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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with Eric)

fivequestionsonExercise

with Eric Hall

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.

I started exercising when I was a sophomore in high school.  I think I mainly started to become more attractive to women and to feel better about my physical appearance.  My exercise habits have changed over time depending on how busy I have been.  In 2007 I exercised for around 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.  In 2009 I ran 7 days a week.  I still exercise but it usually last around 1 hour each time and it happens around 3 times a week.

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

It has helped my self-confidence when it comes to my looks.  I have had compliments about my muscles.  That always makes me feel good.  Right now I am still in pretty good shape but I am very aware of unwanted fat on my body.  At times that fat makes me feel less secure about my appearance (I know this is unhealthy).

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

It has given me conversations with others that exercise.  I know to some girls it has made me more attractive.  At least from their comments that is what it sounded like.  It has also taken me away from spending more time with people (I will talk about this more in questions 4).

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

At times my exercising habits have become an obsession.  I refused to spend time with others because I HAD to get my exercise routine done.  I, one time, made my family wait an hour after they had driven 6 hours to come see me because I HAD to exercise.  This was extremely unloving and very selfish.  This was a sin, so obsession with exercise negativity affected my spiritual life.  But…I do believe that as a follower of Christ I am to be a holistic person.  This means I should try and be as healthy as I can be spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I do believe it honors the gift that God gave us, our bodies, when we exercise.  But as I mentioned, exercise can sometimes become an obsession, which is unhealthy and sinful.

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Exercise, but within reason.  Don’t let it become an obsession.  I do believe that it can be a way to honor God, which is great.  I also do not believe that it is wrong to also do it to make yourself more attractive to yourself and others.
 
Ocean Me 

What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with Megan)

fivequestionsonExercise

with Megan Gahan

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise.  If it has changed over time, describe the change.

I started out working in gyms, where I trained women of all ages and abilities. Everything was very focused on pounds lost and inches trimmed. My clients would stare at themselves in the mirror, pinching ‘fat’(actually skin) and moaning about their need to lose 20 or more pounds. I remember being stunned at how disconnected they were with their bodies. Losing 20 pounds would have put many of them in the underweight range. Not surprisingly, I critiqued myself harshly during those years. Clients often choose their personal trainer based primarily on appearance, not qualifications (kind of like how you wouldn’t choose a hairdresser whose hair you didn’t like). I would emotionally tear myself apart when the buffest and fittest trainer got chosen over me again. It made me feel very inadequate.  My relationship with exercise was one of necessity.
 
But I wanted so much more. I wanted to help women see themselves and dig into their emotional issues. I wanted to talk to them about self-worth and body image and Jesus’ view of His precious daughters– not just perfect push-up technique (which, incidentally, is also very important).
 
Eventually God led me to a position with Mercy Ministries, a residential faith-based program for young women wanting to overcome life-controlling issues: eating disorders, self-harm, addiction, and abuse. I ran the fitness department and delighted in putting together a well-rounded fitness curriculum. One that incorporated the physical, emotional, and spiritual elements of exercise.
 
My relationship with exercise changed as I worked with the young women in the program. I began to show myself more grace. I started giving thanks to God before my workouts. I was grateful for my body’s abilities and capacity. I also asked God to keep my mind free from comparisons and harsh self-criticism. I wanted my workout to be an offering to Him. That’s what it’s meant to be.
 

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

Working with women who struggled deeply with their body image forced me to be very conscientious of my own. I became aware of how often I allowed negative self-talk to narrate my day-to-day life. I began calling myself out on it, because I needed to walk the talk. In modeling a healthy example for the girls, I also stopped working out for the wrong reasons. If I was having a bad day, or I felt fat, or I felt I needed to work out because I had just inhaled a Costco sized bag in Mini Eggs, I didn’t compulsively reach for my cross trainers. I went to God first. He became my first line of defense, my healthy coping mechanism. I am the first to admit that fitness is a great stress release. But it shouldn’t be your only one. It definitely isn’t the most essential one.
 
