Gymnasia

Picture yourself now.

You’re in the middle of a large open field. An arena of sorts.

Above you is the bright sun surrounded by a clear sky. You see birds flying over, and hear them chirping below.

To your left is what sounds like a large commotion of people. You look and see dozens engaging in various physical exercise. Wrestling, boxing, weight-lifting, running, and jumping. Each of them utterly immersed in their activities.

To your right is another equally vocal group, but clearly of a different matter. You hear deep philosophical discussions of the mind, philosophy, government, and what it means to live a virtuous life. Some participants more emphatic and boisterous than others.

Where you stand is not a dream. It is not a made-up fantasy of some non-existant place.

The year is 300 BC, and the place is the gymnasium of Delphi, in Ancient Greece.

Now picture yourself again.

The year is 2019, and you find yourself in a large gymnasium. You’re completely surrounded by a crowd of individuals who are striving to live a healthy lifestyle.

You hear talks of what it means to be healthy, what exercises work best, how to perform exercises properly, and discussions on what a proper diet should consist of.

You see men and women alike engaging in various exercises. You see free weights, machine weights, treadmills, stairmills, and rowing machines.

You observe people taking part in group exercises. Spin class, yoga class, pilates, zumba, and high intensity interval training.

But in the midst of all of this physical exercise and exertion what you don’t see, is mental exercise.

Nowhere do you find bands of people taking part in philosophical discussions, introspection, or meditation.

Physical health is clearly visible, but mental health is nowhere to be found.

The Ancient Greeks understood the importance of keeping both a healthy body, and a healthy mind. They understood that if there is an imbalance in one, than the whole if it is imbalanced.

The gyms that we frequent in our modern times, are not what gyms were for the Spartans, Athenians, and Delphians of Ancient Greece. They were a place where one could exercise all parts of the body and the mind.

It was seen as absurd to merely be a bodybuilder, or merely be an intellectual. True virtue was a balance between the mental and the physical.

But we, in our modern world, seem to have forgotten what our ancestors knew very well.

We’re so utterly preoccupied with the physical, that we almost completely disregard the mental, and I say this with caution.

Because it is true that the idea of being mentally healthy has grown within our society in the recent past, however the number of those individuals truly seeking to expand their mental capabilities on a regular basis, is few and far in between.

The truth of the matter is that mental health, and thus mental strength, has yet to become regarded as paramount.

There are a vast number of the population that view mental health as something that is only for the, quote - unquote, mentally unhealthy. Individuals who are struggling with things such as depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or suicidal tendencies.

Those who deem themselves normal, tend to believe that they have no use or need for activities that make one mentally healthier. The fact that they experience bouts of anger, jealousy, sadness, frustration, insecurity, or loneliness is not a sign that they are indeed affected by this notion of mental health.

However those same people when faced with a broken bone, sprained wrist, dislocated shoulder, heart irregularities, breathing difficulties, or a little too much fat around the mid-section, unquestionably understand that their physical health is not what it should be.

You see the problem with mental health is that you do not see it. It is not like a rash that shows up on your skin. Mental health is something that is felt, and it shows itself through actions and through speech.

But what is mental health, you may be asking yourself.

Think of it in terms of strength.

When we decide to exercise for the first time, and approach a set of free weights to do bicep curls, we may only be able to manage 20 lb dumbbells. However through consistency and time, we move to 25, 30, 35, and even 40 pound dumbbells.

This is a clear indication of our body becoming better able to manage more and more stress, and it is thus a clear indication of physical strength.

The same goes for the mind.

When we decided to meditate for the first time, we may only be able to sit still for 1 minute before the lunacy of our thoughts becomes too much to bear. However through consistency and time, we are able to sit for 5, 10, 30 minutes, and even 1 hour with unwavering concentration.

This is a clear indication of our mind becoming better able to manage more and more mental stress, and it is thus a clear indication of mental strength.

You see the truth of the matter is that mental health, and the notion of becoming mentally strong, is just as important as physical health. And we cannot have one without the other, otherwise we are imbalanced.

But turn on your television, read a few articles, or simply glance through social media, and you’ll quickly realize that our so-called health experts preach only the notion of exercising the body, and eating a nutrient rich diet.

They completely disregard the other half, the mental.

They disregard the importance of being able to manage stress and the challenges that we face in life. They disregard the seriousness of truly digging deep into the depths of our minds in order to understand why we feel various emotions, hold distinct beliefs, and are driven by certain ideas.

Again I say this with caution, as there are organizations, companies, and thought leaders out there who definitively preach the notion of becoming aware of our mental tendencies. And I applaud them for their actions.

However even those who preach for mental health, tend to ignore the importance of physical health.

It’s the same from either side.

The experts of the physical overlook the mental, and the experts of the mental overlook the physical.

This is a mistake, and we are doing ourselves a great disservice by only concentrating on one domain.

We must concentrate on both.

The mental and physical go hand in hand, in many ways. When we push our bodies, it causes us to feel better about ourselves, thus improving our mental state. When we push our minds, it causes the levels of stress in our bodies to decrease, thus improving our physical state.

But one cannot do the work of the other. They compliment one another, but just as exercising cannot help you understand where your negative emotions are stemming from, meditation cannot help you develop strong muscles.

They are like the two eyes on your head. They work in unison to show you the reality that you are faced with. And our ancestors understood this to a much greater extent than we do now.

If we wish to be truly healthy, and unquestionably follow a healthy lifestyle, then it is of utmost importance that we both exercise our bodies through physical exertion, and exercise our minds through the mental exertion of meditation, mindfulness, philosophy, and introspection.

Our society would be doing itself an immense favor, if it adopted this idea from the ancients.

And maybe, just maybe, we could make the overall health of our world a little better.