Exercise, that magic word in this very narcissistic modern world, where any form of formulae promising a 'long and healthy life' will launch a thousand best sellers, rightfully is the' sine qua non' to living a healthy life at best. On statistical ground, [ even Muslims are allowed to use this phraseology when discussing life and death ], exercise does prolong life. No doubt about it. Proven scientifically and demographically . Here we talk about numbers not individuals per se, in case 'purists' do take offend at my suggestion and conclusion.
Exercise is the perfect 'elixir of youth', full-stop. One of the common denominators of the long living octagenarians from Okinawa, the Hunzas [ not Hungas as earlier stated ] of Northern Pakistan, the Vilcambe people of Ecuador and the Abkhasians in Central Caucases, Georgia, is continuous physical activity throughout their childhood and adult life.[ see Some Random Thots on Longevity, July 13th, 2008 , Health Section ]
Exercise reduces obesity and the potential for 'metabolic syndrome' accompanying it: diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, hypertension, hyperinsulinaemia, strokes . In short, a life with a 'short' fuse, in the worst case scenario to put it succinctly and in not so much words [ how I wish my 2 sons read his dad's blog for they are both obscenely obese! ] , and at best, to couch in better diplomatic language, a life without vitality ! To see Dr M riding his horses at age 80,bullying a much younger but 'slow loris' Pak Lah , at 74 ,over his lack of 'cerebration' is to comprehend the true meaning of vitality! Most people at 84 could not tell the difference between 'yesterday' and 'today'. [ read : The Four Jokers, Monday 5th January, 2009, Health Section ].
Increasingly, more meaningful for us modern inhabitants of this planet's cities and suburbs caught up in a highly competitive material world, recent scientific data also had shown another benefit for exercise: increasing brain power in the young and the old due to more potential for brain neurons regeneration and repair. Exercise, according to a recent Scientific American article releases potent 'brain-growth inducing factor'.
What exercise and how much?
Combined aerobic [ brisk walking, jogging, swimming, mountain climbing etc etc , anything that moves that damned muscles, sinews, ligaments and bones ] and some moderate weight bearing exercise. From 9 to 90. From 30 minutes, 3 times a week minimum to several hours per day, 7 times a week. The more the better.
Exercise though, as always , is hard work and keeping to a regime day in and day out can be difficult for most people. Not many can be as disciplined as my friend, for example, a CEO of an IPP company, who exercises daily,think nothing of cycling from Putrajaya to PD and back on a weekend, or complete an 'ironman competition' in say 14 hours at the young age of 52!
How to keep the boredom away and be able to keep going days and months, doing it on a regular and sustainable basis and at the same time enjoy it. This is what I want to discuss today.Most would exercise while listening to their favourite 'orchestra' on the I-Pods, others do their 'sums' and problem solving, while some do 'mental yoga'.
My favourite 'hobby' and formullae is mixing the 'profane' [ possibility of delaying death, delaying that 'inevitable interview', a longer and god-forbid, less[ not more] kufr existence, insyaallah, on this planet Earth, more enjoyment, big muscles and more good look, and lastly but definitely not the least, a better more vibrant sex life ] and the 'sublime' [ The celebration and remembrance of Allah, constant reminder of death and the eternal life after death ] .
Years back when I took up scuba diving in order to 'conquer' the fear of depth and the deep unknown, I got more fearful of the inherrent and perceived dangers that 'lurk' down there . To help overcome that primal fear I used to' tasbih' and' tahmid' 80 feet down on the sea bed with every breath I took but alas! Even this did not the push the 'fear factor' away. I subsequently gave up Scuba.But looking back it is actually a great mental and spiritual exercise! At 80 feet down, your personal space is only that one inch of air infront of your face and the highly compressed mask you wear .To a frightened 'soul' like me who took up the sport to conquer my own fear of death and depth, each 'subhanallah' alhamdulillah' and 'allahuakbar' at that depth with sharks etc etc had a greater meaning than life itself. That made me comprehend the 'sufic' expression that 'life is nothing more than a finite number of measured breaths' and the fragility of life is just that,one breath at a time. Nonetheless ,the sea was too much for me and I finally freaked out and gave up that experiment and sport.I found to my dismay I had to pray 'hajat' longer and longer the nights on diving trips while my diving buddies slept like logs left ,right and centre .On a desolated beach somewhere ,that itself was mind bending and torture. So much for trying to conquer fear.
Chose equestrian instead at a ripe 'young' age of 45. Doing endurance means riding competitive rides between 80 to 160 kilometres in one day. For my 1st International competitive ride for Dubai World Endurance Championship, involved a selection ride over 120 kilometres in 1998, done at UPM ground involving going round the farm over 25 times from 5pm Saturday to 12 noon the next day,a total of 17 hours riding time,with some short rest periods in between .Mind over matter .Allah has 99 names and attributes: one name for each kilometre and the rest covered by repeating short surahs. World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain in 2003. 160 kilometres of hills and dales in heavy rain, soggy ground and lightnings. Same formullae , no surah this time but just 'Asma ul husna' but too much 'ya Mutakkabbir, ya Mutakkabbir'. Horse died of exhaustion 10 kilo from the end without showing signs of exhaustion on the 'on board' heart rate monitor! Could more 'ya Rahman' or 'ya Rahim' make a difference? Allahualam .
Why equestrian endurance you may ask.I have looked at the jumping and the dressage group and even the polo group.I could not blend in...different philosophy. Endurance....yes, it is much nearer to sunnah rasul. If I have the time I would pick up archery as well.Perhaps next year!
Exercise, amongst other things, activates the 'endorphin' cascade at the neuronal level in the brain giving the person a sense of euphoria and decreased pain sensation . That is only the'profane' part. The 'sublime' connection I 'dunno' what it does exactly but why not !? A friend with some 'sufic' leaning the other day asked me a simple question as to why we give' salam' all the time at the conclusion of our formal prayer . I could not give a decent answer. It is for that 2 'chaps' on our left and right , he said.
Very plausible answer from these 'sufi' people, you tend to get over any life's issues . Plausible indeed ! The 2 chaps , they connect our every thoughts, actions and intentions to 'people of the higher plane'.
in your solat you are supposed to be in a different plane.
you are on your personal' mikraj'.
when you come back to 'this dunya', you say 'salam' to your two companions on the left and right who temporarily have to leave your presense, in the presence of a much higher being.....so to speak,
"The people of the higher plane" through a complex system of vetting and revetting, connect to Him ,the One and Only. The humoral-neuronal cascade from lower down interacting with 'people of the higher plane' ,why not ? Non sufi, mere mortals like you and me call this 'barakah' . No venture, no gain. Try it for size.
Yes,my friends, do try mixing the 'profane'with the 'sublime' occasionally during your mundane exercise, you will be able to do more and enjoy more. In fact you will be more addicted to exercise.
mere mortals like you and me , we are not blessed to be in continuos remembrance of HIM.
we eat, we sleep most time, we exercise, we go about with our 'cari makan' business, etc and etc.
but if we master the art of mixing the profane and the sublime , we can emulate the people of ihsan.
even if we cannot be in continuos zikr, we could be counted to be one almost in continous zkr!