Perhaps because it’s January, the month when we start thinking about exercising our fat bodies once again, and perhaps because I recently caught “Bull Durham” on cable, or at least the part where Susan Sarandon tells Tim Robbins he needs to breathe through his eyelids, I’ve been considering why some workouts work for people and some don’t.
I hate almost all organized participatory sports, because, like Yogi Berra, I can’t think and hit at the same time. I was the kid who got beaned in right field because my mind was elsewhere, and I’ve grown into the sort of adult whose favorite exercise is long walks with the dog, long bike rides along the river and long swims in 50-meter pools, all exercise where your mind goes elsewhere and reaches a state of thinking you can’t get any other way. In fact, swimming is the only workout where I finish feeling more relaxed and energized than I did when I started, and I’m talking a full mile here, sometimes more. I think it’s the combination of exertion and stretching, the way you’re rewarded for a relaxed reach more than a choppy surge.
I also love horseback riding, even though it requires thinking. The thinking, however, i s very right-brain, low on logic and rules and high on intuition and feeling. As in swimming, on horseback you’re rewarded for relaxation at the same time you’re using muscles you didn’t even know you had. (No aerobics class or weightlifting session ever leaves me as sore as a 45-minute riding lesson after a long layoff.)
Riding is the most Zen sport I know, but all athletes benefit from its principles of meditation, relaxation and not thinking too much We all know about Phil Jackson’s Bulls and, of course, Susan Sarandon’s great pitching advice to her young lover. Tiger Woods keeps his relaxed focus by exploring the inside of his glove, seam by seam and stitch by stitch. I once passed a guy playing golf on the public course that my bike route passes; he was teeing off, and you could see every muscle in his back tied in a knot (he was wearing a wife-beater — it’s a public course). He hit that ball hard enough to send it to Ohio, but so wrong that it flew straight up in the air and fell to earth just beyond the ladies’ tees.
Dude, I wanted to call out, explore the inside of your glove next time. And breathe through your eyelids!
Or do it the way Drew Brees does, who improved his passing by doing it with his eyes closed.