Chasing The Exercise High
My workout begins with a 30-foot climb up a ladder suspended from a towering dome. "Ladder" is stating it generously. The device upon which I make my ascent is comprised of two parallel cables the circumference of my laptop's power chord, threaded through metal rungs that could double as chopsticks. My every step upward sends it twisting like a strand of overcooked fettuccine in the wind.
When I reach the top, I take a giant step sideways onto a Plexiglas platform that resembles an oversized snowboard. If I looked down, I'd see the safety net and, below that, the concrete floor.
I keep my eyes up.
Moving carefully, I assume a wide stance on the platform, my toes dangling over its front edge. My left hand grips the support cable behind me while my right grabs a gauze-wrapped metal bar dangling from the ceiling. I inhale deeply to slow my heart and focus my mind. Then, tucking my tailbone, lifting my chest and bending my knees, I swing my left hand over to grab the bar and I jump.
So begins the hardest physical feat I've ever attempted: a technically correct swing on a flying trapeze.
Done right, it emulates the "pumping" you did on playground swings when you were 6 years old. Each pump pushes you ever higher into the air until finally, just before each apex, you discover the laws of gravity have a loophole: For one glorious, stomach-tickling instant, you're flying.
Done wrong, you're simply dead weight dragging the bar lower and lower with each pass.
My goal of not being dead weight leaves me with sore, sometimes bleeding hands, and aches and pains encompassing every inch of my torso, arms and shoulders. It also leaves me with a renewed realization that fears are conquerable, hope is limitless and life is super-freakin' awesome.
You needn't practice aerial arts to experience this. If you're physically active, you've likely had a similar epiphany: that challenging your body boosts your mood, clears your mind and soothes your soul. Although most of us begin exercise routines with purely physical motives, we soon discover that the benefits of moving are metaphysical. Science is right there with us, affirming that exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals, reduces inflammation and its associated depression- and anxiety-related chemicals, and increases body temperature, which may have calming effects.
"It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor," wrote Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero some 2,000 years ago. If more people understood this they would likely be more pumped about, well, pumping iron. Or running. Or cycling. Or playing a sport. Unfortunately, exercise too often gets relegated to chore status on the same level as brushing your teeth or clipping your toenails, and performed only as a means to a quantifiable end the likes of "130 pounds" or "Size 6."
What if, instead, we viewed physical activity as a rite of appreciation, celebration, even exaltation? It isn't hard to do when you consider the miracle that is the human body and how its combination of strength, intelligence, utility, resilience, sensitivity and beauty is unmatched by any other creation on earth. How differently might your next workout feel if you approached it as a ceremony intended to connect you to a power far higher -- or to reveal the inherent power within you?
So the next time you're angry, anxious or blue, stand up, breathe, stretch and get moving. Bounce some balls. Do some yoga. Climb some stairs. Play some tennis. Whatever it is that brings you bliss, jump in with both feet and do it. In the words of my trapeze instructor, before you can fly you must first be willing to leave the ground.
How do you experience the nonphysical benefits of exercise? Describe the rush and encourage the rest of us to chase it, too.