Tristra Newyear Yeager
Bodyfulness: Changing the way we hear fitness (and love our bodies)
Updated: May 14, 2021
Music can transform our health. Music tech will help us do it.
In the West, we have a specific notion of mind/body dichotomy. To summarize a couple millennia in a puff of snark, the mind is the good thing that does benevolent stuff; the body fucks it all up. Not all cultures have this particular flavor of the metaphysical divide, and lots of other ideas have seeped into our culture. Yet it haunts us still, palpable in the virtuous aura around meditation apps and calming devices for example.
The mind has gotten way more music tech love because of this. Albums by high-profile artists get released exclusively in meditation apps, and stems and ideas from ambient composers, for example, get funneled into AI tools that generate endless streams of sound to focus the thoughts or relax and lose sense of the body. It’s all about stillness and quiet, from the bodily perspective. For the mind to thrive, the body needs to get out of the way.
Yet the mind does horribly when disconnected from the body. And we all get sicker mentally and physically when we pretend that the body is a meat bot that is only as good as it looks. When exercise and “fitness” become seperate things unto themselves, pursued for the sake of external appearances or social approval, they can easily become a) emotional and social labor (especially for those who must maintain “attractiveness” to maintain social value) and b) pathological (ask anyone with body dysmorphia). The influencer culture that dominates the information flow around and perceptions of “fitness” has only made this tendency worse.
There’s a magic way to mend this, to connect mind and body. Not to shut out the fretting demands of a sedentary self or to quiet the frantic urges of scattered thought, but to smash both together and annihilate the faux boundary. That magic is music.
Music turns a run uphill, a heavy barbell into a dance, something that has beauty, balance, rhythm, meaning. It can make us forget our moments of discomfort and help us dive into the wonders of limbs, breath, beats, and voices, all blending into one single second of transcendence. Music has long served this purpose, be it for travelers on foot, farmers in the field, or seekers engaging a greater force. Music creates bodyfullness, when our body is the vehicle for something beyond our mere physical selves, when we can love our embodied selves in new ways. I challenge you to find something else that has had the same effect for so many people, over so many generations and continents.
Music works this magic, and music tech has the potential to take the magic and make it easily accessible, to those who may struggle to find it. This in turn has the potential to change how people approach physical movement and activity, a change that could help millions of people with a wide range of health needs and challenges.
Here’s where you say: that’s already a thing. Music is a layer in almost every device or app designed to get people “healthy” through movement or lack thereof. Yet it’s a passive layer so far: From Peloton and its cousins to workout apps that pull in Spotify playlists, you can’t do much with that music. Even the companies updating fitness tech seem to see music as secondary, as a little frill not a fundamental feature (and licensing is tertiatiary, ehem).
If music becomes an active piece in a movement-encouraging app or product, however, things get way, way more exciting and, I’d argue, way more engaging for newcomers, non-fitness freaks, and people with specific needs. For example, a beginning runner can struggle with finding a sustainable pace that avoids injury but encourages improvement over time. People tend to run too fast, and that fucking hurts. Imagine being guided to find a pace that you can run at a certain heart rate for one minute, then having music matched to that pace. Your heart rate picks up as you struggle, and the music takes the pace down a notch. Your heart rate goes down too low, and the music picks up the tempo. Music is the foundation here, not the audio skin on an otherwise same old-same old stationary bike.
The technological pieces to make something like this happen are already here: the heart-rate monitors and gyroscopes, for example, to interact with generative AI and recommendation engines. Movement encouragement via music tech could be geo-triggered by mile markers on a trail or guided by the sequence of yoga poses you’ve set for your Vinayasa flow session that day. The key thing is to grasp music’s true role in this. It’s not the wallpaper here. It’s the building itself, transporting your moving physical self to another place, where your body is your friend.
Tristra Newyear Yeager is rock paper scissors' writer and strategist as well as an occasional Music Tectonics host. Get Tristra on your team, telling your company's story and building your profile: contact rps new business manager Jade Prieboy to set up a PR campaign with our music tech publicity experts. Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about Music Tectonics updates and analyses!