meet a fitlosopher: a fitness and philosophy interview with Sophie Thomas

I’ve been following Sophie’s work for a few months now over at @sofitee on Instagram, and I’ve been fascinated by the way she uses deep-dives into psychology, fitness, and philosophy to promote personal growth. She’s a unique voice in the online fitness community. Check out some of the stuff she’s posted on her feed:

Fitness and philosophy: the Aristotelian
Fitness and philosophy: the Socratist

Given her depth, I was thrilled that we got to sit down (virtually) and ask her some of my questions.

In a few sentences, describe your mission. Why combine fitness and philosophy? 

A few sentences, eh? Probably the hardest thing you could’ve asked me! I ramble on for far too long. I’ll certainly give it my best shot.

There is both an empirical and holistic link with body and mind. Improving our general standards of living helps us to feel good about ourselves in such a way that we feel encouraged to give back to others and society as a whole. I feel like philosophy bridges this gap by simultaneously getting us to look at ourselves and, by extension, seeing how we can fulfil our role in society and looking out for others.

I think by considering the realm beyond the purely physical or aesthetic, we can not only improve mental health, but hopefully get the industry to be a little less narcissistic and a bit more introspective. 

Fitness and philosophy: Sophie provides questions to help you move through the "stuck" feeling.

The fitness world often feels detached from social, political, or philosophical issues. Why do you believe this is an illusion? Do you believe that fitness can offer us a place within which to retreat from the issues of everyday life? 

This is such a great question. There is certainly a detachment, almost disdain, towards social issues from within the fitness industry. You only have to look at the lack of ethics regarding racial and gender representation, objectification, and appropriation that runs rampant amongst even the more well-known circles.

I have undoubtedly been guilty of fuelling this issue, too. I think resolving this issue within the industry is multi-factorial, to be honest, and requires psychological and practical work from each and every one of us – myself included – to see how we contribute to these behaviours and mindsets.

Nonetheless, I do believe that leading a fit lifestyle not only offers reprieve and rest for those who have to endure these aggressions and oppression on a regular basis, but by training and eating well, there’s a greater chance of developing emotional resilience overall for the other circumstances life may throw at us. 

How can we use fitness to bridge the gap between personal mental health discussions and broader, more abstract academic and social issues? 

Another awesome question! [Thanks, Sophie!] I think the more that people learn how much work and writing has been published regarding the brain, the mind, and the human condition, the more they’ll see the connection between physical movement and neurobiological wellbeing.

Then, once that connection has been made, by using fitness as an example, we can show others how the psychological and sociological both contribute massively to how we feel and behave. For instance, yes there are biological impetus which drives a desire to eat certain foods, for instance, but social settings and past experiences with food also help create that particular schema for that individual.

It gets easier, then, to expand this kind of thinking into wider societal issues, and also seeing the importance of overtly verbose philosophical writings, as they feed into how we act and how we view ourselves. I like how it’s all so interwoven. 

Favourite philosopher (today, anyway)? 

Probably David Chalmers right now. His stuff on consciousness is mind- blowing. 

Favourite sport/fitness activity? 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, hands down. 

I love your “What Kind of Person Do I Want to Be Today?” post. How do you think certain philosophical veins and schools of thought can help us set measurable, specific goals in order to enhance growth? Do you think philosophical thought or discussion can ever act as an impediment to more immediate action? 

I absolutely think that a massive problem in philosophy (asides its staggering, historical issue with representation and inclusivity) is that some writers, books and essays can be nauseatingly navel-gazing in nature and not at all practical!

That’s why I’ll always recommend Stoicism as a ‘gateway drug’, so to speak, for people who are interested in reading philosophy and applying it to their lives. The wisdom is so relevant and a joy to read and connect oneself with, it becomes less of a chore to implement. Aurelius and Epictetus are great examples of thinkers who allow us to explore our own goals and habits for something more tangible, something with more utility. 

You’ve spoken a fair amount about triggers, trauma, and the limits of meditation. Do you think this conversation can help us better understand the debate around (and sometimes the “Boomer scorn” for) safe spaces? 

Absolutely. Neuroscience and psychology general is, frankly, a much younger science compared to other physiological fields of study. It’s no surprise that all this research on trauma and regulation theories are relatively new in the grand scheme of science’s timeline, which means people are more likely to be sceptical of them and consider them for “softies.”

Rest assured, this is absolutely not the case.

There is much empiricism around this subject. The issue now is conducting more research and framing it into conversation to get older generations – or those who simply misunderstand mental health in general – to understand that the brain and nervous system react in such a way that an individual feels totally rubbish, to put it mildly.

I can sense a change, for sure, but there’ll always be individuals who won’t accept this. Sadly, this is beyond our remit. 

How can we foster deep acceptance (rather than false positivity or superficial sympathy) for both ourselves and others? 

This is a wonderful question. I think acknowledging all of our humanness, our flaws, our emotions, knowing that it paints a much deeper and wonderful picture than something “perfect” – an inane goal.

I tell people, your favourite book characters, mystical heroes, soft-hearted mercenaries, teenage magic-users or badass super spies all contain darkness and light within them. We are compelled not by the image they cultivate, but the choices that they make despite their flaws. This is what makes for a powerful, inspiring human being. 

What are some of your upcoming projects? Where can people find you? 

Whilst studying for my MSc, I’m currently writing a book of sorts, based on my Fitlosophy series, delving deeper into numerous philosophers and their ideas and how it relates to people’s quirky and wonderful approaches to fitness, in the hopes they’ll understand themselves a little bit better and also not think philosophy is old and boring!

I will also be on Psychelite’s podcast very soon to discuss all things philosophy, mental health, and BJJ. Feel free to find me on instagram, @sofitee, and my website thecosmicmovement.com

Hello, Emily again. I just wanted to say that I recommend Sophie’s coaching to anyone who has internet and wants to fuel personal growth, dive into fitness and philosophy, and build a great practical understanding of biomechanics.

The other week, offered free one-time sessions to those who wanted more advice in structuring their own independent training. I jumped on that and her advice proved timely, thoughtful, and helpful.

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