Mens Sana In Corpore Sano

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body

‘Mens Sana In Corpore Sano’ comes from Satire X written by Juvenal, a Roman poet in the 1st Century. This satirical poem falls under the section ‘Wrong Desire is the Source of Suffering’. Juvenal’s works were aimed at his contemporaries, mocking them about their beliefs, values, and judgements on morality. They were directed toward the elite, satirising their distaste for social-climbing foreigners, unfaithfulness, and rising classes.

The phrase is now used differently, known for is more common usage to remind practitioners that physical exercise is important for mental and psychological wellbeing. Although true, there is a different form of irony in the modern day context. I came across the phrase the other day for the first time when I was looking at reviews on a pair of running pants. With the popularisation of healthy diets and fancy boutique gyms comes ‘athleisure’, the modern day workout-to-work culture. We are increasingly seeing celebrities wearing chic workout clothes and flaunting their post-exercise outfit — not their post-exercise bodies. Fitness bloggers have thrived on Instagram and lifestyle youtubers swamp the web. There is irony in that this pursuit for health comes with very expensive strings.

Over this past month, I’ve started to consistently go to the gym. Instead of squeezing it into my schedule, I now fit the hour in. Although I have always exercised on the off days and generally, I do a lot of walking around the city, it has never been a priority or something that I valued doing. Having done more reading around and trying out different things, I think I found the thing for me. Even though I try to avoid athleisure, I have to admit that I enjoy it. Never a fond of exercise clothing, I now like wearing gym clothes and trainers (old me would be disgusted) out and about. However, I do limit this to days where I actually go to the gym. This is not to say that I despise people who freely choose to wear their sports clothing on the regular, it just isn’t for me.

A good pair of exercise leggings and comfy shoes do make a difference to exercise. The danger, is in the over-exageration of fitness as the ‘ideal’. A healthy mind and healthy body comes packaged in expensive activewear and comes only with a fancy gym membership whilst sipping on a green juice. It continues to perpetuate the idea that appearance is the end and exercise is the means. Perhaps even crucially, it exhumes a certain ‘effortless’ culture that, frankly, few of us have the luxury or privilege to afford. What is important is that you’re making those outfit choices because you enjoy wearing those marble print leggings (you can’t want to wear them all the time, can you? They are way too tight to be comfortable) and do engage in regular physical activity. Don’t assume that just because other people look athletichic, they must live and breathe that vibe too.

Juneval may have known better than his peers during the 1st century, but it is hard to believe that the poet imagined his words still ring true today.