REST, fresh air, exercise, and nourishment, enough of each in proportion to the work done, are the material essentials to a healthy physique. Indeed, so simple is the whole process of physical care, it would seem absurd to write about it at all. The only excuse for such writing is the constant disobedience to natural laws which has resulted from the useless complexity of our civilization.
There is a current of physical order which, if one once gets into it, gives an instinct as to what to do and what to leave undone, as true as the instinct which leads a man to wash his hands when they need it, and to wash them often enough so that they never remain soiled for any length of time, simply because that state is uncomfortable to their owner. Soap and water are not unpleasant to most of us in their process of cleansing; we have to deny ourselves nothing through their use. To keep the digestion in order, it is often necessary to deny ourselves certain sensations of the palate which are pleasant at the time. So by a gradual process of not denying we are swung out of the instinctive nourishment-current, and life is complicated for us either by an amount of thought as to what we should or should not eat, or by irritations which arise from having eaten the wrong food. It is not uncommon to find a mind taken up for some hours in wondering whether that last piece of cake will digest. We can easily see how from this there might be developed a nervous sensitiveness about eating which would prevent the individual from eating even the food that is nourishing. This last is a not unusual form of dyspepsia,–a dyspepsia which keeps itself alive on the patient’s want of nourishment.
Fortunately the process of getting back into the true food-current is not difficult if one will adopt it The trouble is in making the bold plunge. If anything is eaten that is afterwards deemed to have been imprudent, let it disagree. Take the full consequences and bear them like a man, with whatever remedies are found to lighten the painful result. Having made sure through bitter experience that a particular food disagrees, simply do not take it again, and think nothing about it. It does not exist for you. A nervous resistance to any sort of indigestion prolongs the attack and leaves, a brain-impression which not only makes the same trouble more liable to recur, but increases the temptation to eat forbidden fruit. Of course this is always preceded by a full persuasion that the food is not likely to disagree with us now simply because it did before. And to some extent, this is true. Food that will bring pain and suffering when taken by a tired stomach, may prove entirely nourishing when the stomach is rested and ready for it. In that case, the owner of the stomach has learned once for all never to give his digestive apparatus work to do when it is tired. Send a warm drink as a messenger to say that food is coming later, give yourself a little rest, and then eat your dinner. The fundamental laws of health in eating are very simple; their variations for individual needs must be discovered by each for himself.
“But,” it may be objected, “why make all this fuss, why take so much thought about what I eat or what I do not eat?” The special thought is simply to be taken at first to get into the normal habit, and as a means of forgetting our digestion just as we forget the washing of our hands until we are reminded by some discomfort; whereupon we wash them and forget again. Nature will not allow us to forget. When we are not obeying her laws, she is constantly irritating us in one way or another. It is when we obey, and obey as a matter of course, that she shows herself to be a tender mother, and helps us to a real companionship with her.
Nothing is more amusing, nothing could appeal more to Mother Nature’s sense of humor, than the various devices for exercise which give us a complicated self-consciousness rather than a natural development of our physical powers. Certain simple exercises are most useful, and if the weather is so inclement that they cannot be taken in the open air, it is good to have a well-ventilated hall. Exercise with others, too, is stimulating, and more invigorating when there is air enough and to spare. But there is nothing that shows the subjective, self-conscious state of this generation more than the subjective form which exercise takes. Instead of games and play or a good vigorous walk in the country, there are endless varieties of physical culture, most of it good and helpful if taken as a means to an end, but almost useless as it is taken as an end in itself; for it draws the attention to one’s self and one’s own muscles in a way to make the owner serve the muscle instead of the muscle being made to serve the owner. The more physical exercise can be simplified and made objective, the more it serves its end. To climb a high mountain is admirable exercise, for we have the summit as an end, and the work of climbing is steadily objective, while we get the delicious effect of a freer circulation and all that it means. There might be similar exercises in gymnasiums, and there are, indeed, many exercises where some objective achievement is the end, and the training of a muscle follows as a matter of course. There is the exercise-instinct; we all have it the more perfectly as we obey it. If we have suffered from a series of disobediences, it is a comparatively easy process to work back into obedience.