The Bamberg Girl in Poznan, Poland, carries two full buckets of wine on a pole across her shoulders. Talk about a workout! Her family emigrated from the winelands of Bavaria, near Obsopoeus’ neck of the woods.
Drinking wine and working out? Yep.
In this final post, I’d like to highlight some similarities between the art of working out and the art of drinking alcohol. They have more in common than you think, and no, I don’t mean the improbable claims we see from time to time that a glass of red wine is as good as an hour-long workout. (I mean, come on.)
To show what I do mean, let me start with an arresting analogy that Obsopoeus develops in The Art of Drinking. It’s one of his most profound insights.
“Music,” says Obsopoeus, “has divine powers on par with Bacchus”:
- Bacchus lifts and cheers the weeping with nectar,
- Music lifts and cheers the depressed with song.
- Bacchus fills the breast with warmth,
- Music stirs its feelings, and
- as does wine,
- so do sounds in harmony penetrate the chest and heart.
However it works, isn’t that completely and totally true? It is, even if it’s not clear whether the cause is physiology, psychology, both, or neither. So let’s leave the how and why to others.
The key point to seize on here is in the last line, sounds in harmony. Those three words are doing a lot of work in the analogy.
How so? As I’ll explain below, “harmony” is another word for the social aspect you need to capture the mood-enhancing benefits of singing, drinking, and (for me) working out. He isn’t talking about singing all by yourself.
In my first post I mentioned the three occasions Obsopoeus singles out for drinking:
- at home with our significant other,
- going out with friends, and
- at social functions.
Did you notice that all three are social experiences? Obsopoeus doesn’t even mention drinking alone because he obviously thinks drinking alone is a bad idea.
I was invited to write this series of postings through a happenstance connection at FLX Fitclub, my gym here in Ithaca. FLX (pronounced “flex,” and an allusion to the Finger Lakes around us) is a wonderful place, with wonderful people, and I’m a big fan of it. It’s built around Les Mills group exercise classes, and one reason I like going so much is what Les Mills touts as the “group effect” of exercise. More on that in a moment.
(Not team exercise, which is different. I do mean group exercise, which is where everyone does their own thing at their own level, but together. That’s an important distinction.)
The classes at FLX involve lifting weights to music in choreographed routines, and always as a group. They’re led by motivated and knowledgable instructors who face us, who coordinate and lead the movements, and who radiate positivity even when their muscles must be screaming.
It’s impressive and inspiring. It’s also a lot of fun, a great release, and an important source of unofficial regulation in life.
For years I used to lift or run on my own, with earbuds in and everything else out. When a friend turned me on to group exercise four or five years ago, though, everything changed. I’d always thought of exercise as something you just do, and mostly do in private, like flossing or brushing your teeth. The change in perspective from a solitary activity to a group-but-not-team activity – a social activity, with music blasting, with “sounds in harmony penetrating the chest and heart” – well, that was a revelation!
Les Mills touts something they call “the group effect.” The idea is that when everyone in the room is sweating through the agony together and in sync, we all subliminally nudge each other to lift a little heavier, jump a little higher, hang on a little longer, and keep smiling the whole time. As they put it,
Gym attendees experience increased levels of individual enjoyment, exertion and satisfaction as a result of group exercise. [The study] identified the powerful role “the group effect” plays in positively influencing individual’s overall workout experience.
In my experience, that effect is obviously real. I can work out harder, far harder than I ever can on my own or at home (as, sadly, the coronavirus is proving). The results are visibly better than what I used to get on my own, with no injuries. It’s not even close. And I can do it all feeling happy.
Is group exercise addictive, intoxicating? No, but it is warm and fuzzy and relaxing. And in Obsopoeus’ view, that’s exactly how drinking alcohol is and should be. For him, drinking wine should be a group fitness class.
In his view, drinking is an individual act, but it should be a group experience rather than a solitary or unregulated one or a team effort. No one needs to appoint them, but unofficial “instructors” will silently model and correct the pace, while for everyone else the group effect kicks in and imperceptibly regulates intake, mood, and behavior.
It’s an interesting point of view. You might even call it “drinking in harmony.”
Hamaxurgus is famous for nothing in this world, but I mentioned him at the very end of my last post. He was the abbot Obsopoeus hung out with while drafting The Art of Drinking. At the time he was the abbey’s grain supervisor, but five years before he’d been the wine keeper. (Surprise, surprise.)
Hamaxurgus was fired for Protestant sympathies in 1541 and died in 1546, and that’s about all we know. The grace and facility of his little poem here opens a window into the first-class education and ability that many a monk enjoyed in the Renaissance. (Click here for the Latin text.)
Not long ago, Jupiter looked out from high Olympus.
The maker of the universe wanted to check up on his work.
“Oh, boy!” he said. “What am I seeing, hearts ignorant of truth?
What amateurish mistake is troubling you mortals?
Boy, oh boy! How many barrels of Bacchus is that I see?”
(Back then, you didn’t have to refill the barrels every day.)
“Random madness is confusing everything, everything under
the sun is in Alcohol’s demented grip!
It all looks like an orgy gone amok,
and the wine drinkers have the front row seats!
The perversion, the immorality—what a world! How is this okay?
How can you dislike the pursuit of goodness?
What, do you think Judgment Day is coming soon?
Do you think the end of the world is drawing nigh?
There is something secret beneath the great weight of the universe
I’m not allowed to disclose; the fates forbid it.
However it may happen, all will be revealed in the fulness of time
and by the Day that avenges evil doings.”
(his daughter’s name was Self-Control, I think):
“I’m entrusting you with my instructions to save the world; heed them,
because they reflect the wishes of my heart.
Tell mortals to head for their celestial temples;
those are the foundation of perpetual peace and all its benefits.
If they don’t, they’ll pay for their crimes—and Nemesis will judge them.”
Time, running short, stopped him from saying more.
Still, Self-Control does heed her beloved father’s instructions;
the sober maiden heads out for the human race…
and if you want to know how our story ends, well,
the book that follows has a few of the details.
Notes in the Margin
I’d like to thank Stacey Harwood-Lehman, my fellow FLX Fitclubber, for inviting me to write this series and encouraging me to think about alcohol and exercise.