It’s easy to look at forms of fitness like weightlifting and cardio and not see their spiritual merit. This social media age has taken the benefits of a physically fit body and used it to promote our most base and shallow nature. We see the vanity of fit insta-models and greed of get-fit-quick “trainers” on full display, yet many of us are more miserable and internally imbalanced than ever before.
This warped perception of fitness is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be your reality. If a deeper spiritual connection is something you desire, fitness can actually aid you in developing spiritual strength and fortitude you never thought possible. Here are a few tips to navigate through the noise of the fitness industry in order to harness its power for greater spiritual development.
Adjust Your Perspective of The Body
An important key to nurturing spiritual strength through fitness is recognizing the roles our bodies play in the spiritual process.
We look at the physical and spiritual as separate entities, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our internal world is intimately linked to our physical beings. In a way our bodies are a phyiscal reflexion of spiritual, internal truths.
There’s a reason numerous religions describe the body as a “temple”.
There’s a reason why in certain practices the path to spiritual enlightenment is achieved in part through the mastery of physical energies.
I could go on but what’s key is that there is something intrinsically divine and spiritual about the human body, which would explain why the 3 groups (body, mind, and spirit) can co-exist and function so seamlessly through us.
“The body serves the mind, and the mind serves the Spirit. This is the true order of things, but it is not the order that you experience currently”
– Relationships and Higher Purpose
The issue comes when one or more of these categories are imbalanced. People often neglect their bodies and its physical fitness as a whole because they don’t realize the degree in which the body serves the spirit. Most can’t preceive the consequences of neglecting their phyiscal health until it has already imbalanced them completely.
Think about it.
Think about how dominant our physical senses are. They are the window through which we perceive the world around us. If our bodies/ senses are burdened with chronic illness and poor health, imagine the tidal wave of negativity that we’ll internalize, corrupting our thoughts and spirit.
Many doctors and professionals in the health industry are catching up to these truths. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood by boosting self esteem and cognitive function (1). It’s speculated that exercise increases blood circulation to the brain and influences the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal, which in effect manages stress (1).
“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
– The Buddha
To allow fitness to strengthen you spiritually, start by recognizing it’s importance to your inner being. Remember; just because the body is physical doesn’t mean it can’t contribute to your spirit.
A greater appreciation of the body’s spiritual nature provides more motivation to exercise and another foothold into a more well-rounded lifestyle.
Allow Fitness To Evolve From A Physical To An Internal Ritual
It’s one thing to consider working out, but it’s a whole other story making it a consistent part of everyday life. Making it into a lifestyle takes enough dedication, but how do we take it further
Fitness is a journey. You won’t master every aspect or see amazing physical and spiritual results day one. However it does require commitment to the process. As fitness becomes a natural part of your life, don’t just look to the physical results for motivation. Look within. On a practical level, recognize the internal qualities it’s cultivating in you with each workout.
Patience, discipline, willpower, consistency, vitality- these are all intangible attributes that develop strong, robust spirituality.
Your spirit will always expand to match your physical growth. As you meet more challenges and physical resistance with each workout, it will require you to tap into new reserves of inner strength and grit.
Be aware of these breakthroughs, celebrate them everyday and you will root yourself in ever increasing spiritual and physical benefits.
“Too much adversity, not good. Not enough adversity, not good. We need a certain amount of stress and outer resistance to maintain our physical and mental strength. Spirit can then move more freely within you if you have this strength.”
– Marshall Vian Summers
When you are aware of the internal characteristics that are growing in unison with your physical body, the routine of fitness also becomes the routine of spiritual growth.
Choose A Definitive Path That Expresses Your True Self
“Every man is the builder of a Temple called his body, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead.”
– Henry David Thoreau
We all have a sacred obligation to maintain our bodies whether we enjoy it or not. However the exciting part is that like an artist we have the freedom to mold and shape our temples into vessels of our inner aspirations.
Some of the great bodybuilders of our time have matched their internal desires with their physical bodies, sculpting the physiques of their dreams. Elite athletes have cultivated internal drive and spiritual fortitude that elevated them to the heights of their sports. It can be the same for us. A wholesome person is one who can align spiritual health with a healthy mind and a healthy body. Once you have a clear picture of what that looks like for you physically, then you can tangibly pursue it on your own fitness journey. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- clarify your goal and mental picture of who you want to be physically- What do you look like? What is this version of yourself able to accomplish? Can you run half marathons? Are you capable of a 350lb deadlift? What does this state of health feel like? Questions like these will help you identify who you want to be externally and how you want to express yourself. They will also serve as a mental north star to meditate on as your identity shifts internally and externally.
- Find the right form of exercise to help you achieve your goal- different types of exercise produce varying results in the body. Running, cycling, rowing, kettlebells, etc. develop the cardiovascular system. Weightlifting builds the skeletomuscular system, the list goes on. What’s important is that you identify your fitness goal and pick a mode of exercise that compliments it. It doesn’t have to be physical activity that you find in your standard gym; you can learn a martial art, practice tai chi, take up yoga. If it’s something you enjoy and it brings you closer to your goals then go for it.
- Lastly find or develop a plan that gets you to your destination- goals and aspirations mean very little if you don’t have an effective guide to get you there, which is why programs are so essential. Find the guidance you need to develop your body while in the same breathe seeking spiritual knowledge. If you do these things and perform them consistently I promise you that a stronger spirit and a healthier body aren’t far off!
Ashish Sharma, et al. Prime Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006. Exercise for Mental health. Information Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/