Stress Positions: Are You Torturing Yourself and Calling It “Life”?

In an article called “Bodies Under Stress” and other writings, author Mark Danner delineates the euphemisms the United States government uses to describe torture.

“Stress positions”: people hung by their wrists, men standing naked with women’s underpants wrapped around their faces.

“Use of dogs to induce stress”: Trained attack dogs biting and threatening to bite prisoners.

“Waterboarding”: the practice of holding someone’s head underwater for long periods of time – then repeating the practice.

“Sleep adjustment”: Forcing people to stand on a box for hours, believing they’ll be electrocuted if they fall off the box.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques”: a compendium of abuses that any rational person (especially on the receiving end) would describe as torture.

Danner is the author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror”and “The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.”

What this brings to mind for me (besides a fervent desire for a “regime change” in the United States government) is this: Into what “stress positions” do you choose to contort your own body?

What do you call it when you starve yourself, stuff yourself with unhealthy foods, “beat yourself up” with negative thoughts, or remain sitting for hours on end, depriving yourself of the oxygen, blood flow, and muscular activity you know your body needs?

Do you justify these self-torture techniques as “necessary”?

Am I comparing military torture with personal bad habits?

You bet.

You don’t have to be a political prisoner to put yourself on a medieval sort of “rack”: allowing over-commitment to pull you in all directions at once until your joints ache, your head hurts, and you can’t think straight.

The only comforting thought, when reading about torture, is, “At least it’s not me.”

What I’m suggesting is this: Maybe it is you. Maybe you are imposing your own “stress positions,” your own “sleep adjustment,” your own “waterboarding.”

Maybe you’re drowning in work or worry. Maybe you’re placing extreme stress on your body through prolonged inactivity and neglect – then failing to face the reality of the situation.

I hope not. But as a lifelong athlete, I know that I succumb to self-destructive behaviors myself sometimes: sit too long, for instance, when absorbed in the task at hand. Place my shoulders or back in “stress positions,” ignoring the pain while pursuring other pleasures, such as golf. Drink “grande Chai soy latte,” even though I know it will result in “sleep adjustment” that night as I needlessly fret about deadlines and commitments.

Most of us have the privilege of never being physically tortured by others.

Let’s not do it to ourselves.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation
MNelson@aahperd.org

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