never even craved food like this. And yet, the moment I began denying myself… well, let’s just say I’m not very good at following rules.
So now I’m unhappy with my food and I eat at least less healthily.
Going forward, I’ll try to just go with the flow, and maybe just nudge myself toward more healthy choices, rather than trying to reinvent my (perfectly good diet) from scratch. That’s something I’ve learned from working on my mind. As tempting as it is, it’s not usually a good idea to scrap everything and start from scratch. It’s been much more productive to make small, lasting changes. Simply noticing the things that make me feel better, and do more of those. Noticing the things that make me feel worse, and do less of that. One step at a time. There’s no rush.
I watched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film, Pumping Iron, last night.
Good bodybuilders have the same mind as a sculptor. If you analyze it, you look in the mirror and you say, “Okay, I need a little more deltoids, a little bit more shoulder,” so you can get the proportions right. So what you do is you exercise and put those deltoids on. Whereas an artist would just slap on some clay on each side, and does it maybe the easier way. We go through a harder way, because you have to do it on a human body.
The greatest feeling you can get in the gym is the pump. Let’s say you’re training your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles; and that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute. It’s like somebody blowing air into your muscle. It just blows up and it feels different. It feels fantastic. It’s as satisfying to me as coming is. As having sex with a woman and coming. So can you believe how much I’m in heaven? I’m, like, getting the feeling of coming in the gym. I’m getting the feeling of coming at home. I’m getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5,000 people. I get the same feeling. So I’m coming day and night. I mean it’s terrific, right? So, you know, I’m in heaven.
The body isn’t used to maybe the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth rep with a certain weight. So that makes the body grow. Going through the pain barrier. Experiencing pain in your muscles and aching and just go on and go on and then go on. And this last two or three or four repetitions that’s what makes the muscle grow. And that divides one from a champion and one from not being a champion. If you can go through this pain barrier, you may get to be a champion. If you can’t go through, forget it. And that’s what most people lack, is in this, having the guts. The guts to go in and just say, “I’ll go through and I don’t care what happens.” It aches and I fall down, I have no fear of fainting in the gym. I know it could happen. I threw up many times while working out. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s all worth it.
Nothing at all happens in the mind. All of life takes place in the body.
Perhaps I fell so in love with my mind precisely in order to avoid living life. Perhaps I needed something I could control, somewhere I could escape to. And perhaps for good reason. But now, with my secret hideout already prepared, I can begin venturing out more boldly. I can begin venturing out into my body.
Growing up, my rabbis would compare the human body to an animal. They’d say that only the soul is godly. The soul is what distinguishes us from the other animals. The soul, they said, must be used to lift the body up into a spiritual realm.
During this next year, I’d like to explore pulling the soul down into the material realm. True, the body is an animal. There’s no denying that. True, I too am an animal. But is it then really so surprising that as I arrive into my body, I no longer wish to eat other animals? Is it really so surprising that western culture, a culture which has so cleanly divorced itself from nature, has turned animal cruelty into an industry?