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On the Beautiful Relationship Between Introspection and Physical Exercise


The unity of body and mind sustains a fertile and creative dialogue.

Introspection is a personality trait everyone possesses, though not all to the same degree. There are people who can devote but little time to reflection, while others do it with almost the same necessity they give to eating or sleeping. Those who reflect more gain reputations for living more in their thoughts than in reality. And this, among other derived opinions, seems to indicate an oversight of the wellbeing of the body, especially the health associated with keeping the body active.

But the perception is incorrect. In the history of thought and the arts, there are examples in which a taste for thinking is not in opposition to physical exercise, but quite the contrary. When both body and mind are part of life, they generate a unique balance that impacts existence itself. Sometimes introspection can lead one into labyrinths and alleys that, unexpectedly, only the movement of the body can resolve.

Below are some stories from great thinkers who, without ever becoming great athletes, understood that the health of the mind is inseparable from that of the body.


Haruki Murakami

Writing is an essentially sedentary occupation. Practitioners of the craft spend several hours of their day sitting, some with an almost Spartan discipline. But it’s no less true that to compensate for this partial inactivity of the body, many of them have worked physical exercise into the routine. Among such contemporaries, Haruki Murakami, besides dedicating a book to his experience as a runner and even a marathon runner, has also populated his books with characters who swim and walk or perform other physical activities. Many of them share the common trait of introspection. In his autobiographical book, Murakami himself asks if the movement of the body isn’t inseparable from the tides that agitate the mind.


Michael Phelps

One of the great Olympic champions of our time was once a shy, insecure, and rather quiet teenager. An introvert, one might say now, he channeled his personality traits into swimming, a sport that seems to have a close but seldom obvious relationship with the introspective temperament.


Immanuel Kant + Friedrich Nietzsche + Henry David Thoreau + Nikola Tesla

What do these four figures have in common? Two qualities: all four were great thinkers, and they were also consummate walkers. Kant, legend tells (especially in the account of Thomas De Quincey) made frequent walks, almost always around his native Königsberg, a city he never left and the inhabitants of which were said to know the time of day by the philosopher’s passing of specific landmarks. Nietzsche was more playful in his own walks. From Thoreau and Tesla, evidence comes down of the importance and meaningfulness of walking, for both life itself and for the creative life, especially.

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