If you live here in New York, you've seen them all over, on subway trains and bus stops. They're Reebok's commercials for their "run easy" campaign. There's one showing a runner in mid-projectile vomit; another making fun of the sponsor's main competition ("watch what you're 'just doing'"); and many more of runners who have punished themselves into misery. The message is truly developmental: run as if you like it. It reminded me of something I wrote nearly two years ago, after a stroll through Prospect Park:
I was walking through Prospect Park this afternoon, amid a sprinkle of rain from a light gray sky, and I began watching the joggers (I don't think they like being called that anymore, preferring the term "runners," but I'm not sure, and I don't really care). One in particular caught my attention: yes, she was young and attractive, but that's not what I'm talking about right now. She was jogging with her dog (maybe the dog was "dogging"), and I lightly examined them both as they approached along the path. The woman's face was set in an open-mouthed frown; she was panting slightly, and obviously struggling.
The dog, however, was smiling. Maybe even laughing--I'm not sure. But she definitely was having fun as she gandered alongside her huffing-and-puffing human pet. The contrast between their expressions, their demeanors, was a reminder to me to smile to my own body as I completed my walk.
This is something that the best teachers of physical exercise practice and recommend to their students. One of my personal favorites among such instructors is Wong Kiew Kit. He's a Chi Kung teacher whose books and courses have become popular in the West; I have a copy of his Chi Kung for Health and Vitality. He teaches that before we begin any physical exercise such as the Chi Kung movements he practices, we need to smile to our bodies, our internal organs, and our psyche—in other words, he is saying that we best benefit from exercise when we smile with our whole being.
It sounds pretty goofy--the sort of thing that many of us would scoff at. That is, it sounds dumb—but only until you try it. In fact, it's perhaps the most crucial component of enduring success in the exercise of the body (or anything else, for that matter). That dog I saw today was having a wonderful time, running without effort and enjoying everything she came into contact with along her way (she even had time to give me a sniff as she passed by). But her human was clearly suffering: her face was as grimly set as if she were pulling a train behind her. As they passed by, I quietly predicted that this woman would give up running after a while, and the dog would be consigned to a sullen restiveness.
So, if you would like to be able to exercise your body (or to meditate, or work more successfully), and have some endurance to your practice, why not try what Wong Kiew Kit recommends? Before you start a "workout", try this:
Give yourself a few seconds to feel relaxed. Then smile from your heart. Don't worry how you do it; just do it. Just smile from your heart and feel, really feel, how relaxed, cheerful, and happy you are. It is a big mistake to think I am being farcical. But I can tell you, in my capacity as a chi kung grandmaster, that this feeling of relaxation and cheerfulness from your heart may possibly be the best benefit of this exercise. (Chi Kung for Health and Vitality, p. 23)
The fact is that we people still have a lot to learn from the animals. Maybe that's why folks like Wong Kiew Kit are referred to as "grandmasters." They know the secret that the dog I met in the park today knows. It's all about listening to Nature, and knowing how to smile.
Now, a follow-up to yesterday's piece about the culture and language of excess, which actually ties in with our exercise theme. For just as the Run Easy folks are recommending that we rid ourselves of the bloat of imagery and excess from our physical exercise, my message is along the same lines, to our mass media.
George Stephanopoulos, what are you thinking, having a kook on your show to spout some psychotic drivel about the liberals being responsible for the Virginia Tech shootings? What do you think you are accomplishing; what does this moron's babble add to the national debate? Why not a psychiatrist or a social worker or someone with the sanity and the expertise to promote healing? Why this idiot and his word salad reminiscent of Pat and Jerry blaming gays for 9/11?
Ah, because it sells. I see. Anything loud, nasty, fulminating, and excessive sells. War sells, too, doesn't it, George? Wednesday night, we're going to see just how well war sells, and how it sold, and was sold. But the journalist presenting the story won't be so polite, he won't be cuddling up to the cowards from the chickenhawk media tent. Bill Moyers is going to get in these people's faces and ask them, "what were you thinking?" Don't miss it folks.
I'd also ask you to note the chickenhawk pundits who refused to face Moyers:
Make sure you let their respective media outlets know exactly what brave warriors you think they are for running away from a 75 year old man with a microphone. You can use FAIR's convenient contact list.
Cherry blossom, Prospect Park, Brooklyn (click to enlarge)