Exercising Your Freedom: How to Free Yourself from the Gym

"It’s totalitarian because machines dictate your movements—it shrinks it, shapes it—you have no choice. You follow a very simplified pattern that’s imposed by the machine."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

A Curation of Ideas on Movement and Conformity

If George Orwell and Henry David Thoreau wrote a book together, it would look much like our world today. We conform to our work schedule—our work does not conform to us, we conform to it. In fact, we eat and sleep around our work. We built light bulbs so that our day would no longer confined by the sun but defined by the work. We made breakfast foods and made coffee a ritual so that, as a 1944 marketing campaign convinced us, we can "Eat a good breakfast—Do a better job." Rather than work conforming to our goals and passions, we design our goals and passions around work. Rather than work adapting to the body and its natural movements, the body adapts to its confines. How you move defines your be-ing.

In "Walking," naturalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau writes:

Life consists with Wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest trees.

The design of our world breaks our spirit and posture. Our hips and back conform to our chairs; our necks and shoulders to our desks, to our smartphones. Our feet ache, yet we do not wear shoes that conform to us, our feet conform to our shoes.

In Exuberant Animal, internationally recognized health and human adaptability expert Frank Forencich writes:

Warning... Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.

We want to be original, but when we try, we do it the same way as everyone else. When we take time for ourselves, to improve ourselves, to escape machine shackles—what do we do? Do we go outdoors? No. We exchange florescent lights and elevator music for florescent lights and bad pop music—and we think we have changed something.

Movement specialist (and trainer to several professional athletes and UFC fighters) Erwan Le Corre said in an interview with Joe Rogan:

Even the people who are brave enough to go against that inertia of normalcy and go to the gym—they will exercise with machines. I see a huge problem with that. … It’s totalitarian because machines dictate your movements—it shrinks it, shapes it—you have no choice. You follow a very simplified pattern that’s imposed by the machine. This is not who you are, this is not what you’re supposed to be and move like. Because you’re supposed to be highly adaptable in the way you move, but when you try to isolate your muscles—you’re treating yourself like a machine—like a factory. When you should be like a wild forest or a permaculture garden... It’s not what you are designed by evolution … to do.

We get excited when we can exercise within a small radius, smaller than a cubicle, the size of a yoga mat. We get excited when we don't have to go far. When we don't have to walk far from our car to the gym. When we don't have to be outside, exposed to the elements. (The sad irony of Southern California, where most of its inhabitants are vitamin D deficient, even though there is ample sunshine, because they don't like being outside.) It's become so easy to slouch into our Orwellian dystopia.

Farm animals have no freedom, they're trapped in coops. A farmer knows, if her animals were given a choice to go outside, they'll all escape. A human, however, is a curious animal who will voluntarily move from coop to coop to avoid freedom. If the option is free-range or a pen, an animal who values freedom will pick free-range. But what do we do? What do we value? In discussions over food, we value free-range animals because it is more humane. Yet why is there no discussion over free-range human beings? Why must we pay to be in a coop when we can go outside and play—for free? We believe we are superior to all other animals because we have enslaved all other animals, including ourselves. But is that what it means to be superior? When you become the arbiter of conformity? What about humanity or being humane to ourselves?

In Animal Farm, George Orwell uses the allegory of farm animals to show how conformity can change appearance while maintaining the same results:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

We don't see exercise as an exercise in freedom; we see it as an extension of work, a method of toil to gain status in a society where everyone is doing the same. And when we can no longer bear the suffocation, we go from one indoor space to another, to sit with someone to talk about it (or to sit and be prescribed drugs). Or to sit at home and watch streaming television (or play video games or sit with our phones), while self-medicating with the drug of choice. (Perhaps sitting at home is the drug of choice.) All because we can't understand why we're so unhappy, when nothing in your life is designed for your happiness. (It's designed for the sake of design.) And when our brains can see through the delusions we have constructed for ourselves, we smash our brains and tell it to shut up by attaching ourselves to an exercise bike (to become part of the machine), in a confined and dark space with no natural light, with extremely loud unnatural music until we lose our senses, which also include our minds. Only to buy a hundred dollar t-shirt to say we sat in a pen to go through this experience—that, yes, we really did lose our minds. But so did everyone else... so... We are told this should make us happy. These are our new mantras: "Don't rage against the machine, go with it;" and "You're not selling out, you're buying in." Our original mantra was "No joy, no gain," then we got radicalized into "No pain, no gain." Which is more humane? If aliens were to design a farm to eat us, not for happy animals but for most meat production, this is what it would look like.

In a casual setting, while everyone else is sitting, we might see someone standing. When we ask why, they say it's because they've been sitting all day and feel like standing. What do we do? Usually it's, "Sit down, you're making me nervous."

From Animal Farm:

This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half.

We don't ask, we tell them to conform, because their act of freedom gives us anxiety. But they are not the cause of our anxiety, conformity is. We are crippled by the anxiety to conform, paralyzed we sit and drink.

 (Conform |  Keanerdotnet )

(Conform | Keanerdotnet)

Since we give each space a different name, we think they are different—work, gym, home. Yet attributing different names does not change their descriptions, which remain the same: confined spaces designed for conformity.

From Animal Farm:

Let’s face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short.

