Friday, 24 June 2005

Keepynge fytt

It is hard to imagine anyone in the eighteenth century doing exercises, with their wigs falling off and their crinolines getting all rumpled. But it seems that there was some realisation even in those days that there were benefits to be obtained from correct bearing and movement, for Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1755, includes the word posturemaster. It is true that he defines it as one who teaches or practises artificial contortions of the body, but if he had disapproved of such activities he would have said “unnatural” rather than “artificial”: to those of the Doctor’s habits and inclinations, almost any strenuous movement would have been considered an artificial contortion.
Today, of course, we know that exercises and good posture are essential to maintain health and mobility into old age, and most of us have at least heard of Pilates, Alexander, aerobics, medau, tai chi and yoga, even if we are unable or unwilling to become more closely involved with them.

My sister studied and taught all these things until she retired the other day, and continues to practise them. Here she is just before her eighty-fourth birthday, in the fifth position of the Salute to the Sun, known as the Downward Facing Dog pose:

Actually I don't think they worked too hard at it in the eighteenth century; one of the illustrative quotations in the OED, from Addison, 1712, is: "...a kind of Posture-Master. This Artist is to teach them how to nod judiciously, to shrug up their Shoulders in a dubious case..."
I have been very keen on these particular exercises all my life, and still do them almost daily: they are a great deal easier than the sort of thing my sister does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Would that I be of similar 'unnatural' flexibility when I am 84! She's amazing!

Great White North Boy