The mind acts and the body reacts, the body acts and the mind reacts, but of course at the root of it all is the real desire for what is normal, or—alas!—the lack of that desire.
If physical culture does not make us love the open air, if it does not make us love to take a walk or climb a mountain, if it does not help us to take the walk or climb the mountain with more freedom, if it does not make us move along outdoors so easily that we forget our bodies altogether, and only enjoy what we see about us and feel how good it is to be alive—why, then physical culture is only an ornament without any use.
There is an interesting point in mountain-climbing which I should like to speak of, by the way, and which makes it much pleasanter and better exercise. If, after first starting—and, of course, you should start very slowly and heavily, like an elephant—you get out of breath, let yourself stay out of breath. Even emphasize the being out of breath by breathing harder than your lungs started to breathe, and then let your lungs pump and pump and pump until they find their own equilibrium. The result is delightful, and the physical freedom that follows is more than delightful. I remember seeing two girls climbing in the high Rocky Mountains in this way, when other women were going up on ponies. Finally one of the guides looked back, and with an expression of mild astonishment said “Well, you have lungs!” This was a very pleasant proof of the right kind of breathing.
There are many good points for climbing and walking and swimming and all outdoor exercise that can be gained from the best sort of physical culture; and physical culture is good for girls when it gives these points and leads to a spontaneous love for outdoor exercise. But when it results only in a self-conscious pose of the body then it is harmful.
We want to have strong bodies, free for every normal action, with quiet nerves, and muscles well coordinated. Then our bodies are merely instruments: good, clean, healthy instruments. They are the “mechanism of the outside.” And when the mechanism of the outside is well oiled and running smoothly it can be forgotten.
There can be no doubt but that physical culture is good for girls provided it is given and taken with intelligent interest, but it must be done thoroughly to be done to real advantage. As, for instance, the part the shower-bath plays after exercising is most important, for it equalizes the circulation. Physical culture is good for girls who have little or no muscular action in their daily lives, for it gives them the healthiest exercise in the least space of time, and prepares them to get more life from exercise outdoors. It is good for girls whose daily lives are full of activity, because it develops the unused muscles and so rests those that have been overused. Many a hardworking girl has entered the gymnasium class tired and has left it rested.