As much as we can love to think otherwise, humans are animals. All of you! This thought intrigues me greatly, and one of the reasons why I'll explore in this post. It isn't intended as a piece of academia, so I won't be referencing, but it is based on my current understanding, observations and thoughts. You don't have to agree, but it is intended to provoke thought and discussion. I am also incredibly privileged to live in a fit and healthy body, so am aware that some of the statements stem from that. The post talks about trauma, so if this is in anyway going to be upsetting please do not read. Anyway, let's get on with being an animal.
Look at animals. If you have a pet, observe them closely. Watch wildlife documentaries with intrigue and amazement. All animals have a period of learning after birth, where they will learn the fundamentals for survival. From then on, they learn through their environment and daily lives. Watch a cheetah run. It's designed to run fast, it doesn't spend its time learning to run fast and adapting its technique. A rhinoceros is incredibly strong, it doesn't weight train to get stronger. Everything an animal is, is a product of evolution and its environment. The same applies to humans. We have evolved into this incredible species and our body is a product of our environment.
We are very efficient animals. If we don't use something in the body, we slowly lose that function, because why would the body waste the energy using something that doesn't seem needed? The same applies in the other direction; if we use something often it becomes increasingly developed. We are remarkably adaptable, but with it being in both directions it can have a positive and a negative effect. Our lives used to be hunting and gathering, so we utilised all of our body's tools for this purpose. Part of human's efficiency is making things easier for ourselves with tools. I don't think we are a lazy species, but an efficient one. What has happened over time is that we have made our lives easier and easier, to the point we are no longer using our bodies in the way nature intended.
We designed chairs so that we could sit without supporting ourselves. We designed footwear, initially to protect the sole of the foot, and increasingly to take over the body's role of stability and cushioning. Our food is delivered to our door, sometimes even already made for us. As our lives get busier and busier, with often seemingly mundane tasks, we seek to save time in every area of our lives. This results in us often using our bodies less. This is why we then need to use up some of our precious time to exercise daily.
Exercise is a great injury preventative and rehabilitation. So why don't animals need exercise? When does an animal get injured in the wild? Under the attack of a predator, sometimes in an accident with something unnatural created by humans. I am yet to see on a David Attenborough show, an animal twist its ankle on a rock or similar. Simply put, injuries happen when we exceed our potential. Animals rarely do this, because their potential is matched to their environment, but I would also suggest they are much more in touch with what their potential is. That cheetah doesn't think I need to run 1 second faster over 100 metres and then strain a muscle. Animals can't; injury would quite often lead to death as they cannot feed themselves.
Another environmental factor that causes humans problems is trauma. Every animal including us can suffer with trauma. It is a horrible, horrific part of life that we can have to go through great suffering. Some unfortunately never recover, but latest research into those that do has been shown that we become more resilient and compassionate. Why does it cause so many problems then? Quite often our thinking brain overrides our reptilian brain. Watch the video of the impala below. It has a happy ending I promise!
Its response to the traumatic event is to play dead as this is its last chance for survival. The impala's nervous system is in fight/flight/freeze mode; the sympathetic nervous system. As the event ends the impala slowly begins to return to 'life', finally shaking before running off. This shaking is a natural occurrence, helping rid all the excess energy and hormones from being in fight/flight/freeze. Humans sometimes do this too; I'm sure you can remember an event which caused uncontrollable shaking. We also quite often override this response mechanism, particularly in the public sphere. Our thinking brain overrides our reptilian brain, and the result is this energy is stored in the body. This is where a lot of our problems can stem from.
There is a time for our thinking brain, and there is a time where we need to allow our nature. We have become increasingly detached from our bodies, due to environment, including trauma. The more we heal our traumas, the more we become able to listen to our bodies and the more we change our environment for a more natural one, the less we would need to exercise. At the moment Yoga seems stuck in trying to 'fix' a multitude of problems. If we made these changes, Yoga could be used for what I believe to be the original intention of it; to strip back all the layers and discover our true selves. Yoga would be used to reveal to us what needs healing.
How can we change our environment?
Use transportation less, walk more.
Don't wear shoes, or when really necessary, wear barefoot shoes (after a period of transition).
Consider your seating. Do you support yourself or is your seat supporting you?
Make things more difficult for yourself; put things in hard to reach places sometimes, instead of having everything easily accessible; any 'bad' habits you want to get rid of, make as difficult as possible to do.
Walk to the shop and carry your shopping home.
When washing yourself, try to reach everywhere by hand, without an extended brush or similar.
Use a standing desk/work station.
If you live in a city, get out in nature more, walking on a variety of surfaces.
Consider your clothing. Is it taking on the role of the body and providing support? Underwear is a biggie for this and is increasing linked to diseases.
How can we heal?
Top-Down methods (from the brain to the body)
Short-term prescription drugs.
Bottom-Up methods (from the body to the brain)
There are plenty of other modalities available, and my advice would be to slowly use both top-down and bottom-up methods, and always seek professional advice. I was attracted to shamanic healing, Kambo frog medicine and now shake using TRE about 3 times a week. They have done a lot for me and are methods I continue to use. Be sure to always do your own research and ask around. The more that we heal and the more we move naturally, the less we'll need to exercise and the more time we'll actually have spare. The more we heal and the more we move, the more we get in touch with our body. The more we listen to our body, the healthier we can become. We would eat when hungry, eat foods that our body asks for, drink when thirsty, stretch when we needed to have a stretch, hear warning signs, sleep as long as was necessary and numerous other health benefits.
Remember that the wellness industry is just that; a huge industry in a capitalist society. It benefits the industry to make you think you need more! More strength, more mobility, more beauty, more relaxation etc. If you want to get really 'Marxist', I would suggest that making people feel insecure in regards to wellness helps the whole of capitalism. Do you really need more of anything? Your body will tell you once you are in touch with it. And you might just learn that you are already enough. I now exercise less than ever, yet my body feels better than ever through changing my environment and healing.
Please remember this is a generalised post. Exercise is important for health if all other factors aren't in place, such as a healthy nervous system. If you play sports, training specifically for your sport is important for injury prevention. If you have an injury, rehabilitation is important. This is just to provide some food for thought.