Last year we started a fitness support group at our church. Many people welcomed the idea and talked about their desire to become more fit. Still, many people found it difficult to maintain the motivation to participate regularly. That’s not a new challenge for a fitness group and we wanted to see if we could find solutions that would be helpful. Since being connected to our church community, I thought that it might helpful if people could see the connection between fitness and their spiritual goals. But, honestly, the words to explain that connection didn’t come to me right away.
Since then my broader study of yoga has helped. Previously I knew that yoga was a specific spiritual practice in itself. Now, it’s a little clearer to me that any fitness program is or can become a spiritual practice.
The key to this understanding came from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s book Freedom From Fear where he explains:
- “Life is inherently sacred.
- There is a clear and definite order to the world you live in.
- By honoring your place in it – your individual dharma (purpose) – you honor and, in the process, support universal dharma (life force of nature).
- Since you affect the larger dharma through your actions, thoughts and words, nothing is more important than securing and establishing your highest state of well-being so that you can be more completely in tune with this intelligence.”
I don’t think it’s easy to make the leap from these words to fitness as spirituality so let’s try to apply these thoughts one at a time.
The birth of a child, a beautiful piece of art or music, a breathtaking garden or a mountaintop view, all these things represent easily identified sacred symbols of life. But, what about the triumphant healing of a physically or emotionally disabled person who was never expected to walk, talk, or contribute? What about the inspirational people who come out of dark places in life and transform their lives so all their energies now go towards helping the disadvantaged or being amazingly dedicated parents and community members? It is so easy to get caught up in our daily experience of life that we forget that WE ARE that amazing thing called sacred life. Just as awe inspiring as an understanding of the details of astronomy or physics or botany is, so are we amazing and awe inspiring sacred life. From the simple healing of a scratch to the intricacies of how our brain functions, our physical being is astonishing and also breathtaking. To honor our bodies is to manifest an understanding of the sacredness of life itself.
And as we explore this notion of the sacredness of our physical being, the cause and effect of how we care for ourselves becomes clearer. There is an abundance of information about the value of exercise and healthy eating. It cures disease. It lengthens lifetimes. It increases capacity to live fully. It makes people happier. We are part of this clear and definite order in the world. We are not only part of that order but we influence it. We influence it by impacting our own experience with life but in other ways also.
Let’s say that your individual purpose (dharma) was to write and that your writing could help some people meet a need they have. If these others’ needs are met, they are then more able to access their life force to meet their individual purpose which all contriubtes to the universal dharma. But, if your health didn’t allow you to pursue that writing, the order in the world could be sadly interrupted.
It’s not just the writing that would be missing. There is more.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is, of course, a masterful piece of music. But knowing that it was composed by someone who couldn’t hear his own creation makes it even more significant. As we feel the music, we also experience the greatness of Beethoven’s spirit as he followed his individual purpose which was and still is connected to us all. Many have been moved by his music and by his spirit.
I think it’s hard to really realize the impact that we all have. Recently I met with a previously incarcerated man that I supported as part of the non-profit that I founded years ago. He has been out of prison for almost ten years and is doing fantastic. He has held down an excellent job in the optometry field for all those ten years. He is now head of the lab where he works and his lab is recognized as award winning in his field! He recently completed barber school and his new barbering business is taking off like crazy! He now owns his own home. My heart soars with joy for him. It also is overwhelmed with humility when he repeats over and over how important a role I personally played when I encouraged and supported his personal journey to this new life ten years ago.
But there is more that I never really understood completely until I met his two young sons in person. His boys are 8 and 13. And, they are very impressive. The 13 year old got accepted in an academy that specializes in science and supports children with higher educational goals and capacities. This boy is beginning to learn about photography. They both are drummers and athletes. They both are very respectful and a pleasure to be around. After meeting them I could see and feel how we all affect the larger dharma. I watched and listened as my friend spoke to his sons; sometimes using something in our conversation to throw in a brief math challenge for his youngest son, sometimes providing them with bits of fatherly wisdom and constantly reminding them how important they are to him. As he talked to me in their presence, I witnessed his awareness of how everything they experience influences his two boys. They both know that he loves them very, very much. If I am to belief that I did play a major role in helping his find his way as he says, I can also see how that is also reflected in these two exceptional young men. I can see and experience the way that all is connected, even a decade later. One thought, decision, and action influences the next which influences the next and then the next.
There is no getting away from the impact of how being true to our best selves (our individual dharma) contributes to the greater good in specific and in general ways. We are all connected and we all matter.
So, when we are inspired by world class athletes, we don’t just admire their abilities and their talents. We also feel inspired by the force of will that they used to develop those skills and abilities. As we cheer them on, we are also cheering on all other individual efforts to become everything that we can become.
The spirituality of fitness means making choices to maintain our physical health while maintaining our awareness on all the broader potential positive impacts for those choices. It is a commitment to stay on the path to becoming our best selves – in all ways.