"Wanna play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe?" "Uh, maybe some other time," you’ll probably say.
You’ve been there, done that, and you’ve got better things to do. The game was interesting for about a week or so, back in second grade, and that was about it. You played it with friends and parents, ran through all the variations and soon came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much to get excited about. The patterns and the outcome quickly became predictable and you moved on to other, more interesting pursuits.
This progression makes sense, of course. Games only capture our attention when they’re pulling us to the outer limits of our capability, drawing us into new territory, new ideas and new dimensions of understanding. Games are delightful when they reveal new relationships or help us develop new skills, but once we gain mastery, the game becomes dull and we start looking for bigger challenges. Such is the natural orientation of the human mind and spirit.
So why then, do so many of us get stuck at the conventional level of the modern health and fitness industry? Why do we spend so much time and energy on the Tic-Tac-Toe of weight loss, muscular development and athletic performance? Why do we publish and read the same boilerplate publications month after month, year after year, recycling the same predictable game through our minds and our culture?
After all, we have effectively mastered the health and fitness game. The formula for success is simple, familiar and well-documented:
Train vigorously and rhythmically in a movement style that you love, eat real food, rest deeply and often.
That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. There's little news here and almost nothing left to discover. Like Tic-Tac-Toe, the health and fitness industry has become a grinding and thoroughly predictable bore. So the obvious question: isn’t there a bigger game out there?
I suggest that there is. The most pressing challenge of the century– our bigger game–is to create a new, more functional relationship between the body and the biosphere, one that sustains the health of both. This bigger game is about far more than the shape or condition of individual human bodies. It’s about more than the creation of isolated health islands or pockets of physical fitness. Rather, it’s about culture, relationship and rapport: rapport with our bodies, rapport with each other and rapport with the living world.
Compared to the predictable Tic-Tac-Toe of conventional fitness, the Big Health game is endlessly fascinating, engaging and challenging. It’s an infinite game: wide as the biosphere, as deep as the history of life and as intricate as human culture and society. When we play this game, we’re working and playing, not just with the tissue and performance of individual bodies, but with memes, culture, and what David Abram calls “the more-than-human world.” (See Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal) This combination makes the game endlessly fascinating, multi-dimensional and dynamic. Not only that, any wins that we manage to achieve have immense potential for transformation; this is a place where we can make a vital difference.
So how do we play this bigger game?
The ground rules are simple, but the field of play is immense: Begin by familiarizing yourself with the fundamentals of the human body: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and biomechanics. Learn the basics of health, nutrition, training and the psychosocial fundamentals of stress. Then move on to the extra-somatic layers: learn the basics of land, habitat, biology and ecology, including the lives of non-human animals and their relationship to the natural world. This grounding education may take a decade or more, but it’s essential.
Once you’ve got the basics in place, start creating new stories and cultural narratives. Investigate new relationships and recombinations of existing ideas, structures and processes. Use your knowledge of Big Health to create new ways of living in this modern and very perplexing world. As you play, walk the walk, not just for weight loss, eternal youth or a faster run, but for the fate of the biosphere, for healthy habitat and a viable human future.
As movement teachers and health enthusiasts, we are ideally suited to play this game and lead others in this direction. We know the state of the body; we know how it works and we know how tremendously challenged it is in the modern world. We know the threats and we know–better than anyone perhaps–what needs to be done.
So keep your eyes on the bigger game! Step up for the body and the biosphere. Don’t get trapped in the smaller dimensions of convention.