What ever happened to a sound mind in a sound body?
A friend and fellow coaching educator sent me that lament in an email the other day. I always thought the idea originated with Thomas Jefferson, but TJ, ever the borrower, got it from John Locke:
“A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a Happy state in this World: he that has these two, has little more to wish for; and he that wants either of them, will be little better for anything else.” ~ John Locke
I fear we have, in our current age of pace and specialization, lost hold of this a bit. A generalist is so yesterday, a Jack of all trades, master of none.
We’ve landed in two camps:
- The Mind camp – learn ’em up to be tops in their class so they can land a good job and a top notch salary
- The Body camp – train ’em up to be tops on their team and their stardom will earn them a six figure salary
Somewhere along the way we have lost the notion of a sound mind IN a sound body. We have forgotten that our mind (a.k.a. our brain) is a mass of connective circuitry, supplied by lifeblood delivered in vessels that carry to it most everything we eat, activated by signals that carry the sensations of everything we experience in the world, which allow this brain to then process, prepare and prompt our responses to that world.
Our mind is inseparable from our body, at once dependent, mentoring and managing. What we do to and for our body happens to our minds just the same. We may say we are what we eat. We may also say we think what we eat. We also think what we sleep, drink, and do.
There are now many studies that have looked at the effect physical activity has on academic performance in kids and youth: kids do better when they are physically active. That is, kids are not only fitter and less likely to be obese but they are better adjusted, better behaved and perform better on cognitive tests if they engage in vigorous physical activity during their day. It’s not that active kids are “smarter,” it’s that their brains work better when they are stimulated with fresh circulating blood by virtue of vigorous active input from their body.
Nowhere is this more evident than in fast growing bodies that host inquisitive, fast-growing minds. Kids need fresh air and plenty of active play, not just to perfect their sporting technique or make them skilled competitors but because it’s good for the growth of their minds and bodies. We would do well not to separate the two, but to acknowledge the connection between them.
Unfortunately, physical education teachers tell me there is a lot of separating going on out there. Training ‘the brain’ is given priority while physical education is ‘just an elective.’ Grading and evaluation standards, I am told, are null and void. It gets skipped and opted out of. It’s the class that gets replaced for assemblies, or substituted out for drivers ed or family life education. All of these things are important, for sure, but what does it say about us when we call physical education expendable, even laughable? We feel better about it if we call it PE; then we don’t have to think about the education of our bodies, the health or absence of which we will have to live with our whole lives.
School administrators, doing their best to keep everyone happy, think they are answering the call of the “physical” by adding hand movements to mind games. Instead, why not ask kids to use their minds during physical games? Solve a problem, work together in a group, and include each individual in a game that has a big space and requires quick movements and sharp minds? Why not move during the day, take active breaks from the classroom, and get some mind-clearing time outdoors or simply get moving with an “instant recess”?
That’s not multi-tasking folks, that’s fully engaged. And it’s not just for kids!
If we let the “ideal” of a sound mind drive us away from its companion, a sound body, we’re going to lose both. Intelligence is a wonderful thing, and mindfulness is a profoundly creative endeavor, but these are best knit together in a body which is fully operational when it’s put into motion.
Here’s a great site with information for putting the physical activity back into school days!