In The Natural Method, physical instructor and theorist Georges Hébert writes:

The final goal of physical education is to make strong beings. In the purely physical sense, the Natural Method promotes the qualities of organic resistance, muscularity and speed, towards being able to walk, run, jump, move on all fours, to climb, to keep balance, to throw, lift, defend yourself and to swim.

In the ‘virile’ or energetic sense, the system consists in having sufficient energy, willpower, courage, coolness, and firmness.

In the moral sense, education, by elevating the emotions, directs or maintains the moral drive in a useful and beneficial way.

The true Natural Method, in its broadest sense, must be considered as the result of these three particular forces; it is a physical, virile and moral synthesis. It resides not only in the muscles and the breath, but above all in the ‘energy’ which is used, the will which directs it and the feeling which guides it.
 (From  The Natural Method )

(From The Natural Method)

We naturally resist resistance machines and prefer organic resistance. There are many ways to move but not all of them are free movements. Freedom to move isn't just a birthright, it's a matter of survival. Fitness is defined by a being's ability to save his or her own life. When we no longer train for fitness but rather aesthetics, we not only open the door for totalitarian exercise, but we also risk our safety. We misguidedly believe there is no purpose for fitness, since the industrial world has abundant safety nets. And with basic needs met, we assume beauty and reputation are our only unmet needs (if we can even call them needs).

In Animal Farm, Orwell illustrates this point and the illusion of superiority even further:

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.

Yet without fitness (and all the benefits that come along with it), rather than the elements, self-harm has become our grim reaper. Suicides, overdoses, risky behaviors, harmful lifestyles, physical sickliness, preventable diseases, and poor mental and emotional health—the new dangers come from within.

In Beautiful Practice, Frank Forencich writes:

Today our minds are almost entirely free to choose whatever sensory experience we can imagine; we can and do innovate to our heart’s content. But the price we pay is excruciating. For those who suffer with crippling anxiety, depression and disordered attention, living apart from habitat will never be a path to health, performance or spiritual happiness. We need our habitat to make us whole.

In 1926, Earle Liederman, with some foresight, wrote a book called Endurance. (Liederman also wrote several books on wrestling and self-defense. If fitness is a matter of survival, not only the elements, but one also needs knowledge in protecting oneself from others.) In Endurance, Liederman highlights the benchmarks for competence in fitness:

Every man should be able to save his own life. He should be able to swim far enough, run fast and long enough to save his life in case of emergency and necessity. He also should be able to chin himself a reasonable number of times, as well as to dip a number of times, and he should be able to jump a reasonable height and distance.

A man should be able to:

Swim at least half a mile or more
Run at top speed two hundred yards or more
Jump over obstacles higher than his waist
Pull his body upward by the strength of his arms, until his chin touches his hands, at least fifteen to twenty times
Dip between parallel bars or between two chairs at least twenty-five times or more

If he can accomplish these things he need have no fear concerning the safety of his life should he be forced into an emergency from which he alone may be able to save himself.
 (LaSierra High P.E. Program, 1962)

(LaSierra High P.E. Program, 1962)

It is movement that stills the mind. The longer you are still, the more wild your mind becomes, like a weed infested garden. Maybe you go to a guru to sit indoors, but this time in a lotus position, to breathe more uncirculated air. Because everything in our lives—from our teachers, parents, bosses, to our gurus—have told us to sit still and be quiet and do what is expected, do what we are told, to conform to these poses, to these systems. As free-range animals, we naturally resist. But baffled by our behavior, we seek to quell our internal rebellion. Thus we sit again and plea for assistance from those who tell us to sit down and be quiet, so that we may cure ourselves of the disease known as the human condition.

Our daily expectations and environments are unnatural. We see messaging that tells us to eat cheesecake but be skinny. A doctor will tell you to exercise, but the irony is, she tells us as we are both seated in a small confined space where we're just supposed to nod our heads and listen. And what she means by exercise isn't free movement but anything that makes your heart pump. But reading emails at our desks does that as well. So why are we baffled? We are acting in ways we are supposed to under these conditions. Any reasonable animal would be unhappy and resist.

 (Martin Schoeller |  National Geographic )

(Martin Schoeller | National Geographic)

Being human is not something you are, it's something you do. You are be-ing. It's not a state, it's a continuous mindful movement.

In Beautiful Practice:

Enlightenment doesn’t happen just once; enlightenment comes when we enter into a practice of doing it continuously. In other words, enlightenment is a verb.

Yet what waits for us outside is light, air, breath, movement, and the rest of the day. In fact, free movement makes the day. You have a choice. Some animals can ride waves, some can climb mountains, yet we are the only animals with the ability to do both. But ability is not an automatic, it is a choice. You don't have to be impractical, you can balance machinery along with a natural life. It is not "either or." You can earn money, look good, and still remember to be a human being first. Start with a walk. Not on a treadmill. Just go outside and walk. Not for the exercise, not because it's moving meditation, but because you are a human being and it's what you're designed to do. If you don't, you'll feel it. You won't feel good, you won't feel happy, that's the human condition—that's our programming, to walk and move through space and time.

On walking, Henry David Thoreau concludes:

The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours,—as the swinging of dumbbells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!

No joy, no gain. Movement shouldn't be work, it should be play. Exercise should be built into our living, not a separate category that you keep away from the rest of your living. Be free. Expand your range. Or don't.

Whatever you choose will be the totality of your life.

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