My relationship with my body took another turn when I wrote A Love Letter to My Body, where I confronted all the dark, ugly words I had spoken over myself throughout the years. It was extremely difficult, but deep wounds began to heal as my fingers flew over the keyboard. I knew I was much closer to seeing myself as my Creator saw me. 
 

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

I will not tolerate ‘fat talk’ in any conversation – not from myself or my friends. I address it right away because I know how damaging it is. 
 

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

I used to speak such hate over my body that God couldn’t get a word in edgewise. When I finally allowed His still voice to speak love and beauty over me, it changed my spiritual life drastically. I wasn’t calling God a liar anymore. I wasn’t calling his workmanship junk. It’s hard to have a relationship with the One who created you, a relationship built on trust and gratitude, when you’re railing against Him for making your thighs too big.
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Don’t hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist. If you feel like you have to work out, or you feel guilty when you don’t exercise, that’s a flashing neon sign that you’re headed down a dangerous path. It’s very easy to slip into obsession with fitness and pass it off as ‘getting healthy’ in this day and age. They are not the same thing.
 
For those wanting to begin creating a better relationship with their body, I would highly recommend writing a letter to yours. It is the most transformative exercise I have ever done. After I wrote mine, hundreds of women joined me.  To read through some of their journeys, go to www.shelovesmagazine.com and click ‘A Love Letter to My Body’ at the top right hand side of the page.
 
meganphoto
 

What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

 

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with Anonymous Guy)

fivequestionsonExercise

with Anonymous Guy

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise.  If it has changed over time, describe the change.

Consistency is my challenge. Exercise perpetuates more exercise for me and inactivity perpetuates more inactivity. Staying somewhere in a healthy middle ground by exercising a few times a week is the toughest. I’ve gone weeks where I exercise 12-14 times for the week and then I’ve gone through a couple weeks where its hard to do anything.
 

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

Body image is largely a control issue for me. It’s been something I could control and when things have been beyond control in life, my mind has thought “well at least I can control how the body looks” and that anxiety is projected outward to the flesh. Being conscious of this idea has helped to be healthier and more moderate, though past emotional damage will always pervade my mindset in some way.
 

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

 If I am not confident in my body, I am not confident. My mind goes into ultra-introvert mode and I feel a sense of embarrassment being around others. Shame is a nasty attachment that maladaptive mental habits can create and perpetuate. What I act like on the outside is always a picture of how I’m processing internally.
 

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

When shame abounds, grace is the last thing I want to accept because something inside me tells me I’m not good enough – that I need to earn it. Of course, with my theological understanding of God, I know better… but the emotional and the rational/intellectual absolutely wage war between each other sometimes and that can adversely affect my overall being and spiritual life. 
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Learn to love yourself. Don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard, but, instead, a standard that is one of integrity, health, and happiness – and accepting of the grace offered to us. Body image is never ever a primary issue… but it’s symptomatic of other things happening. If you ever feel not-so-confident physically, look beyond that at your mental and emotional workings. And remember that Jesus loves models as much as the chubbiest of chubby people. Grace is as far away as we allow it to be.
 

What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

 

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with George)

fivequestionsonExercise

with George Ratchford

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.

I have never been one to exercise for the sake of exercise. I need a goal or a purpose. In the past I have stayed in shape so that I can play sports and be strong for surfing. It’s also for the purpose of feeling better, sleeping better, and self-confidence. Recently, I trained for my first ever half-marathon. The great purpose was to raise money for clean water wells in Africa through Team World Vision. I trained with a team of 30 people from two churches. It was communal, it had a greater purpose and allowed me to push myself to new limits.

2) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

It makes a lot of difference. I feel sharper mentally and spiritually. I feel like I look better and have a better “bounce” to my step. It just feels good.

3) How has that relationship/experience affected the way you relate to others?

Since it is mostly about sports and surfing it has all been connected to the relational side of things. The recent Team World Vision experience was phenomenal as it connected the team on a deeply spiritual level.

