The Spiritual Practice of Exercise
Now that we’ve thought together about the spiritual practices of sleeping and eating, let’s look at one more: exercise.
I am not an exercise kind of person. I do not like going to the gym, walking on treadmills, lifting weights, or any other repetitive activity that takes place in a small, sweat-smelling room as a substitute for actual physical activity. Give me a bicycle, and I’ll take a ride around the neighborhood, but what exactly is the purpose of a stationary bike?
If I’m going to get any exercise, I need to work it naturally into my normal routine. Instead of finding the closest parking spot to the door, I’ll park in the back of the lot and walk a few extra steps. Instead of rolling my groceries out to my car in the cart, I’ll carry them out. Instead of taking the elevator, I’ll take the stairs–two at a time.
At least, that’s what I did until I hurt my back last year, discovered I have scoliosis, and began a regimen of medication, ice packs, and chiropractic visits to manage the pain. What I wasn’t very good about doing were my daily stretches and exercise-ball activities that my chiropractor recommended once the majority of the pain subsided.
I have the ball and the yoga mat, but they live under the stairs. I have the Pilates videos, but they live in the DVD drawer. I got out of the habit of exercising because of the pain, and I haven’t been able to get back into it.
My husband is forever encouraging me to go bike riding or hiking with him, but the pain in my back and leg win out over the benefit of exercise every time. I know the pain would lessen if I exercised more, but I’m stubborn. I find excuses to stay in bed and watch TV.
Here’s what I’ve learned by refusing to exercise:
- Exercise is a choice. No one is going to make me do it. It is for my benefit alone, and I am the only one missing out.
- Muscles atrophy with lack of use.
- Bad habits are hard to break.
- Excuses, rationales, and justifications are many and readily available.
- If I don’t make time for it, I won’t have time for it.
- Exercise is easier with a friend to keep you accountable (and company).
- I’m much more likely to take a walk on the beach in the evening to watch the sunset than I am to walk aimlessly around the block.
- Sometimes it’s worth paying for someone to train and guide me rather than trying to do it all on my own for free.
- If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t prepared for fun things like backpacking with the hubby or a day at the zoo.
Having a healthy body can go a long way toward adding to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. But exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits. It’s also a discipline we can learn and apply to our spiritual lives.
Some spiritual practices are easy and enjoyable. They fit with our personalities, natural giftedness, and interests. Other spiritual practices are hard work. That’s why they’re called disciplines.
Not every spiritual discipline is necessary for vibrant spiritual growth and maturity, but sometimes we can benefit from learning a little self-discipline. Who knows when that might come in handy?
How might your life benefit from a little more discipline?