And, if you go way back in history, you’ll find the simple needs and demands of daily living provided the incentive for more physical stimulation and activity.
“Yo, Grog. After we skin this fresh pterodactyl and chat up a few babes, you wanna go work out?”
“Hell, yes, Torag. I mean, I worked the abs and tris pretty hard on this morning’s kill. But, tonight, let’s chase a raptor so we can really bust our quads.”
However, with the demise of dinosaurs, people needed an alternative.
So, in a smelly London gym in 1844, George Williams founded the first YMCA.
“Twenty-two-year-old Williams joined 11 friends to organize the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets.
“Years later, retired Boston sea captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, working as a marine missionary, noticed a similar need to create a safe ‘home away from home’ for sailors and merchants. Inspired by the stories of the Y in England, he led the formation of the first U.S. YMCA at the Old South Church in Boston on December 29, 1851.”
And please keep in mind, this is long before 1978, when the Village People turned the YMCA into a disco legend.
Anyway, for several decades the YMCA – and, beginning in 1855, the YWCA – became havens of rescue for all the spiritually devout and physically obsessed citizens roaming the streets of American cities large and small. If you wanted to go to a gym and work out, the Y was where you went.
Then, during the 1960’s, the fitness fad broke out with a vengeance. It seemed like racquet ball centers and health clubs were being built on every corner in town. People were meeting at 5:00 a.m. to get their exercise in before work, and after 5:00 p.m., the clubs were jammed with tennis players, stationary bike riders, treadmill runners and weight lifters.
Adding further to the craze was the 1977 release of James Fuller "Jim" Fixx’ best-selling book The Complete Book of Running, which is credited with helping start America's fitness revolution, popularizing the sport of running and demonstrating the alleged health benefits of regular jogging.
Do you know, there was actually a magazine called,Running? And for all I know there still is. But I struggle to think about waiting by the mail box the first of each month to see if the latest issue of Running has arrived. “Oh, shit! This is too awesome. There’s a 12-page article entitled, ‘Shin splints: Friend of Foe?’ I love this magazine!”
Still, almost overnight, devotees were strapping on running shoes and hitting the pavement, hoping to break through “the wall” on their way to some Zen-like state of mind and body. People would stretch vigorously and then run further than many of us like to drive.
“How far did you go tonight, Carl?”
“Only about 12 miles,” Carl would respond. “I have a groin pull and have to cut back a little.”
A groin pull? When a man complains of having a groin pull, I often wonder if it was an accident or self-inflicted. To my way of thing, it could go either way.
Anyway… Back to the fitness fad.
The truly dedicated workout people had the determination and commitment to stick with their established regimen without outside motivation. They were willing to sacrifice free time and adhere to a strict diet of who knows what powders and herbs to keep themselves in shape.
Great. Fine. You go, die-hards. More power to you. But what about the next few layers down from there? People who want to work out, but are bored silly with the same old routines. Running the same route every time. Lifting the same weights. Sweating over the same treadmill. “Can’t someone please come up with a few new and exciting ways to exercise?”
Well, my friend. Pull out those tucked-away jock straps and jogging bras, because your wish has been granted. Say hello to Aerobics, Yoga, Spin classes, Pole Dancing, Cross-training, Circuit-training, Thigh Masters, Bow-flex machines, personal trainers, Pilates and Isometrics. And I mean, if one of these doesn’t “float your boat,” then move on to the next. It’s just that simple.
Let’s take a look at a couple of these, beginning with Yoga.
The origins of Yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, in ancient India's ascetic circles, which are also credited with the early sramana movements.
So, people have been practicing yoga for thousands of years. And you can’t help but wonder, ”Have the same positions been around that long as well?” The Sun Salute. The Side Plank. The Two-legged Inverted Staff. The Warrior III. And my personal favorite, The Downward Dog.
The Downward Dog is a position whereby you bend forward, place your hands on the floor and raise your bottom straight up in the air. Done correctly, you look like an upside down letter V. Okay, the Downward part I understand. You’re leaning forward and facing downward. Got it. What I don’t understand is where the reference to a Dog comes from.
Over the years, I’ve seen dogs beg, roll over, sit, fetch, shake hands and play dead. But I have never – ever -- seen a dog put his or her head down and stick their butt straight up in the air. And more to the point, why would they? The only reason I can come up with is to simplify the sniffing process.
“Hey, here comes Muffin, that cute little Pekinese from down the street. Let’s shove our butts straight up in the air so she can walk by, sniff and then decide which one of us she wants to get hosed down with.” Just seems to make it easier for everyone involved.
And simply for the sake of variety, we now have “Hot Yoga.” Hot yoga is a vigorous form of yoga performed in a studio that is heated to 105 F (40 C) and has a humidity level of 40 percent. The formal name for hot yoga is “Bikram.” The less formal name is “I paid good money to get heat stroke?” And what does one wear to yoga classes – both hot and cold? Correct. That would be Yoga pants, a.k.a., stretch pants.
Stretch pants. If ever a term was accurate, this is it. In fact, in many cases, these pants are forced to re-define the word “stretch.” Ordinarily, I consider stretch pants to be a garment that allows for comfortable, extended movement, while managing to keep a person’s body in some semblance of its natural form. And yet, in a few instances – say, while performing a Downward Dog pose – the fabric of these pants is stretched to the point they appear to be fishnet stockings. And when worn by a man, and you happen to be exercising behind him, you’ll swear you’re looking at a wet tea bag hanging from the top of a horseshoe. It’s disturbing.
And now there’s pressure on us older folks to work out as well. I mean, I’ve always tried to keep myself cut, chiseled, buffed and bitchin’, but I have to admit, as the years go by, it becomes more and more of a challenge. And I find it especially troubling to exercise in Florida retirement communities. Why?
Because in the morning, a group of ladies will gather in the shallow end of the swimming pool, and – to a background mix of music and the guidance of an “Activities Director” – the ladies will grab on to their jugs, swing them around and try to hold them underwater for the count of ten. Where they get all these jugs I have no idea, because no one our age drinks that much milk anymore.
And would you please tell me who the shithead is who thinks it’s funny to put the little pins in the exercise machines so far down the stack of weights? Do they think that’s somehow clever? Are they behind the water machine watching me sit on the little stool, take a deep breath, and then shoot my nuts clear back to the locker room? Schmucks. No one can push that much weight, let alone a geezer. Leave the sumbitches on the lightest weight and let me dream a little. Last thing I need is a double hernia because some deranged old coot had too much time on his hands.
All this talk of exercise and physical fitness has worn me out. I think instead of pushing myself that hard, I’ll just stay on a new diet I’ve discovered. It’s called the Glutton-free Diet. I can eat and drink anything I want as long as I’m not a glutton about it.
How about that?