4) How has that relationship/experience affected your spiritual life?

Brings me discipline. Gets me outside. Allows me to connect with others. These are not always the most powerfully spiritual moments, yet they have a way of drawing my attention to God more often. So I would say that it affects it in a subtle yet profound way. It is a discipline that keeps me filled with joy and Christ said he came to bring us a fullness to life (John 10:10).

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Allow exercise to fit into the Great Commandment. Make sure the discipline is a part of loving God with your entire self. Also, to use it as a way of self care and loving one’s self more deeply (confidence). Lastly, make sure exercise is communal in some aspects so it allows you to connect with your neighbor.
 
IMG_2982
 

What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

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.

My Body Is Rebelling

I ignore my body.

This can be attributed in part to my nature as an introvert.  I spend a lot of my time alone, thinking and reading, journaling and praying.  I live in my head. I process internally.

In my 28 years, I have at various times deprived my body of food, sleep, human touch, rest, and exercise. I have pressed my body into service to accommodate my intellectual pursuits.  While I lived in my head, my body suffered and struggled and learned to carry on.

Now, my body is rebelling.

I’ve begun to feel like an old person with a worn-out, falling-apart body that won’t listen to me at all when I tell it to stop being silly and behave like it should.  After years of being ignored, my body has gotten fed up.  As I continued to ignore it, my body increased its volume until its (her?) cries have become deafening.

Here’s what my body is yelling:

  • I’m tired from the many, many years you would not let me sleep until I felt rested!
  • My shoulder hurts from that car accident we had in 8th grade that you never finished doing the physical therapy exercises for!
  • My back hurts from the scoliosis you never stopped to notice until it got so bad we ended up with a slipped disc and sciatica!
  • I’m tired from the many, many years you would not let me sleep until I felt rested!
  • Various portions of my digestive system hurt from all the times you forget to eat or don’t put the energy into preparing a properly balanced meal!
  • My wrists hurt from that pinched nerve we get in the neck every time you try to carry emotional burdens that aren’t yours to bear!
  • My jaw hurts from all that teeth-grinding you do at night when you stay up worrying and over-analyzing instead of letting me rest!
  • My eyes hurt in bright light from all the times you were too busy to stop and buy sunglasses to provide adequate protection!
  • I’m tired from the many, many years you would not let me sleep until I felt rested!

My body is angry at me, and it is rebelling.  It won’t let me get out of bed and do the things I want to do anymore.  My body is finally making itself heard, and it’s yelling so loudly that I can’t help but be the one to submit this time.

Over the last few months, I have begun to learn to listen to my body.  I sleep when I am tired.  I eat when I am hungry, and when I can’t tell if I’m hungry or not, I try to eat anyway.  I wear sunglasses pretty much all the time, even when I drive at night.  I wear a mouth guard to keep myself from grinding my teeth even though it makes me look ridiculous and hard to understand when I talk.  I stay in bed and rest instead of “being productive.” I do my prescribed stretches and ball exercises to help loosen up my back. I lie down or stand instead of sitting to ease the pressure on my sciatic nerve.

These may seem like little things, small changes that don’t matter much.  But the change isn’t small at all.  It’s huge. I have lived so much of my life in opposition to my body, or at least out of touch with it.  I have lived like a docetist or gnostic–more concerned with the life of the mind than the life of the body.  I have lived my life disconnected from myself, and that is not what Jesus had in mind when he came into the world to complete our joy and bring us the fullness of life.  I have talked about the incarnation of Jesus, but I haven’t lived like I value my body as much as I value my mind.

So I’m making a change.  I still have a long way to go, but slowly I am learning to pay attention to my body and adjust my lifestyle to fit its needs.

To give me a place to start, I’ve been reading Prayer and Our Bodies by Flora Slosson Wuellner.  This week, I’ll give you a little taste of what she has to say about the connection between our spiritual selves and our physical selves.

For today, I’ll leave you with some of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  (2Cor 5:4)

What has your body been telling you lately? Share your answer in a comment below to join the conversation.

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