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The Strenuous Pleasure Of The Body Moving Through The Fraught and Holy Air

Updated: Jan 31

I sometimes ran with a copy of Dr. Thaddeus Kostrubala's "The Joy of Running" in my backpack.... David Allan, CNN, The Wisdom Project

Dr. Gerald Gibbons is one of those people who, when he speaks, I listen. Years ago, John and I would watch from our family cabin window at Lake Wenatchee as Jerry began doing these newfangled, outrageous feats that we later learned were sailboarding and kite boarding.  He’s always been a fitness fanatic. Running, skiing, backpacking – heading up Heart and Sole races here in the Valley for years.

Jerry wisely pointed out in a couple of emails that my readers should know that there have been voices shouting for years about the importance of moving the body – not just for the physical benefits, but also for one’s mental health.

Jerry was influenced years ago by Dr. Thaddeus Kostrubala, perhaps most well-known as “The Running Psychiatrist.” Jerry suggested that I look at Kostrubala’s book (which I have ordered because it seems like no ordinary tome on running) and read his obit as well. 

Here’s some of Kostrubala’s obituary.  

If you have discovered or been told by your doctor, therapist, or friend that exercise will not only improve your physical health but your mood and mental health as well, you have Thaddeus Kostrubala to thank.”

In the mid 1970s, Kostrubala was deep in research and clinical studies about the effects of slow long-distance running‚ not just on a person’s mood but on a person’s life and how that life fit into society and the history of human consciousness. Running wasn’t just about biology and psychology. It was about anthropology, sociology, politics, war, peace, love, hate, courage‚ creativity, freedom, and the future. The result was The Joy Of Running, one of the books that inspired the first running boom.

That book, The Joy of Running, is as alive and relevant today as it was the day it was originally published, in 1976. It is still the book you hand to someone thinking about starting to run, jog, or walk to improve their fitness or to just feel better. It is still the book you read to discover how running can save your life—and your soul. 

The link between exercise and improvement in mood, so firmly established now, was neither widely accepted, officially recommended, nor seriously investigated over 45 years ago, when Thaddeus was doing all three. Having discovered the powerful transformative effect of running in his own life, he wanted to know more, understand more, and develop this amazing tool to help heal others. He quickly progressed from helping himself‚ to helping others‚ to training others to help even more people.

The early years in which Kostrubala was active in running therapy were anything but easy for him. He had a difficult time, accompanied by ridicule and scorn. Within the psychiatric community, he put his excellent reputation at risk. A therapist who jogged and perspired with his patients and declared that this activity represented a serious treatment for mental disorders—not only was not taken seriously by the establishment….

When Jerry sent me this, I happened to thumbing through a newer book by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the Joy of Movement.  I have to think she borrowed the essence of her book from Kostrubala.  The book blurbs offer that she draws from many fields to show how movement (dancing, swimming, walking, weightlifting, running and so on) is intertwined with some of the most basic human joys, including self-expression, social connection, and mastery—and why it is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. She “paints a portrait of human nature that highlights our capacity for hope, cooperation, and self-transcendence” and happiness, meaning, and connection available through the power of movement. Supposedly her work is revolutionary.

And that’s where Jerry would say, “hold on.” Some of these “revolutionary ideas” have been around for a while…at least a few people were seeing the value in body movement even before Kostrubala. 

Jerry has been looking through old Grant County Journals following the activities of his homesteading grandparents in 1900. He ran across two articles in the 1911 issues.  One is about an 84-year-old “wheelman” who acquired the bicycling fever at 61 at by 75 had ridden 100,000 miles. The other article headline is “Don’t Get Too Sedate.” In the article body movement is referred to as “play.”  The writer proposes that play is necessary to keep a grown man young and a middle-aged man from growing old. Then the article wraps up with the idea that after a man has practiced the beliefs in the uselessness of exercise (for which they have Mrs. Grundy to blame. If you don’t know this Mrs. Grundy, look her up.) for half a decade or so and becomes “fat and pompous and red-faced or pale and slack muscled and short winded” the jig is pretty well up. On the other hand, in terms of play, “if we keep it up we shall never know that we are old until we are one day suddenly dead”.

Jerry writes that he’s grateful that he can still ride a bike, indoors or out.   And he adds that in addition to keeping the body and mind active, clearly one should remember the obvious -  “don’t smoke, eat wisely, avoid obesity, laugh, sing, listen to music, drink some coffee and enjoy a glass of wine and maybe a “dram” of good whisky (Recommended by my Scotch ancestors).” See why I listen to this nonagenarian exemplar?


Now here, dear friends, I must add a prayer from Brian Doyle (thank you, Rev Sandy Liddell for putting me on to him).  Some call his prayers, proems. This particular proem touched me because it reminds me of a woman I know.  She said life was getting her down.  Tennis perhaps could help her get outside, connect with others, move her pear-shaped body. But alas, she felt it was beyond her. She was in no way athletic.

However, walking….walking that simple activity which just involves putting one foot in front of the other...maybe she could pull that off.  That was probably 30 years ago.  She’s a legend around town now for her 5-mile daily walks. Rain or snow. White-haired and strong. A proem for you my friend and those like you. From all of us who are watching.

Prayer for the Immense Woman Who Runs Very Slowly Along the Street Every Morning No Matter What the Weather – Brian Doyle, A Book Of Uncommon Prayer

You, madame, are a brave and diligent soul, and I admire you very much indeed.  You never miss a day that I have noticed.  You never quite walk and never quite run, yet you move briskly and relentlessly, and I have seen the pounds melt away, yes, I have—at least thirty pounds in the two years I have driven past impressed and moved, five mornings a week.  Your ferocious concentration, looking neither left not right…


I pray for your continued energy and willpower.  I pray that there is someone or several someones who witness and celebrate and laud your discipline.  I pray that you do not stop even when you have attained the weight you want, having discovered the strenuous pleasure of the body moving through the fraught and holy air [I LOVE this line].  I pray for myself that I be granted your steady work ethic and self-discipline, and that I do not flag or surrender when there is work to be done.  I pray that I am not the only one who sees you on our street every morning, and that there are many of us whose hearts lift slightly when we see you forging west, patient, graceful, love. And so: amen.

How might we journey together, gleaning wisdom from the wise – embracing the JOY of moving?

Picture I took a couple of days ago of my personal hero, my 79-year-old husband, John. He's kept me going...



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