The zen and the zing of getting sweaty will help you keep your head when all about you people are making bread or something equally fattening.
It takes ten minutes tops to feel better psychologically and physically. My son and I lived in Siskiyou County in northern California for a couple of years. I had bought a little country house on almost two acres after my mother died, and I moved us out of the desert. The house was old and had no foundation, and by the time I sold it, the roof was coming off. We loved it, though. By the second year, fire-colored tulips and a tree with plums the size of grapes — a variety I’d never seen — were growing there.
Sunflowers half as tall as the surrounding trees and topped with huge sunny faces had shot up from where the birds had snatched the seeds from my garden and then dropped them in the center of the front yard.
We were six miles from Yreka and I rode my bike to work at the US Fish and Wildlife agency in the early summer mornings, past meadows and hills of dewy green sweetness and placid cows, Mt. Shasta watching me from thirty miles away. If six cars passed me, it was a mad rush. Now, it would require a face mask, even in that wonderful air.
While I rode, I listened to Doris Day CDs, among others. To this day, almost fifteen years later, that ride into work in the morning is still one of my fondest memories.
But not just because of the beauty and peace of the landscape.
If we’re honest, and most of us are when it comes to exercise (unless we like to claim we ran the New York marathon, because really, who’s going to challenge that tiny white lie?), we hate it. It’s part of the pantheon of things we know we should do, have to do, must do, and are told to do, in order to live to be 100.
So off we go jogging — munching a freeze dried broccoli floret — in order to become a centenarian, get blindsided by a green floret poking us in the eye, and are hit by a car.
In researching this piece about exercise I found dozens of articles with titles like, “How to trick ourselves into exercise” or, “How to make ourselves do something we don’t want to do,” or “For crying out loud, would you just get off the damned sofa already?”
Clearly, my assertion that most of us hate exercise like we hated pop quizzes and an assignment over a holiday weekend, is not wrong. Besides, when we exercise, we work out, and the word “work” doesn’t make it more appealing.
I used the word “zen” in my title because that’s exactly how I end up feeling about a newly completed workout.
When I searched out synonyms for zen — to make sure I understood it correctly — they include the phrases “loony tunes” and “battery acid.”
Maybe there’s something to hate about exercise after all.
Did someone jog or ride their bicycle over Daffy Duck while he was under the hood of his car, causing him to splash battery acid on his bill?
Why should we want to do something that makes us hot, sweaty, and sore? The only reason our ancestors — those arbiters of what real men and women did — got hot, sweaty, and sore paving a westward path to California and granola, was because they didn’t have sofas, televisions, and Cheetos. Sucked for them.
Therefore, in lieu of cutting down more of the Redwoods, we took up activities that don’t affect the environment — outside of cutting down orchard groves to put up a green way for a golf course, or manufacturing treadmills in factories that spit smoke and sweat from the workers into the atmosphere.
Everyone knows the health benefits of exercise. But why is it zen, and where is the zing, as long as it’s not from the battery acid?
Wind is zen. If it’s at all breezy, go outside and feel the zing.
We used to talk a lot about positive and negative ions. Negative ions are found in abundance near a waterfall, or on the beach, or at the top of a mountain.
Negative ions make us feel good, and positive ones, not so much. If we have too many positive ions floating around, we feel headach-y, or even nauseous. A closed, stuffy bedroom and too much time in bed can make us feel even more lethargic.
However, the benefits of negative ions are numerous, among them revitalizing cell metabolism, balancing the autonomic nervous system, and neutralizing free radicals.
Windy days are full of negative ions. The name in the Dutch language— which I can’t remember at the moment — for how great you feel outside in the wind is “uitwaaien.” I have no clue how to pronounce it, but it basically means “outblowing.”
It means “to get happy” by going out into the wind, and around water. If you can find a waterfall to stand under to jog in place, that would be ideal. Good luck with that. Maybe stand in your shower with a fan running next to you in the tub. Electrocution is good for the soul.
Otherwise, any time a breeze picks up, or even winds under 30 mph or so, go outside, turn your face into the wind, and walk, breathing deeply. Climbing a mountain on a breezy day is the bomb.
Rock and roll, Big Band, classical, and popular tunes are zen. Music rocks.
