It’s Alive!

It’s Alive!

“I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.”
-Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus

The Universal Monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are Halloween Legends. They have sparked countless sequels and spin-offs. They even inspired one of the few Halloween songs, “The Monster Mash.” It was a graveyard smash. Out of all of them, Frankenstein is arguably the most beloved, complex, sympathetic, and frightening character. Although some modern incarnations of the Nameless Creature are mostly grunting and stomping, the original version was intellectual, poetic, and brutal. An incredible fact is that the author, Mary Shelley, was twenty years old when the novel published in 1818. Running less than 300 pages, Shelly wove together a story of science colliding with God and its terrifying results–guilt, remorse, revenge, and violence. It’s a tale of the limits of science, man’s repercussions for his actions, and fear of the unknown. It is also a parallel story of searching. The creature searches to discover its soul, one it never had upon its creation. Victor Frankenstein searches to recover his soul, one that he lost in his obsession. The story reveals a clue about our own exploration of recovery.

We will leave the deeply philosophical book behind, and focus on the 1931 masterpiece, “Frankenstein.” The movie stands in contrast to its source material but presents a Creature that is embedded in our memory. The flat-top head, oversized boots, and gruesome electrodes protruding from its neck are not featured in the novel but are what we now associate with the Monster. It’s the film that made Boris Karloff famous. Younger people might not recognize the name, but they will recognize the voice. Karloff lent his voice as the narrator and the main character in the famous, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” That’s Karloff. Thirty years before Whoville, Karloff was the Creature.

The film introduces us to Henry Frankenstein, a notable departure from the book, where he is known as Victor Frankenstein. He is accompanied by Fritz, the loyal and deformed assistant. He has no such assistant in the novel. The hunchback helper is a recurring motif in classic horror movies, also going by Igor. Dr. Frankenstein wants to recreate a human life by piecing together various body parts from the recently deceased. He assembles an ominous laboratory for this exact reason. Henry and Fritz scour the cemetery, stealing bodies to add to their “inventory.” All they needed was a brain. Henry commands Fritz to sneak into a medical school to steal a specimen. At the school, we meet Dr. Waldman, Henry’s old medical professor. He lectures to his class on the differences between the two brains on his desk: “normal” and “abnormal.” After class is dismissed, Fritz breaks into the room. When he turns to exit the classroom with the “normal” brain, he drops it, shattering the jar and ruining the organ. The faithful servant doesn’t want to disappoint his master, and fearing his disapproval and wrath, grabs the “abnormal” and leaves with it–foreshadowing future events.

His beloved fiancee Elizabeth worries about the Doctor’s strange behavior, but he refuses to see her–his work must not be interrupted. Dr. Waldman, Elizabeth, and another friend enter the laboratory to save their friend from doing the unthinkable. It’s too late. The inanimate and unnatural body lays on a table, cloaked in cloth. Lightning and thunder explode overhead. The three spectators look on with grim anticipation as the Doctor raises the table towards the sky. The laboratory buzzes with electricity and doom. The body is exposed to a blitzkrieg of fury from the clouds above, then slowly lowered back down. The right hand, as it dangles from the table, begins to move.

“Look. It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive. It’s alive, it’s moving. It’s alive! Ho ho, it’s alive! IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!! IT’S ALIVE!!! In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!”

After the creature’s reanimation, things go array. The monster is confused, sprung into the world as an amalgam of parts, with no origin or context of its existence. It is fearful and disoriented. Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz mistake the monster’s bewilderment for aggression and have it locked up. The creature manages to escape captivity, killing Waldman in the process. The monster wanders into the town, where his most charming and tragic interaction takes place. The monster meets Maria, a young girl from town who is not afraid and treats it with compassion. She gives him flowers and they sit by the lake. She proceeds to fling flower petals into the lake to watch them float, bringing a smile to the monster’s face. The creature slings the flowers she gave him in as well, bringing him his first experience of happiness since entering the world. When the monster runs out of flowers, he becomes frustrated. The delight he felt from throwing beautiful things into the lake came to an end. What can only be described as disastrous ignorance, the monster reaches for Maria–a beautiful child–and throws her into the lake, drowning her. The monster’s fate was sealed.

Enraged at the murder of a small child, the Townspeople quickly turn into a bloodthirsty mob. Torches light and the Townspeople track the bewildered monster, carrying his creator in tow, into an old mill. The creature furiously launches Dr. Frankenstein towards the Earth, but fortune smiles upon him as he survives the fall. With the monster trapped inside the mill, the mob sets it ablaze. The inferno engulfs the structure and everything inside. The monster, that unceremoniously entered the world and shunned by those who were to nurture it, perishes inside the fire. The sounds of his panicked and desperate moans are heartwrenching. The film ends with Frankenstein resting in bed and his father, Baron Frankenstein, toasting to the news that he will have a grandson.

It’s no accident Frankenstein is one of the most revered stories of all time. Despite the creative differences between the book and film, the love for the story and the creature remains. Frankenstein and his monster are profoundly complex and layered characters, making the connection to fitness and health, a challenging one. I’d like to discuss the creature prior to its reanimation. What was it? It was a random combination of parts, cobbled together with an abnormal brain. In the film, the urgency surrounded getting the correct brain and creating life. The flesh was subservient to the mind.

