Let's Get Psychophysical - Newsletter #12
The Psychophysical Gymnasium
Hello, it’s Kevin.
Here is your weekly list of 5 things I’ve found that promote wholeness, integration and “waking up” - rather than fragmentation, dis-integration and falling asleep.
This week’s newsletter is on creating a psychophysical gymnasium.
We need somewhere to develop the powers of the mind and of the body at the same time.
So let’s look at the ancient gymnasiums and see how we can use them as a model.
by David William Cheever
I stumbled across this and was surprised to find myself reading such an excellent article on “the Atlantic” website of all places… until I noticed that it was first published in 1859.
We moderns have our gyms, universities, cafes, churches, hospitals, health spas - all in their separate buildings, nicely compartmentalised and specialised, just like our modern minds. We put the “mind stuff” in this building, the “body stuff” in that building, and safely hide away all that pesky “spirit stuff” in another building.
Then we travel between them, ritually enacting and solidifying this artificial separation into our reality.
Our inner fragmentation is perfectly reflected in our outer fragmentation.
But the Greeks had The Gymnasium, which was like a combination of all of these functions and buildings, all at the same time. But not quite a combination because they were never really separate in the first place.
The word gymnasium comes from the Greek word for “naked” because that is how they trained. This would have had a definite psychophysical effect on the men.
The Gymnasium’s purpose and its architectural design were an expression of that people’s psychophysical unity. Plato’s Academy, which we normally associate only with philosophy and our modern academia, was one of these gymnasiums.
Here are some quotes that show just how much the Ancient Greeks lived and thought as a psychophysical whole.
"Yet the whole system of education among the Greeks was peculiarly calculated for the development of the powers of the mind and of the body in common. And it is from this point of view that we wish to consider it, and to show the nature and preeminence of gymnastics in their times as compared with our own.”
“The Athenians wisely held that there could be no health of the mind, unless the body were cared for,--and viewed exercise also as a powerful remedial agent in disease.”
“It will be readily conceived that this vast area was not devoted exclusively to physical exercises. Logic, rhetoric, and metaphysics claimed their place in this common focus of the city's life, and were the delight of the subtle Greeks.”
“The school-boy frequented them as a part of his daily task; the young man of leisure, as an agreeable lounging-place; the scholar, to listen to the master in philosophy; the sedentary, for their customary constitutional on the foot-course; and the invalid and the aged, to court the return of health, or to retain somewhat of the vigor of their earlier years.”
“To the great body of the social Greek people the gymnasium offered all those attractions which boulevards, cafes, and jardinschantants do now to the Gallic nation.”
Here is an excellent conversation between two philosophers: Johannes Achill Niederhauser and Adam Robbert. (It’s also great model for how to interview someone online: no interruptions, and no need to fast forward every time the host speaks - rare!)
They discuss the new opportunities for “philosophy as a way of life” in this hyper-connected age, and at one point mention the total separation between the practice of philosophy and the practice of physical fitness.
I’m not a philosopher - or a gym bro for that matter! - but my work is one attempt to bridge this gap.
The Renaissance of the Greek Ideal (1914)
by Diana Watts
This unique book is by a woman who studied Ancient Greek sculptures and attempted to figure the rules of movement they must have been using - by experimenting on herself and taking freeze frame photographs of her movements.
She tells an instructive story about her friend who is a scholar. He agrees that her experiments are interesting but assumes they are peculiar to her, that she can do these movements, and implies that others wouldn’t have had the interest, ability or time to do them.
This shows the psychophysical dis-unity of the typical academic. Understanding the “mathematics of movement” was a matter of life and death (and aesthetics!) to the Greeks. I don’t think you can separate preparation for war from the development of philosophy and geometry.
She realised that encoded within many of the Ancient Greek statues are mathematical principles and rules of movement.
But they must be consciously trained and don’t just happen by themselves naturally. They applied their love of reason to their love of movement.
The modern human being has drifted so far away in physical form from the Greek as to fail to realise the differences. These differences, however, are not organic, but are in all probability the result of early training.
“The secret consists in a condition of the muscles totally different from any realised by athletes since the time of the Greeks, a condition of Tension, which transforms dead weight into a living force, and which made the Greek as different from the modern human being as a stretched rubber band differs from a slack one.”
This special type of tension is what F. Matthias Alexander would later call “antagonistic action” and “a position of mechanical advantage.”
This principle is central to learning how to self-regulate your posture. If you want to learn more then book a 1-to-1 session with me. Reply to this email, or message me on Twitter.
“The antagonism of conscious as opposed to natural selection has now been in existence for many thousands of years, but it is only within the last century or less that the effect upon man's constitution has become so marked that the danger of deterioration or decay has been thrust upon the attention, not only of scientific observers, but of the average, intelligent individual.
No examination of history is necessary in this place to set out a reason for this comparatively sudden realization of physical unfitness. Briefly, the civilization of the past hundred years has been unlike the many that have preceded it, in that it has not been confined to any single nation or empire.
In the past history of the world an intellectual civilization such as that of Egypt, of Persia, of Greece, or of Rome, perished from internal causes, of which the chief was a certain moral and physical deterioration which rendered the nation unequal to a struggle with younger, more vigorous, and—this is important— wilder, more natural peoples.
Thus we have good cause for believing that the danger we have indicated, though as yet incipient only, was a determining cause in the downfall of past civilizations.
— F. Matthias Alexander; Man’s Supreme Inheritance
The purpose of this experiment is to look at the geometry of an ancient statue and compare it to your own geometry.
When men look at these statues we tend to focus on the musculature.
But there is something very unusual about the alignment in this statue, and an organisation of the bony parts that won’t just happen by itself naturally. It must be consciously trained.
Imagine this image seen from the left hand side. All the spots are actually on the same vertical plane - they make a straight line.
Find these 5 spots on your own body and touch them with your index finger.
Now take a photograph or video of you (a) standing, (b) sitting, side on to the camera.
Locate the 3 nearest spots on your image (i.e. corresponding to one side of the triangle above.) Now imagine a vertical line going straight down from the top spot.
Are all 3 spots on the same vertical plane? Do they make a straight line, or not?
What simultaneous movements would you need to do to make this into a straight line? Can you do it without slouching?
Spoiler alert: you can’t achieve this geometry just by feeling around and twisting into the shape. You cannot judge geometry by feeling - you need to look and measure objectively.
You will also never create this particular geometry by physical exercise alone. If you don’t believe me look at images of athletes, bodybuilders etc and analyse them in the same way.
You need a psychophysical technique that integrates reason and geometry, with your intentions and movements.
This is what I teach in the 1-to-1 lessons. We start with the conscious self-regulation of posture, because your posture is the nexus between “mind” and “body,” and we can immediately see the practical results.
Have fun objectifying your own body!
Thanks for reading,
If you want to train at my “psychophysical gymnasium,” you can book a 1-to-1 Posture Consultation and “Body Audit.”
The word gymnasium comes from the Greek word for “naked” because that is how they trained — but don’t worry, you can keep your clothes on, it’s not that kind of zoom call.
For more info:
1. Reply to this email, or
2. Message me on Twitter.