6 Ways to Make Exercise a Spiritual Practice
by Maegan Beishline, WT Marketing Consultant & Creative Deveopment Specialist
I believe in the mind body connection and have had many epifanic moments while exploring my personal edges in the throes of an intense workout. There’s something about the use of breath, the movement, and repetition that can be found in many forms of exercise that opens me up spiritually and transforms my body into a kind of church where I find peace and meaning. You may be thinking that you abhor exercise or perhaps you don’t mind it but you would never call it “spiritual” due to the amount of swearing going on in your mind. But perhaps it’s just a simple flip of internal perception that’s preventing you from getting the most out of your workouts for your mind, body, and your spirit.
1. Take Your Workout Outdoors
Even on the coldest and hottest days, being in nature can restore parts in all of us that we don’t realize are hurting. Breathing in fresh air and looking at things that are real (and naturally beautiful) contribute to well-being in ways that artificial air, screens, and industrial carpet never could. It may mean that you have to work out first thing in the morning when it’s still a little cool…or later in the day to allow more time for the sun to rise, but monitoring these changes in light and season can help to anchor us to the cyclical elements in nature that mirror the cyclical elements within us. And as a total bonus, exercising outside when it’s snowing is pure magic and during the rain is downright baptismal!
2. Set an intention.
Our best efforts always come forth from our best intentions. Giving yourself a motivational point to focus on during a workout can help you push harder and do more than you thought you were able to. Your intention can certainly attach itself to your physical “whys” for working out: a tighter waistline, more arm definition, or a skinny jean worthy backside. But for a more spiritual experience, try making your intention about someone else. Think of someone near or far who is needing help or ease in their lives and turn your attention to them and the comfort and love you’d like to send them each time your being pushed past your own comfort levels in your workout. This practice teaches us to think of others when we are being challenged the most…it’s a practice that can change your life!
3. Don’t pay attention to external measures of “success”.
Any form of exercise should be about overall health and how it makes you feel. It’s not about how far you went today, how many pounds you lifted, how many reps you banged out. It’s about how your body feels and that you simultaneously pushed and respected it. This is the ideal balance of both life and spirit: to find the place where suffering meets grace and breath into it. There are many moments in a workout or in life where you need to assess if you need to pull back or push through. That deep listening to our bodies, learning to understand its signals and beginning to honor its requests, is the foundation for spirituality. Our bodies are our sacred vessels; all love and goodness stems from what we have inside. If we give our vessels love, respect, and compassion; we will be able to deliver all those things back out into the world.
4. Pay attention to your breath.
The cardiovascular nature of exercise forces us to be in control of our breath, to use it as a tool to avoid fatigue and release heat. We need to constantly be aware of our breathing and keep it regulated so that we can have the endurance we need. By placing a conscious awareness on our breathing, we’re focusing our mind similarly to what we do in meditation. In addition, we can use that mentality to “breathe into” areas of tightness or resistance. The practice serves us well in life as well as in our physical workouts as we’re often asked to respond to tightness and resistance with a softer approach, with grace, with breath. We learn it in our minds, we practice it in our body, and then we find that we have the ability to apply it within our spiritual lives.
5. Be mindful of what you’re listening to.
Exercise doesn’t just benefit us physically, it can also help to restore us mentally and emotionally and set us back on course with our best selves. In order to tap into this benefit in full effect, it’s helpful to be aware of all stimuli contributing to our experience and this includes sound. If you’re outside, the chirping birds and whirling wind might be enough of a soundtrack to carry you along. But if you’re someone who prefers a good beat to get down to, try to choose an artist or genre that makes you feel good, inspires ideas, or touches something in your soul. Music can often be a great connector of the mind, the body, and the spirit. And we can use this tool to make big mind-body connections in our workouts that will stay with us and fuel our lives long after our adrenaline has calmed down.
6. Give it that little extra push at the very end.
Make it a habit to push a little harder during those final moments of a workout. At first, maybe it’s a mental practice to ramp up our motivational self-talk during those last ten reps. But work towards a big push of actual energy and output right at the very end when it feels like you have nothing left to give. This practice teaches us that we can push on a little more than we think when going through something difficult in our lives. It also helps us to give a little more of ourselves when needed even if we’re feeling depleted (hello, motherhood!). Rest and knowing our limits is good (and essential!); but often, we’re more capable than we believe ourselves to be and much stronger than we think we are. If we tap into that potential during our workouts, we’ll have more faith in ourselves when we need it most.
Maegan Beishline, Marketing Consultant and Creative Development Specialist, is a Bloomsburg University graduate with a BS in Business Marketing & Administration. Her post graduate experience includes performing marketing tasks for various businesses as well as starting and growing a natural soap making enterprise and a portrait photography business. While entrepreneurship lives in her heart, she has found that her true calling lives not in running her own business but rather in helping others to build theirs. Her writing and photography have been featured in Artful Blogging magazine, Somerset Life magazine, multiple issues of Kindred magazine, and on various websites including I Heart Faces, Tracey Clark’s I Am Enough collaborative, and regularly on The Creative Mama. She is passionate about living creatively and is dedicated to helping others find their authentic paths of self-expression in both business and life.
Maegan will be teaching an Adult Ballet class at Willow Tree WC beginning in April! You can find out more about it and the FREE Preview Class she's offering here!