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Botanical Exercise

By Raymond Philips, M.D. ©2007

Especially for –

Painting botanical subjects requires intense concentration.   During this effort, the body serves as a support for the mind and hand.  Yet, it too demands some attention now and then.  The artist can provide this attention through episodic movement.  That’s right: exercise!

There are different results gained from exercise and a myriad ways of getting there.  First of all, there are ways of developing great looking abs, gluts, and delts with muscle building techniques for developing bulk and definition.  These results, probably, are not of paramount interest to the average botanical artist. .  Secondly, activities that promote cardiovascular fitness are those that develop endurance and rightly should interest everyone.  These exercises require relatively intense effort.  They are useful in controlling excessive weight and the burden of sedentary living.  Everyone – artist or not – is encouraged to adapt some form regular exercise to promote physical fitness.  Lastly, there are exercises that are low-level, low-impact activities that enhance body flexibility and tone; in effect, counter the processes of aging.  These are important for maintaining general well being and should be adapted by all who work as intensely and for prolonged times as the detail-loving artist.

Body building exercises require repetitive application of strenuous effort.  Heavy weight-lifting is a typical exercise for those wishing for that “Power Look”.  It will not be discussed further here.  Every CVS will have a bunch of body building magazines with suggested routines for life.

Exercise for endurance promotes an entirely different physiological adaptation.  It produces more efficient use of metabolism rather than an increase in the size and number of muscle fibers.  Running, biking, rowing, and repetitive light weight-lifting are some examples of endurance enhancing.  Each results in favorable changes on blood pressure, clotting factors and various lipid or cholesterol levels.  In addition, they promote loss of excessive weights.  Endurance exercise requires activity that brings the heart rate to at least 70 % of its maximum.  (Maximum heart rate is determined empirically by subtracting one’s age from 220).   The exercise should be continued for at least 20 minutes.  Such levels of exercise are performed every other day (or at least three times a week) to maintain the training effect.  It is now well established that cardiovascular benefit can occur at these moderate levels of training.  One does not need to achieve a high degree of endurance fitness.  Whew!

Now, for those who cannot find time or will to commit themselves to a vigorous exercise regimen: try taking a break every half hour or so just to get things jiggling.  A little movement frequently may make a big difference in physical and mental well being.  Not only is prolonged, concentrated work hard on body mechanics, it poses a definite health risk.  The “economy class syndrome” associated with long-distance airplane travel may be applied here.  Contractions of the muscles in the calf provide a strong pumping action on the veins of the legs, pumping blood upward against gravity during walking, biking, etc. Sitting still for protracted periods allows blood to ‘stagnate’ in the lower parts of the body.  Stasis promotes the formation of clots (thrombi) in the legs and development of thrombophlebitis (whether suspected or not).   The half hour exercise break is especially recommended for those who have a history of thrombophlebitis or serious leg injury.

The following activities are recommended during a long spell of painting or drawing [discus throwing excluded, unless it paint your tossing!].  They can be performed whether or not the artist is also engaged in the more strenuous exercise routines.  Every half hour, get up and perform twenty or more toe-stands.  Toe-stands give a powerful compressive action on venous blood flow.  At the same time, one can swing the arms and rotate the neck through several full circles, and move the head from side to side and up and down.  Within a few minutes, enhanced body mobility and vascular circulation will be accomplished.

Every hour, a more strenuous exercise is recommended.  The chosen activity should be fun rather than a burden.  There is an endless variety of ways to perform.  Here are a few suggestions, all involving music:

Conduct the orchestra. Do it with the seeping gestures of Koussevitsky doing “Fantasia”.  After a few (or many) sessions, add some deep knee bends.  In time, you will be able to add light hand-held weights (1 to 2 ½ pounds) in each hand, swinging the arms and bending the elbows with ever increasing abandon.  At first, go slow!  For beginners, try Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Fawn”.  If this is too strenuous at first, “The Lark Arising” by Vaughn Williams may be better suited.  As time goes on, you might move onto John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  The “Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky is not for beginners but is certainly a good long range goal.

Dance.  Review some ballet steps learned in childhood.  Always exaggerate (making sure the curtains are pulled) as you go through the plies and arabesques.  Or you may prefer partner-less ballroom, from waltz to Argentine tango.  Irish and Scottish dancing, or course, is exclusively for lower body exercise, which is OK but should be followed by arm, trunk, and neck work.  Eventually, you may wish to go into Russian Cossack but only after professional help.

Housework.  Plan the more physically demanding forms of housecleaning for the in between times of painting.  Vacuuming, scrubbing, and polishing all come to mind as break activities.   Any of the Wagnerian “Ring Series” should do here.  The “Ride of the Valkyries” is especially nice for vacuum work.

Whatever form of activity you chose, let your mind create a pleasurable experience, one that you can build on and keep as an integral part of your artistic endeavor.

In between exercises, paint up a storm.

4 Responses to “Botanical Exercise”

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