The Spiritual Practice of Exercise…the long way around

When Borders was closing and offering 75%-off-all-products-and-fixtures-everything-must-go, my husband and I happened to walk by a branch in the Arcadia Mall on date night after we had treated ourselves to a luxurious meal at Cheesecake Factory.  We were splurging because Matt had just received a promotion at work, and we were preparing to move  to a place with NO Cheesecake Factory (gasp! where will we eat?).

We wandered around the store — a mess of piles and clearance bins and empty, dusty fixtures — and ended up in the health section.  Although I have never been one for arbitrary exercise routines and workouts (I hate being told what to do, how to do it, and for how long.), I took a Pilates class in college that I really enjoyed. Out of curiosity, I picked up a Pilates video, and 10 minutes later I was walking out with five different DVDs and a complementary resistance band.  After all, they were 75% off.

And they sat on a shelf gathering dust, along with my Yoga mat (Do they actually MAKE Pilates mats? I’ve never seen one for sale, but Yoga mats are everywhere.) and Pilates circle — leftovers from my college days when I thought I might actually have the discipline to exercise on my own.

Until this weekend.

You may have noticed I haven’t been around the blog much lately. If I were a better blogger, I would have had extra posts already written and saved for a rainy day, but I am not a better blogger. I am just me.  So when I reinjured my neck and shoulder (a gift from an old car accident that just keeps on giving) and couldn’t move an inch for five days without screaming and sobbing, blogging was the last thing on my mind.

The first thing on my mind was how I couldn’t believe it had only been four months since the last time I reinjured myself.  The rest of the time I spent alternating between despair that this will be my life forever (What happens when we have kids one day and I CAN’T stay in bed for five days?) and hope that there is something I can possibly do to spare my body further reinjury (Maybe there’s a magic surgery all the physical therapists and chiropractors I’ve seen have forgotten to mention).  And I slept a lot.

And I thought about the cathartic post I would write for you lovely readers when I could bear to type again.

I was all set to write one of my lament posts so I could vent about how sucky it is to have a recurring injury and chronic pain.  I was going to list all the ways my body has failed me and why I think I deserve better.  I was going to complain about how limited I feel (I don’t even know HOW I reinjured myself this time around.), how depressing it is to feel 80 when I’m still in my twenties (technically, anyway), and how negatively the pain affects my spiritual life and walk with God (there’s a lot of anger, for one, and a sense of injustice).

I’m sure that post will get written one day, probably sooner than I’d like.  It is recurring and chronic after all.  But today is not the day for complaining and venting.  Today is the day for solutions, for looking forward and taking charge of what I can do to aid my recovery.  Today is the day I stop blaming my body for failing me and accept responsibility for the state I’m in.  Today is the day I move on with my life.

At least, in theory.

Once I could bear computer work again, I did some internet research on my condition and how to treat (and hopefully cure) it.  After a few hours, I came to the conclusion that the trained professionals in my life were not, after all, lying to me or hiding from me the magic cure I was hoping for.  I was doing all the things the internet (and the doctors) told me to do.

All except one thing.  I didn’t have a daily exercise routine targeting and accommodating for my injury.

In truth, I have been terrified of reinjuring myself through exercise and weight training.  My rule of thumb has always been to baby the injured muscle as much as possible and hope that works.  (Evidently hoping does not have the magical properties I was counting on.)

So this weekend I opened all those Pilates DVDs that have been gathering dust for almost two years. I pulled off all the wrapping and sticky stuff (How do people ever steal these things? They’re impossible to open!) and stuck them, one after another, into the DVD slot on my laptop.  I fast forwarded through every routine on every disc and found the ones that would target my injury and best benefit my overall health without taking too much of my day or requiring me to sweat.

On Sunday morning, I woke up naturally (no alarm), made myself a cup of tea (Earl Grey, loose leaf, with a touch of sugar and a drop of almond milk), and followed along with the first routine: a five-minute segment on concentrated breathing while sitting on the edge of a chair.

And then I went about my day.

The hardest part of being all-or-nothing is taking baby steps.  I’m terrible at moving incrementally.  But what I am good at is planning ahead, and with the help of my husband (who always helps me keep the pace), I planned out my increments in advance.  I couldn’t do all the shoulder stretching (I still can’t turn my neck all the way to the left, and putting my right arm behind my back is impossible if I expect to breathe at the same time.), but once my muscle recovers enough, I will be able to add in the “Pilates for Stretching” segment I picked out.  Then once the pain subsides to its usual dull ache and tightness, I will be ready to add in the segment targeting arms and shoulders (though I’ll modify the exercises by doing the motions only without the weights).

That will make a total 25 minute exercise routine.  Can I do this every day? Yes, of course I am capableWill I? If I ever want to stop reinjuring myself at every odd moment, then yes, I will have to figure out how to motivate myself to be disciplined.

And here at the very end we get to the point of it all.  Our physical activity is limited to — and inspired by — our mental and spiritual activity.

What has been blocking my ability to get into an exercise routine? My fear that exercise will hurt, and that it will make my body worse instead of better.  It is also blocked by my distaste for being told what to do, which touches on a deeper fear of not being in control — in other words, the fear of being forced to submit to something that may cause me harm.

So, ultimately, my inability to experience healing in my body is a result of fear.  As I try the morning concentrated breathing routine (which incorporates a brief moment of visualizing energy moving throughout the body), it will be important for me to allow the Holy Spirit to enter into my experience and cast out that deeply ro0ted fear with God’s perfect love.  I have also decided to use a breath prayer spiritual exercise as I make my tea to prepare me for the breathing routine in which I will recite that verse.

In this way, I will incorporate my spiritual self (the breath prayer), my mental self (visualizing the Holy Spirit as the energy moving through my body and letting go of the fear that is holding me back), and my physical self (following the Pilates plan I have prepared).  This spiritual practice, like all spiritual practices, requires intentionality, focus, and discipline.

This connection between the tangible and the intangible is what Holistic Body Theology is all about.  Practicing the Spiritual Practice of Exercise (intentionally incorporating elements of the spiritual and the mental into the experience of the physical) is a perfect representation of holistic living into the complete and full life in Christ that we have been promised.

Go forth, my lovely readers, and do likewise.

About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on November 26, 2012, in Physicality, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. dont forget to take your before and after pics 🙂 its rewarding!

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