The Need for Inspiration in Fitness
exercise fitness soul spirit warrior spirit
Unfortunately, when you are going through the routine of a regular workout program, it can be very, very difficult to keep your mind on the long-term goal. It is hard to see how repetitive, heavy movements can possibly be making you more spiritually enlightened. Sure, there are monastic traditions that attain enlightenment through repetition of movement (the Shaolin being a well-known one), but they have a long and well-established tradition to remind them every single moment of why they are putting themselves through such difficulty. They make a point of nurturing the spirit in their fitness programs.
When I tried to pick up running last year, I eventually gave up because I wasn’t as fast as I used to be. I tried to run in minimalist shoes hoping they would make me faster, but I only got injured. More recently, I’ve started barefoot running again, but instead of running to be fast, I’m running because I miss the sensation of moving quickly through the trees. I’m running for fun. And I’m already far passed what I was capable of last year, running farther and much faster, with no injuries.
That is why I’ve come to believe that whatever you do for fitness should not only be good for your body, it should also be good for your mind and spirit, as well.
A New Kind of Fitness
What does it mean for a fitness program to be good for the mind and spirit?
First of all, we need to reassess what we mean by fitness. Most people think of a fitness program as some boring series of movements they do when they go the gym. Some programs are more involved than others – CrossFit is very intense and distinctly un-boring, for example – but fitness is basically conditioning for something else.
What most people don’t think of when they talk about fitness is a sport, oddly enough. We tend not to consider playing a game of pickup basketball as an investment in our fitness, at least not primarily. It is more about having fun and “playing” a game than it is about health. In fact, when you start making it about health, it becomes less enjoyable, and then we are less likely to want to do it.
In his book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall points out that the greatest of the ultra-runners are those who just love running. They aren’t the ones out there running to lose weight or be healthy. They are running for the health of their soul, not their bodies. And as a result, they love to run, they have fun running, and they do it all the time, with the result that they get ridiculously, superhumanly good at it.
Incidentally, they also get really healthy. They achieve very good fitness.
These athletes have an inspiration for what they do that goes beyond the mundane. They are driven by something more meaningful than just being fit. And this inspiration makes what they do fun, enjoyable, natural, and surprisingly easy. Seems a long way from the traditional idea of suffering as the gatekeeper to the realm of the super-athlete.
And therein lies the quandary: to achieve the highest level of physical fitness, it seems you have to stop worrying about the physical part and pay more attention to the spiritual part. Once you start drawing your energy from the soul instead of calories, you tend to work harder, push longer, and forget how much it sucks to be sucking wind.
So the best way to take care of your body is to take care of your spirit. Or rather, by taking care of your body in a way that appeals to you and suits your particular life and preferences, you also take care of your body.
But what about people who just don’t like exercise? Who, if left to their own preferences and inclinations, wouldn’t they just never exercise and be unhealthy?
My answer to that question is that all people like to be healthy. What that means differs from person to person, but we all like to have high energy, a sexy body, and physical efficacy. Nobody likes to get winded carrying groceries home, or climbing their stairs. Our bodies like to be strong, and when we find a way to make them such, they reward us with good feelings.
When you’ve found a sport or activity that makes you smile when you do it and that keeps you coming back for more, you’ve found your fitness inspiration. Keep at it and enjoy it for the fun. If it stops being fun, stop, take a rest, or find something else to do.
If you find yourself wanting to compete at higher levels, you might find you need to do some supplementary work like weight training or speed work. These essentially become repetitive drills, but as long as the incentive to perform them comes from that inspiration that drives the main activity, you might find that you enjoy them more than you expect. And if not, don’t bother.
You will derive more benefit from any fitness program, sport, or physical activity if you enjoy it, simply because enjoying it will naturally encourage you to work as hard as you can. You’ll want to squeeze every last ounce out of it and surround yourself with it.
Feed the soul, and the body will flourish. Nourish the body, and the soul will bloom.
For those who ignore the needs of their spirits in physical activity, injury and burnout await. Something as tiny as neglecting to smile when you run can make the difference between a blown out knee and a winning time. Why? I have no idea, but I know from experience that it is true.
Thank you for reading! If you found this post inspiring, please e-mail it to a few friends, or share it on Twitter.
Train on, Brave Warriors!