Running, yoga, climbing--pick your anti-poison--is a course correction. Our bodies are built to hunt, gather, defend, etc. much more than they are built to sit in chairs, stare at screens, sit in cars, slouch on couches, and all the other things we do for hours at a time in this modern life.
I returned with some trepidation to Bikram yoga after a month-long absence. Bikram (aka "hot yoga") is one of those things, like running, looking at spreadsheets and getting up early, that works best when you build up some momentum. Do it intermittently and it kills you every time. And yes, my return to Bikram was a killer. Muscles I had built up over six months of regular(ish) practice had atrophied. My ability to handle a 90+ degree room for 90 minutes was at "barely." I was still good at the poses I was usually good at, but I could barely fake it on my bad ones (damn you triangle).
And it got me thinking: if I am mostly back to where I started from after a month, what does that say about my body, and, frankly, the whole concept of exercising? Is the pain worth the gain if the gain doesn't last?
Running, yoga, climbing--pick your anti-poison--is a course correction. Our bodies are built to hunt, gather, defend, etc. much more than they are built to sit in chairs, stare at screens, sit in cars, slouch on couches, and all the other things we do for hours at a time in this modern life. Exercise restores some level of normalcy. This round of Bikram left me achy and ass-kicked, but in some ways more normal. All the sitting and screen-staring I do leaves my mind (and eyes) frazzled. I'm less coherent, you're less coherent to me, and I could probably be diagnosed with ADD. After Bikram: much better. I can read, write and talk like I feel like I'm supposed to be able to.
So exercise undoes some of the damage that all my car and computer time inflicts, but what about the question in the title? What is one's "natural" body size and shape? It's clear enough, that lighter people are more likely to live longer, healthier lives (James Gandolfini, RIP). The research backs that up, on average, but it also seems clear that some people are naturally hefty. Are those people better off fighting their bodies into something healthier? Is that fight itself unhealthy?
I don't have the answers, just a return to common sense. Exercise, fruits and vegetables and unprocessed foods are good. Fresh air and deep breaths are good. De-stressing is good. Loving your body because, if nothing else, it houses your mind is good. Most of us are stuck in some kind of unhealthy pattern (you're sitting right now, aren't you?). Exercise is unnatural, but only in the sense that living in houses and driving cars is unnatural. Our bodies grow into all sorts of different shapes and sizes on their own. Eat well, take some walks, spend time with your friends and family, and don't worry too much about the rest, if it doesn't come "naturally." Listen to your body, and you'll know if you feel good or not.