Avicenna on Exercise

Tatiana’s Pilates in Carpinteria, CA.
Lotus Newsletter, August 2009, Issue # 6
Today is Avicenna’s BD. Born on Aug 16 in 980 in Persia, Ibn Sīnā or by his Latinized name Avicenna is regarded as a great thinker- the most famous and influential, especially in philosophy and medicine. He established a mind body dualism 600 years before Descartes and made discoveries and breakthroughs in many fields of medicine. His book The Canon of Medicine was used as a text-book at many medieval universities as late as 1650.
In his book The Canon of Medicine he writes about the ways of achieving health: “the regimen of maintaining health consists essentially in the regulation of: (1) exercise (2) food and (3) sleep… “(Avicenna 1999, p. 377)
The Benefits of Exercise
Ibn Sina explained the extremely important and necessary need for movement and physical exercise and stated that exercise “hardens the organs and renders them fit for their functions. It results in a better absorption of food, aids assimilation, and, by increasing the innate heat, improves nutrition. It clears the pores of the skin, removes effete substances through the lungs, and strengthens the physique. Vigorous exercise invigorates the muscular and nervous system.” (Avicenna 1999, p. 379)
Exercise also results in better “Mental faculties including: vigor of imagination, intellectual power, and memory.” (Avicenna 1999, p. 276)
Exercise is so beneficial Ibn Sina says “It is this exercise which renews and revives the innate heat, and imparts the necessary lightness to the body, for it causes the subtle heat to be increased and daily disperses whatever effete substances have accumulated; the movements of the body help them to expel them conveying them to those parts of the body whence they can readily leave it. Hence the effete matters are not allowed to collect day after day and besides this, as we have just said, exercise causes the innate heat to flourish and keeps the joints and ligaments firm, so as to be always ready for service, and also free from injury. It renders the members able to receive nutriment, in being free from accumulated effate matters. Hence it renders the members light and the humidities attenuated, and it dilates the pores of the skin. To forsake exercise would often incur the risk of “hectic”, because the instinctive drives of the members are impaired, in as much as the deprivation of movement prevents the access to them of the innate breath. And this last is the real instrument of life for every one of the members.” (Avicenna 1999, pp. 378–9)
For those who think themselves to be elderly, and thus think of shunning exercise, Ibn Sina states the same regimen:
“For if, towards the end of life, the body is still equable, it will be right to allow tempered exercises. If one part of the body should not be in a first-rate condition, then that part should not be exercised until the others have been exercised. … On the other hand, if the ailment were in the feet, then the exercise should employ the upper limbs: for instance, rowing, throwing weights, lifting weights.” (Avicenna 1999, p. 433)

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