How to Use Physical Exercise as a Spiritual Practice
5 Simple Ways to Cross-Train Your Body, Mind and Soul
With so many demands on your time and energy these days, it can feel impossible to keep self-care on top of your priority list. Besides, when you do make time to slow down, the discomfort of trying to quiet your monkey mind can leave you feeling restless, eager to jump back into the daily grind.
Everyone knows that taking care of your physical health is critical to staying on top of your game, but we still struggle to do the basic things we need to maintain energy and thrive at work and home. The good news is, physical activity is one of the greatest ways to help the brain settle into stillness and reconnect with the heart to align with what matters most.
I’ve been making Sundays my long-run day for a while now, because I really try to break free from work for at least one day a week. But if I just focus on what I’m not doing, I can drive myself crazy. Going for a long run gives me a chance to be productive in another way, and now I’m realizing why it’s been so helpful.
Not only does it give me something to do, rather than obsessing about what I can’t do, it literally releases the stress hormones that have been building up in my body throughout the week, releases physical tension and boosts positive endorphins that make me feel good.
Which made me realize — mid-run today — why don’t we use physical exercise more often to quiet down our busy brains? Why don’t we make movement part of a spiritual practice that helps us to connect the brain and heart, to focus on what matters most to us on a regular basis?
By cross-training our body, heart and soul in this manner, we also get more done in less time, optimizing our return on both time and energy, and increasing the chances we’ll create healthy habits that last.
Many religious practices recommend taking one day a week to rest, but perhaps we’ve got the idea of resting all wrong. Maybe by activating our bodies we can actually shift our minds to a more calm and restful state, encouraging our body, mind and spirit to be fully engaged in the moment as we intentionally shift our focus to things like gratitude, appreciation, and positive reflection.
Here are a few ways physical activity quiets the mind and fuels the soul:
- Mobilizes and reduces stress hormones
- Decreases tension and inflammation in the body
- Improves heart rate variability and physical resilience to stress
- Boosts positive endorphins that encourage an optimistic mindset
- Supports focus on the present moment, gratitude and appreciation
Here are a few simple shifts that will make your physical exercise routine a mental and spiritual practice:
- Listen to inspirational music or a podcast, or allow yourself to just listen to the sound of nature around you.
- Practice mindfully paying attention to your surroundings, especially if you can spend time in nature. You can also practice mindfulness by paying attention to how your body feels as you move. When your mind starts to wander, just notice it without judging yourself, and bring your attention back to how you feel as you move.
- Reflect on people and things you feel grateful for. As you move your body, imagine sending them positive energy and/or prayers.
- Meditate on a personal mantra or your breathing patterns. You can use a simple formula of breathing in something you want more of and breathing out something you wish to release, following your breath pattern. Such as, “I breathe in calm, I breathe out chaos.” Or just repeat a word or phrase that describes how you want to show up to the time you have after your workout. Such as, “I am light”, “I am love”, “I am connected”, “I am grounded”, “I am strong”.
- Invite a friend to join you and focus your conversation on things you feel grateful for or are looking forward to. You may want to share what you appreciate about each other, or just reflect on your experience together. What you notice about the space that you’re in, staying connected to the present moment.
For more training tools to help you recharge your body, mind and spirit, check out my free Recharge Toolkit, with guided meditations, relaxation music, funny videos and more.