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  • Daniel Vargas

How a Stoic Views Self-Care of Their Mind and Body

“For no man is free who is a slave to his body” - Seneca

The mind, body and soul of a human is to be treated with respect. As a stoic, we should realize that we only have one body, and every single day is a chance to sculpt it into the best version of it possible. Socrates once said it was a shame to grow old and not see the beauty and strength of which one is capable of becoming. Something to think about, though, this is not exclusive to just working out and exercising, while equally important. Plato stresses that an ideal citizen is scholarly and physically capable. The scholarly portion is important because wisdom and knowledge is not just what you learn, but how you choose to apply it. They interact with one another, and showcase interesting reflections of one another, for example, how you treat your mind and body is reflected in how you treat your friends and family.

Now this doesn't have to be in a physical sense as to say, in an extreme fashion, “if you don’t take care of yourself, you will be abusive with your friends and family”. Neglecting those around you can be conversely reflected in your approach to neglecting friends' and family's emotional well-being. This is how you expose your virtue. In the physical sense, can you hold back from excess food? Can you increase your lack of self care with regards to my aging skin, or decaying teeth? In the mental aspect, do you fill your mind with negativity or positivity?

Let's revisit reality, the physical bounds to our physical biology. Remember that by understanding this, can we make the best judgements of how to live an ethical life, thereby applying proper logic. The human body is not something that hits a certain age and you grow old.

We grow older everyday, decaying with every breath we take. With the knowledge obtained from science, we know that every 7 years we have completely recycled every cell in our body. Every 7 years, we are an entirely new body, molded, sculpted by what you did in the past 7 years. Don’t mistake this with being new, we have also decayed within those 7 years, so the things you chose to do or refused to do takes its toll on your newly recycled body. Is your body filled with the nutrients that benefit you, or are they filled with sugars and liquor?

So the question should then be, when my body recycles in the next 7 years, what can I be doing today to ensure the new cells are the best that they can be, or how much can I preserve that which is decaying?

When you put this into perspective, understanding the physics of our biology, we can make better decisions on how we should treat our bodies, yes? As for mental, Cicero and Epictetus often point out that we are creatures of habit, so if we wish to be excellent, we must formulate and live by excellent habits. Not in just actions, but in the quality of thoughts. Your thoughts directly impact your emotions which then impact your actions. Actions do not think for themselves, they are originated in the mind and the quality of the thoughts.

Let's look at the great philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius who was a frail boy. So frail apparently, many people wrote that they didn't think he would stand strong with the Roman army. For much of his life this was true but Marcus grew to be a strong man capable of leading not just the Roman army but also leading and expanding his empire. Interestingly, he wrote that working out can lead to being a vain person. On the other hand, Marcus wrote that a healthy mind can only exist with a healthy body. It was the philosopher king’s routine to run every morning to clear his mind before the day’s work. There's the "read between the lines" moment that is often forgotten: exercise clears the mind. The quality of his thoughts were so important that exercise was used to help color them positively to be a great ruler.

A stoic goes through life understanding that it is human nature to keep the body moving and maintained to maintain not just the body itself but a healthy and strong mind. Let's look at an example that's not so fun, because exercise can be fun once you find the activity that you would enjoy.

I mentioned your body is constantly decaying, in fact some of those decaying processes can’t be always maintained by you. Your teeth are the perfect example. My fellow stoics! We would be wise to make good friends with your dentist. Here's the thing about teeth, they are constantly decaying, and if you don’t floss everyday, they decay faster. 2-5 percent of the population regularly flosses and 65% visit the dentist regularly. That is just ROUTINE, that doesn't necessarily mean they go through with procedures or maintenance.

Here’s the thing though, you don’t go to the dentist to fix your teeth, you go to preserve your teeth. If you have a cavity, they have to remove parts of your tooth and replace it. It decays more so they have to cut the top half and place a crown. It decays even more and you get a root canal, anything more than that and they have to remove your tooth. Are you still there? I hope I didn’t scare you, but this is the reality of your teeth and while many of us can take care of our teeth, the dentist is part of self care, part of the modern self care routine. A stoic would be wise to understand the reality of things that we must do to maintain a healthy body.

We obviously know the simple example of exercise but we cannot forget the other things that are just as important. Things that we see faster than your abs, that is your smile. The way you maintain your teeth impacts your mental space, you don't have a "good smile" and your confidence is decreased and the quality of thoughts is then impacted! Negative self talk ensues and so on and so forth. Do not neglect what is necessary to being a healthy human. Like sunscreen too; see these routines and checkups as voluntary discomforts that are natural to the modern human experience. Cherish them as our ancestors did not have the level of knowledge we do today. Be grateful for the advancements we have made so we have the knowledge to add complexity to our understanding of the natural body and how to better take care of it. In the next 7 years, your newly replaced body will thank you.

As a stoic we practice mindfulness with regards to the quality of our thoughts. We should make just as much of an effort with listening to our bodies as well. Become a tune to one’s body. If you feel a pain here or there, listen, pay attention. Your body speaks a language as well.

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