When we think about exercise, we must also consider recovery. In recovery, the same principle holds true–the flesh is subservient to the mind.

You might ask, “why are you talking about recovery?” First, it doesn’t get discussed enough. Secondly, most of us, if not all, want a positive change from our training and diet. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it. For training to be of any benefit, an “overload” must be experienced. I hesitate to use the word “shock,” an overused fitness term, but it does coincide well with the lightning bolts that awakened Frankenstein’s monster. This overload or “shock” must be slightly beyond your body’s capabilities in order for it to improve. The body’s ability to recuperate to the overload determines the overall likelihood of progress. Research abounds with evidence that higher frequency training improves one’s results. If time was no issue–like work or other responsibilities–your ability to train frequently, depends on your recovery. The formula is simple: train, recover and improve.

Most people that enlist recovery techniques, utilize a “Bottom-Up Recovery.” Similar to Dr. Frankenstein, they cobble together various pieces to address the body. Some of these techniques include cryotherapy, IV therapy, and active release techniques. These systems of recovery are very effective but are stifled by the bottom-up approach.

Cryotherapy. You’re undoubtedly familiar with ice baths. Nordic cultures have used cold-water immersion as a rite of passage and athletes use it to hasten recovery. Cryotherapy is a souped-up version of an ice bath. It reduces inflammation as well as accelerating tissue recovery. There are also novel findings that it increases the metabolic rate at the onset of immersion and for several minutes afterward. Other effects are improved mood, decreased arthritic pain, and a stronger immune system. It has also been shown to be a valid therapy for osteoporosis. Cryotherapy is certainly not a fad and has a place in anyone’s recovery toolkit.

IV Therapy. Intravenous fluid drips deliver essential vitamins, electrolytes, and antioxidants. What was solely a method to nourish people in hospitals, IV’s have become vogue for athletes, students, and business people. Why IV? Oral or topical delivery have reduced absorption, whereas the body absorbs 100% of an IV. Certain nutrients, like vitamin C or magnesium, when dosed to their optimal levels, can trigger gastric discomfort–diarrhea–when taken orally. Since IV’s bypass the digestive system, this problem is avoided. The efficacy of the IV bag comes down to what is inside the bag and why. Therefore, I don’t recommend someone to get hooked up to a Betty Crocker, garden-variety IV bag without customization based on your physiological needs and goals. While this can be an issue for places that provide “drive-thru bags,” there are facilities that take great care and caution when delivering these valuable treatments.

Active Release Techniques. When Michael Leahy began performing active release techniques–ART–he changed the industry. It is a patented method used worldwide to treat a multitude of dysfunctions from carpal tunnel, nerve entrapments, reduced flexibility, strains, as well as improvements in performance. Active Release is the official Soft Tissue Massage partner for the Ironman Triathlon. The organization, world-renown for excellence in athletic ability, considers ART “The most effective treatment protocol for soft tissue injury.” Active Release works to restore the natural function and resiliency the soft tissues–muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. Considering all of your exercises, from spinning to weights, involve these tissues, ART is crucial to progress. There are “MacGyver” ways of self-administering Active Release, but its best–and safest–way, is with a qualified professional.

The problem these recovery tools run into is the same problem Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz had with the monster–the brain. The best illustration of this is in Mel Brooks’ 1974 side-splitter, Young Frankenstein. In a hysterical scene, Dr. Fredereick Frankenstein, played by the incomparable Gene Wilder, is dumbfounded as to why his creature is so “imperfect.” He asks his trusted assistant Igor–Eye Gore–what brain is in his creation.

DF: Now, that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?
IGOR: No.
DF: Ah. Would you mind telling me, whose brain I did put in?
IGOR: And you won’t be angry?
DF: I will not be angry!
IGOR: Abbie Someone.
DF: Abbie Someone. Abbie Who?
IGOR: Abbie Normal.
DF: Abbie. Normal.
IGOR: I’m almost sure that was the name.
DF: Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven-and-a-half foot long, 54-inch wide GORILLA?! IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME?!

Even a fully-recovered and animated body is of no use with an abnormal brain. In this context, abnormal means a lack of attention paid to mindfulness. The “top-down recovery” approach focuses on mindfulness first and foremost, then the bodily systems. Since there are many ways to categorize it, I will limit them to gratitude and meditation–or prayer. Each one has a myriad of benefits that go beyond mere “recovery.” A researcher for John’s Hopkins said of mindfulness, “if we could put mindfulness into a pill, it would be the best-selling supplement in the world.” It’s that good. The practice of meditation, worshipful prayer, and gratitude reduce aches and pains, toxic emotions and thoughts, improves sleep, self-esteem, and courage. What the “train, recover, improve” formula doesn’t take into account, are the things that prevent the first two from occurring.

Imagine what sort of training, if any, takes place with low self-worth, self-defeating thoughts, and fear? How does your diet advance when the will is weak, and discipline lacks? How can you objectively judge progress when you always feel less-than? Recent data shows more people suffer from a lack of purpose, meaning, and an opaque sense of responsibility. It is a sentiment shared throughout time among statesmen, philosophers, and people of God: though the body may weaken, the mind and spirit remain strong. Weekly cryo sessions, ART treatments, and IVs reconstitute the flesh, but without a daily dose of gratitude, meditation, or prayer, we are merely lost creations, wandering, in fear of our own shadow, destined to be driven from joy.