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leslie's guiding traditions

From Guiding's earliest days, one of the focuses was on health. In an era where there was no national health service, such that calling the doctor was only an option if you could afford the fee. As well as doctors having to be paid, hospitals relied on fundraising for charity beds. As a result, there was a real value in looking after health, to try and limit the amount of care needed from doctors.  

One of the routes to this was to encourage Scouts, and Guides, to develop good health habits. Baden-Powell had been aware of the number of Boer war recruits who were turned away on medical grounds, and was concerned for Scouting, and then Guiding, to ensure that the next generation would be better placed. So in "Scouting for Boys" he published a series of exercises for Scouts to do, intended to exercise different areas of the body. He advocated nose breathing, avoiding eyestrain, toothcare, daily washing of the body, weekly bath, and regular changing of clothes. Smoking and drinking were dismissed as a waste of money as well as damaging to health, whereas early rising and smiling cheerfulness were encouraged. Viewed from a distance of over 100 years, modern doctors would advocate much the same.

The first Guide handbook also considered health in just the same ways. It also included a series of exercises. The first was described as 'for the upper body'.

"From upright position bend to the front, arms stretched downwards, with backs of hands together in front of the knees. Breathe out.

Raise the hands gradually over the head and lean back as far as possible, drawing a deep breath through the nose as you do so - that is, drinking God's air into your lungs and blood. Lower the arms gradually to the sides, breathing out the word 'thanks' (to God) through the mouth.

Lastly, bend forward again, breathing out the very last bit of breath in you, and saying the number of times you have done it, in order to keep count.

Repeat this exercise twelve times.

Whilst carrying it out, remember that the object of the exercise is to develop your shoulders, chest, heart, and breathing apparatus inside you.

'For the Liver'

"With the feet apart, and standing upright, send out both arms, fingers extended, straight to the front, then slowly swing round to the right from the hips without moving the feet, and point the right arm as far round behind you as you can, keeping both arms level with the shoulders. Then, after a pause, swing slowly round as far as you can to the left. Repeat this a dozen times.

This exercise is to move the inside organs, such as the liver and intestines, and help their work, as well as to strengthen the outside muscles round the ribs and stomach.

While carrying out this exercise, the breathing should be carefully regulated. Breathe in through the nose (not through the mouth) while pointing to the right rear; breathe out through the mouth as you come round and point to the left rear, and at the same time count aloud the number of the swing - or, what is better, thinking of it as part of your morning prayer to God, say aloud 'Bless Tim', 'Bless Father', and any of your family or friends in turn.

When you have done this four times to the right, change to the other side; breathe in when pointing to the left rear, and breathe out to the right."

'For the Back'

Lie down flat on the floor at full length, stretch out the arms, and rest them on the front of the thighs and not touching the floor. Without lifting the feet from the floor, or helping yourself with your arms at all, raise the body very slowly into a sitting position. Keep the knees stiff, bend forward slowly, and touch the toes. Repeat seven times.

Beginners may have to put a coat or some slight weight on their feet at first, but with practice will soon be able to do without it."

"For the Stomach - 'Cone Exercise'":

"Stand with the hands raised as high as possible over the head, and link fingers, lean backwards, then sway the arms very slowly around in the direction of a cone, so that the hands make a wide circle above and around the body, the body turning from the hips, and leaning over to one side, then to the front, then to the other side, and then back. This is to exercise the muscles of the waist and stomach, and should be repeated, say, six times to either hand. With the eyes you should be trying to see all that goes on behind you during the movement."

Note - the arrow means when to draw in breath; the arrow with the circle on the end means when to breathe out.

"A meaning attached to this exercise, which you should think of when carrying it out, is this: The clasping hands means that you are knit together with friends - that is, other Guides - all round you as you sway round to the right, left, before, and behind you; in every direction you are bound to friends. Love and friendship are the gifts of God, so when you are making the upward move you look to heaven and drink in the air and the good feeling, which you then breathe out to your comrades all round.

"For the lower part of the body"

"Like every one of the exercises, this is, at the same time, a breathing exercise by which the lungs and heart are developed, and the blood made strong and healthy. You simply stand up and reach as high as you can skywards, and then bend forward and downwards till your fingers touch your toes without bending your knees. You then stand with the feet slightly apart, touch your head with both hands, and look up into the sky, leaning back as far as you can."

"If you mingle prayer with your exercises, as I described to you before, you can, while looking up in this way, say to God, 'I am yours from top to toe", and breathe in God's air (through your nose, not through the mouth)."

"For the Legs"

Then reach both hands upwards as far as possible, breathe out the number of the turn that you are doing; then bend slowly forward and downward, knees stiff, till you touch your toes with your finger-tips.  

Then, keeping arms and knees still stiff, gradually raise the body to the first position again, and repeat the exercise a dozen times.

Some girls find a difficulty in touching their toes, but they should go on trying by touching their shins first; in a few days they will succeed in getting down to the toes.

In the picture the arrow means drawing in the breath through the nose.

"For the Heart"

"Practise wrist pushing; alone, or two together.

Lie face downwards across your bed with your shoulders over the side of the bed (or lie on the floor). Spread your arms and legs out as in swimming, several times, then turn on your back, and do seven strokes in that position, then on your front again, and repeat.

By the 1918 handbook, Brownies were required to do the first two exercises for their Golden Bar challenge, and all five for their Golden Hand. It was also here that the rhyme appeared, headed "Daily Health Rules" -

"Only feed on wholesome fare;

Through your nostrils breathe fresh air;

Clean yourself inside and out;

Twist and bend and run about."

Thus, there was encouragement of healthy meals not sweets or snacks. Regular bathroom visits, with no constipation or other woes. Fresh air from outdoors, or if need be from an open window rather than stale indoor air, and exercising to keep all the joints in good use.

Guides were encouraged regularly to T.I.B and B.Y.B.M. T.I.B being 'tuck in back' and B.Y.B.M. being 'brace your back muscles' - part of the focus on good posture.