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The Vacuum Issue 9 spacer Issue 9
Lovely Bodies Lovely Minds
by Briony Greenhill
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Love seems to have a life of its own sometimes, have you noticed that? It flows, a colourless, odourless mist, in a subtle tide through and between us. When we are given love, we usually let it fill us and then pass some of it on, back to the giver mostly but there's always a little more to go round. When love passes through us, we become vessels of love. We become lovely.
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When we give our bodies love, they become lovely. Love given in the sense of giving the body what it needs, what suits it: providing the right conditions for the body to thrive. Forget Kylie or Arnie: you don't need to squeeze or bloat yourself into their shapes in order to have a lovely body. You don't even need to have all of your limbs on or working. You've seen and felt it - when someone is healthy, they just glow. It's a paradox, then, that although good health makes us individually and collectively lovely, we're surrounded by unhealthy things. They're omnipresent, everyone's at them, because they are a) very addictive and b) very, very profitable. More on this later. First let's talk about sex.
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I think sex is one of the main reasons people strive for lovely bodies: they strive for lovely sex, free from intrusions from insecurities about ugliness etc. People also want to look good, but really that's just an extension of the main theme, because the main reason for looking good, ultimately, is to entice other people to have lovely sex with you. Lovely.
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Now here's an example of the way love tends to reproduce itself. Lovely sex - as opposed to heartless fucking - makes all involved feel lovely, and in the loveliness of that mood, one is prompted to be lovely to other people, and to give one's own body further love in the form of good health. The relationship is reciprocal, as good health and fitness make sex better and sensations even more delightful. Yoga in particular is fantastic for this, especially for women who have trouble hitting on the elusive Mr. O.
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When one is unhealthy, it is difficult to feel full of love and easy to feel full of lust. Lust is not lovely. It can be great now and again, but it is not lovely. Because Love likes to reproduce itself, it inspires us to generosity so that we spread it around. Lust is the opposite of love because it fills us with an all-consuming need to consume - cigarettes alcohol chocolate food bodies drugs, all of which are addictive. Excessive lust turns us into black holes into which all is sucked and from which no generous light escapes. Long-term lust tends to harm the body, by filling it with shit.
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Being full of shit is not lovely. There's some science to back this up, and it extends from the old adage that we are what we eat. Take sugar for example. Research from the Brain Bio Centre at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London suggests that excesses in sugar consumption lead to sugar crashes, in which anxiety, depression, tiredness, lack of concentration, aggression and all things dark run riot.
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Insufficient vitamins have a similar effect: Dr. Bernard Gesch and colleagues at the University of Oxford gave vitamin supplements to a group of prisoners, and found that their violent behaviours fell by 40% compared to a control group who just had the normal, unhealthy prison food. Having a good boost of vitamins every day, then, reduced aggression and the prisoner's bodies became effectively more lovely and less destructive when they ate more healthily. Could it be that aggression and bad moods stem partially from vitamin deficiencies?
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Cigarettes are another demon, but while the warnings on the packets tell us of all the harm we do to our lungs, skin, and reproductive systems, they do not mention the affects of cigarettes upon our mood. Research by Dr. Ann McNeill found that while 27% of the UK population smoke, over 50% of those suffering from depression, panic and psychosis are smokers. While the chicken and egg relationship is not exactly proven, the tendency for smoking to make us feel at best shitty, and at worst bonkers, is clear.
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Coffee too, yes dear old coffee, increases the incidence of anxiety, depression and insomnia according to research by M.A. Lee in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
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It's no surprise, on the other hand, that exercise has a lovely effect on our mood and makes us relaxed, happy and attentive. Some research has even suggested that regular exercise is at least as effective a treatment for anxiety, stress and depression as antidepressants and psychotherapy.
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We dance out our lives across darkness and light. We create endless metaphors by which to understand our ups and downs, but do we realise how much of it all is related to our physical health?
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One reason why this knowledge is not as widespread as it should be is our old two-faced friend, the consumer society. Lovely bodies can be bought, we are told, at the gym and at high-street fashion stores. Never mind the woman in China who makes your clothes for the price of a pack of peanuts, buy the damn things and you will look lovely. Drink coffee, eat chocolate, smoke, then cover up your tired skin with a glowing orange complexion that can be bought at Boots. Feeling a little vacuous, anxious, depressed? Then buy your happiness in a prozac packet. Over 23 million prescriptions for antidepressants were handed out in the UK last year, according to the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.
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The happiest people are, of course, the directors of the firms who make all of these unlovely, addictive things that harm our bodies and our heads. The director of Cadbury Schweppes, John Brock, last year received a total income of £5,242,214. Jean-Pierre Garnier of GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that produces many antidepressants, got £3,661,000, while Gareth Davis of Imperial Tobacco came in third place with an annual total income of £1,635,000, poor thing.
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The message is simple. If you want a lovely body, give your body love through good health and fitness, and let yourself become the vessel through which love, and not a corporation, proliferates. Lovely body, lovely mood, lovely life. Lovely.
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