The Me I Was Then
By Tony Crisp
As a skinny, sunken chested and spotty thirteen year old, I started walking the mile to school instead of riding the bus. A beautiful blonde Swedish pen friend had dumped me, and a probing look in my big bedroom mirror had assured me I needed to do something about the shape I was in. So I walked from St Pancras Church along the Euston Road to Marylebone High Street twice a day, using a deep breathing exercise I had found in a book about yoga. The aim was to breathe in and out as fully as possible, lifting the shoulders to gain the maximum in-breath, then almost fold over with collapsed chest to get the full out breath. I was oblivious to the strange looks from passing pedestrians and motorists as my shoulders regularly rose and fell while I strode purposefully along. But that first week I gained an inch on my chest. Okay, it was painful to grow that much in a week, and then again the next week. But gradually the growth slowed when I had gained four inches on my chest.
It was an extraordinary lesson to learn so young, to know that through directing my attention and energy in a particular way I could radically change my body. I went on to extend this with other exercises in the nearby YMCA gym. I even lied about my age because I needed to be fourteen to join.
What I noticed as the months went by was that not only was I changing my body, but I was also changing my confidence and social life. In other words the guys at school started wanting me to be their friend, to be in their team, instead of ignoring me and leaving me to be an outsider.
At fifteen this led me to start experimenting with what amount to mental exercises, to see if the mind could be changed as radically as the body. What I uncovered in that direction was even more far reaching than what had happened to my body. I didn’t just find change, I uncovered unsuspected depths and heights. I found facets of myself previously unknown.
Now in my seventies, my chest capacity is still way beyond most people’s and the range of my inner experience is incredible rich, varied, and inclusive of skills and inner adaptability I would otherwise have lacked. This has enabled me to be professionally employed in work as varied as photography and journalism, plumbing and stock market investment, a chef and psychotherapist, a radio and television broadcaster and an author, a computer technician and a building contractor, a father and a lover – these last two not professionally.
This is all mentioned to point out that although I was thrown out of school at fifteen for being a hopeless scholar who didn’t even know his alphabet, couldn’t write using punctuation, and who started life prematurely with a weak and ailing body, there is the possibility of transformation and learning new skills. I had begun learning incredibly powerful tools of change.
I had started by changing my body and then moved inwards, and your physical well being in a good place to start learning what tools work, what it feels like to create new health and shape, and what it is like to take charge of you life.
Reasonable and enjoyable exercise is a much more powerful mood shifter than most psychoactive drugs. It also brings more lasting energy and liveliness than coffee or other artificial stimulants. It feels good to feel good. In my seventies I am one of the few people who do not need to take medical drugs to keep me going or reduce blood pressure. Tools for change are wonderful life preservers and life enhancers. Physical health improves mental health, and mental health improves physical health.
***Unfortunately this is no longer true after my stroke. I asked a specialist how it happened that having never drunk alcohol, never smoked, never used fats in my diet, ate whole food and always avoided adulterated food such as white flour, white sugar and white rice I still had a stroke. She said that it is an unfortunate truth that it can simply be a genetic condition. True; my mother and grandfather died of strokes.