Apparently, there’s more to a workout -- dancing, running, and swimming -- than just moving muscles.
While it seems you’re exercising a body, you might actually be flexing spiritual power. Why? Because, first and foremost, you may be more of a spiritual being than you know. Possibly, this is why when running, swimming, or dancing, you can experience greater freedom and release from disappointment, sorrow, jealousy, self-will, and pain.
Leslie is a staff writer and self-appointed resident conditioning nag at the Dallas Morning News. She covers health and fitness.
Grace is a Certified Personal Trainer and regular blogger at Let's Get in Shape Together.
Janice is Professor Emerita at Texas Woman’s University and the author of In Balance: Fundamentals of Ballet and Jazz Dance: America’s Energy and Soul. She is a dancer and choreographer, and for 25 years was a graduate theory faculty member at TWU.
How long has fitness/dance been important to you?
Leslie: Oooh, for eons! I played intramural sports in high school; not terribly well, but there were no other team outlets for girls. After college, I started walking for exercise and have probably only gotten more neurotic, I mean dedicated, since then.
Grace: Fitness has been a part of my life for the past 20 years. I started doing aerobic exercise after my daughter was born in order to improve my overall fitness. That evolved into more serious running and as I started doing local road races my competitive juices (which I didn't even know I had!) kept me going.
Janice: I began my dance education in my mother's studio in Chicago. After a short professional career, marriage and parenting helped me to refocus to teaching. I performed until the age of 46, after which I have continued to choreograph and co-teach summer dance workshops for the Greater Denton Arts Council.
How often do you exercise? What types of exercises do you do?
Leslie: I exercise every day, reflecting my do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do philosophy. Taking a day off here and there is a very good thing to do, but I just feel lost if I don't exercise even a little. I've run every day for several years (2 to 10 miles). I've started swimming again, which I do about three times a week. I take a weekly yoga class, too. Plus I have a few strength-training workouts I follow.
Grace: I exercise about 4 times a week. I mix it up between running, yoga and weight training.
Janice: Today my dancing consists of giving myself a ballet or jazz class, dance and conditioning workouts, Pilates and easy yoga. Usually 3 -4 times a week for at least an hour.
How do you get yourself back into a routine when you fall off the wagon?
Leslie: Like I said, I'm kind of neurotic; I don't tend to skip workouts.
Grace: As a matter of fact, when I’m training for a road race, I have gone months without going into the gym or to a yoga class. When that happens, I know that my fitness level in these areas won't be what it was before I stopped, and so I scale it back and get back into the routine. Pretty soon I'm back where I was. Unfortunately I don't advance too far with this approach! But the point is I get back to it. I don't let the lapse keep me from starting back up.
Janice: When it's a month or so since I’ve danced or moved in a meaningful way, I feel a level of frustration and mind games that play with my sense of self. If I let go too long, say a month when other things seem to take over, depression and discouragement set in. It's then that mindfully and prayerfully, I have a good self-talk, after which I arrange a movement/dance appointment and get back into the swing of moving. During this private talk, I'm reminded about how dance brings an inner peace and fulfillment after which my spirit and body feel renewed. Dance, Pilates and yoga are totally different conversations with the world and with myself. The result of getting back to class is a rhythmic happiness, energy and alertness -- a bliss.
Does prayer or spirituality play a role in how you keep fit?
Leslie: Oh, sure. I pray for strength before I work out, and say thank you when I'm finished.
Grace: A large part of what I enjoy about yoga is the spiritual nature of the practice. The concentrating on the breath, and being present in the here and now, and the resulting inner peace. You can also find this solace when running.
Janice: Absolutely. I find that phrases from the Bible come to mind and energize my movements. For example: "In thine hand is the power and glory" turns into scooping and curving actions as I feel God's love wrapping and sustaining me. Statements from Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on health and spirituality also help me. She states, "God, divine Mind, governs all." When moving, I am in tune with God governing me metaphysically. When Eddy speaks about a rose, for example, I see it in my mind’s eye and smell its sweet fragrance. She writes, "The joy of its presence, its beauty and fragrance, should uplift thought." This inspires certain kinds of movement patterns and feelings. The result is that when dancing with body, mind and spirit connected, tension, daily issues, worries and so on wash away, replaced by a spiritual identity.
Do you believe your mental health affects your physical well-being?
Leslie: One hundred percent, yes. They play off each other, really. When I work out, I feel healthy; when I feel healthy, I feel emotionally ready to take on challenges. If you can achieve a goal in fitness, whether running a marathon or working out for 10 minutes every day, that has to seep out into the rest of your life's hurdles and challenges.
Working out regularly and steadily helped me deal with my father's death last summer. Without fitness, I truly think it would have been even harder than it is.
Grace: Absolutely. I am a strong believer in the power of the mind. If you tell yourself you can't do something (like a head stand, or run half a marathon), then you physically won't be able to do it. Conversely, if you believe you can, you will get there. Looking at it differently, I also believe that being physically active helps your mental health. There is nothing like a good walk, run, exercise class or workout session to boost my mental state of being.
Janice: Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. When I move creatively and richly and repeat movements or exercises as a kind of unifying ritual, I’m able to balance the human pressures and elevate thought. Afterwards, I feel great. My body feels full of energy and enthusiasm. Often I’m better able to deal with family issues, challenges and problems after focusing on the simplicity and discipline of moving correctly and completely. The joining of God's mind with one’s body and thought processes brings release and freedom.
Does spirituality help you mentally and physically?
Leslie: Of course. It helps me feel as if I'm not handling, nor do I have to handle, everything myself.
Grace: I believe that spirituality helps us mentally. When we get out of "our own heads" and realize that there is a vastness outside of us, then the little issues that we obsess over dissolve. When we let go, and stay in the moment, our minds are freed from the stress and worry that bogs us down and keeps us "small". As our mental health affects our physicality, then spirituality would affect us physically as well.
Janice: Moving is a prayerful moment in which I transcend my human physicality to feel my spiritual and perfect nature.
It seems that Leslie, Grace, and Janice understand that there’s more to a workout, more to life and health, than moving muscles. Broad spectrums of people now recognize that mind and body are under the amazing government of a divine presence.
And the qualities that constitute the best workouts just might be joy, enthusiasm, confidence, vigor, stability, and dedication. Don’t these define, from a divine standpoint, a Spirit, which you express?
Perhaps, because you are a divine expression, you run, swim, pray, and dance. And as a result, your mental and physical health is improved and maintained.
-- Keith Wommack is a Syndicated Columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband, and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com