In Aaron Thier’s novel The World Is A Narrow Bridge, one of the main characters is a runner. His wife teases him for his dedication to this hobby, which he claims settles his mind and makes him feel less crazy.
She jokes that “it’s a craziness problem that makes you run and run.” His reply absolutely nails it, as any runner knows. “It’s the running that alleviates the craziness,” he tells her. “Sanity flows up from the feet, or actually it flows from the gravity, because gravity provides the resistance.”
We know that the Stoic Chrysippus was a long distance runner. Seneca probably wasn’t a runner, but we know he was a walker. “We should take wandering outdoor walks,” he wrote, “so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” Again, a runner knows that as wonderful as walking is, nothing nourishes the mind quite like getting into the zone on a great run and that the best way to get those deep breaths in is to push the tempo.
Still, runner, walker, swimmer, weight lifter, wrestler (or horseback rider, fencer, et al), the point is that physical activity is an important complement to the study of philosophy. Sometimes we get so worked up, our mind gets wound so tight that the only way to get some slackget the body moving–to get lost in strenuous exercise in a way that brings you fully and completely into the present moment. Remember that sometimes we can’t think our way out of a thinking problem. And yet we can find sanity from other sources, from gravity and resistance and pushing ourselves in the physical domain. This is the mind-body connection.
So try to make some room for the “strenuous life” today. Go for a hike. Or a run. Or take a dive into a swimming hole. Just get moving.