The last blog of each month will be dedicated to various spiritual practices. I believe continued use of spiritual practices help us maintain good mental health and spiritual well being. The purpose of exploring spiritual practices is to expose ourselves to various ways we can connect with God and deeper our relationship with the people around us. Spiritual practices are actions undertaken to connect deeper or cultivate spiritual development in oneself.
Since so many people have made new years resolutions to get in shape I thought this would be the perfect timing to look at how exercise can be used for the good of our body and more importantly our soul as a spiritual practice.
Let's look closer at how our brains/ bodies are impacted by exercise and ways we can turn our movement into a spiritual practice.
Exercise and our Brains
Exercise has profound affects on our physical health. However it also impacts our brains. Check out this short video explaining how our brains benefit from exercise.
If you want further information here is an article by Psychology Today that discusses how "Physical Activity Improves Cognition." You can also check out Wendy Suzuki's TEDtalk about "The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise."
Making Exercise and Everyday Movement a Spiritual Practice
Spiritual practices are all about intentionally finding ways to develop spiritually. Exercise is something that is good for us and something that some people are already doing. For others exercise may be the last thing you want to do. So how do we turn this task into a spiritual practice?
A few years ago I took up running preparing for an adventure race. Around this time I also became fascinated with the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. It's awesome you should definitely pick it up! Each morning, I became acutely aware of the time it took to run and wondered how I could intentionally use it better. This chain of thoughts while running led me to focus on my thankfulness for the people in my life, and praying for their well-being. This small but significant change in my thought processes became a powerful tool for my spiritual life. I could have very easily focused on any discomfort or pain during the run, frustrations in my life, or future events that would be taking place. But the intentional shift of my thoughts quieted my mind, shortened the perception of my run, and made me crave to exercise more. My runs began to take on meaning in my life outside of the goal I had set for myself.
Now my experience is just one method. There are many ways to use exercise/ movement as a spiritual practice. I think it is important to note we can make any movement in our lives spiritually intentional. It doesn't mean starting a new exercise routine but may be just using what you are already doing in a different way.
Dr. Heidi Hanna from the American Institute of Stress wrote the article "How to Use Physical Exercise as a Spiritual Practice." In her article she talks about the benefits of exercise in quieting the mind. She also provides these 5 ways to use exercise as a spiritual practice.
1. Listen to inspirational music or a podcast
2. Practice paying attention to your surroundings and body (Mindfulness)
3. Reflect on people and things you are grateful for
4. Use breathing patterns to meditate/ personal mantras - breathe in what you want and breathe out what you need to release
5. Invite a friend to participate with you - Share what you appreciate about each other, etc.
The Blog Wanderlust by Clark Hamilton Depue also identifies "Why Fitness is a Spiritual Practice." If we intentionally use exercise as a spiritual practice there is an amazing opportunity to bring meaning to our lives and our physical bodies.
I know what you are thinking - My church needs a yoga class! Well if that's the route you want to go, best of luck with your downward facing dog. But more importantly I hope this subject begins to let us think about how we can use movement in and outside of our religious settings as a practice of our spirituality.
What benefits have you seen from exercising?
What movements in your life can you use more intentionally?
What would church be like if movement was incorporated into it?
Thank you all for your support! Please continue to share our blog with those you know. This week intentionally use a movement you are already doing as a way to intentionally focus your thoughts.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.