This might only appeal to the Boomers, but I still love classic rock to exercise to. I can’t get outside to exercise yet, except for an occasional trudge in the park, a circumstance I hope will change with a second hip replacement surgery.
Who knew we’d need after market parts when we got older?
When we listen to music, especially music to which we like to rock out, the brain releases dopamine. I’m positive I look dopey — which is where the word came from, no doubt — when I work out to music only I can hear, but I don’t care. It makes me feel 20 years old again when I exercise to music I love.
People love music for much the same reason they’re drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food, according to new research. When you listen to tunes that move you…your brain releases dopamine, a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction.
“A chemical involved in both motivation and addiction”? What kind of a low down, scum sucking trick of nature, is that?
However, it’s worth noting that instead of becoming motivated towards, and then addicted to, sex, drugs, and gambling, we can become motivated and addicted to healthier behaviors simply by listening to music while we do it.
One of those things includes exercise. When I was still able to ride my bike, jog, and hike, I took my Sony CD player with a few of my fave CDs. Then I got one of those tiny powerhouses of music, an MP3, which I use in the pool, tucked in a little plastic bag, and slipped under a headband made from the waistband of an old pair of the hub’s Jockey’s.
The intense pleasure we get from it (music) is actually biologically reinforcing in the brain…It is amazing that we can release dopamine in anticipation of something abstract, complex and not concrete….This is the first study to show that dopamine can be released in response to an aesthetic stimulus.
There is nothing more zen than dopamine.
If I don’t go to the pool to work out, sweat, and then stretch at least three times a week, I stiffen like a mummy in a tomb. I ache in places I didn’t know I owned, mainly because I can’t do much more on dry land than sit on the sofa. It isn’t fun — particularly in the winter, even if it is Vegas — to put on my swimsuit, get in the car, and submerge myself in a cold pool. I hate getting into that pool, because they keep it too damn cold. Sometimes they even open the big back windows to ensure we get even colder.
Within ten minutes or so, I’m having the time of my life working out with my weights and hydrobells to my favorite music and dancing through the water. I have successfully released some dopamine and resisted sex, drugs, and gambling in favor of something healthier (although, there’s nothing wrong with sex with the proper stranger).
Dopamine is an adaptive reward-inducing molecule that makes animals want to look for food before they’re hungry. It’s what makes it impossible for some people to pass by the neighborhood bakery…And it provides a rush for heroin addicts when they see blood enter the needle — before the drug even gets into their veins.
I am not exaggerating when I say that despite freezing my butt at the beginning, feeling tired just from being in pain so much, being in pain from arthritis, being sad that I can’t do the things I used to love — when I get into the zen zone I feel joy, pure, unadulterated joy.
The exercise has become a reward in itself, through dopamine — an “adaptive reward-inducing molecule” — and water, and sweat. When I hear a song I love, I actually envision working out to it in the pool and looking forward to my next work out session.
A Purposeful Sweating
It’s great to go out and chop wood, dig a ditch, wash the car, play a pick up game of baseball, go for a simple bike ride, and maybe sweat buckets. Even if it’s kids who go out and jump on their banana seat bikes and tear around, they’re doing it mindfully. And they’re doing it in the 80s apparently, judging by their bikes and the fact that they’re out riding them.
The thing about sweating is that it’s a full-body experience. When we’re active, our bodies release endorphins and other “happy neurotransmitters,” including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain. These neurotransmitters are associated with several positive functions and responses in both body and mind.
In the stillness of rest, we can think about who we are, why we are that particular who, who else we could be or wanted to be, and who we can become.
In the movement and zen of exercise, we can shake it all off, or shake it around into new combinations. Exercise and sweat are nothing if not creativity enhancers. Besides fighting off germs, mindful, joyful sweat has emotional benefits. While sweating alone won’t prevent or shake off a bad mood, it leads to an increase in endorphins.
How to feel better in ten minutes involves those wonderful endorphins and increased creativity. They are zen. Joy is zen.
No wonder that bicycle ride into work, through country air as fresh as water from a pristine well, sparkles in my memory banks. My ride had “outblowing,” clean sweat, music, dopamine, endorphins, and generous helpings of zen and zing.
One big cocktail of happiness and not a bad side effect to be seen.