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26. Exercise and Personal Empowerment

It is about 7:30 a.m. I have been up since before dawn. I have seen the world at its loveliest moment. I have run more than eight miles, made my body stronger, and enriched my soul. I will shave, have a hot shower that will seem exotic and sensual, eat, and be off to do what all of us do. The difference is—I own the day. —Joel Henning, Holistic Running.

In 15. Move for the Health of It—Do Something Aerobic, we dealt at length with the connection between wellness and physical exercise. Now we invite you to move beyond the basics of exercising to consider movement in additional ways. When you think of exercise, you probably think solely in terms of heart rates, strength, and muscle tone. But because the body, mind, and soul are always connected, exercising also involves your mind and your spirit. How you move will affect how you think and feel about yourself, and vice versa. And both will affect how you view life and the world. Here’s how it all connects in your exercise programs:

  • Adhering to a regular exercise program is a statement of personal power. It says that you are in charge of your own life, that you have endurance, strength, flexibility, and determination. And these qualities will spill over into other domains of your life and work. You can apply your newfound endurance and flexibility to creative projects, to handling questions that arise in interpersonal relationships, to setting out plans for the fulfillment of your dreams, and even to addressing ways in which you can contribute to environmental concerns and world issues.
  • Regular exercise firms muscles, may help you shed pounds, and generally adds a healthy glow to your complexion. All of this can build a more positive self-concept. You like what you see and how you feel, and your sense of pride grows because of your commitment to yourself.
  • When your body is tense or contracted, it colors your mind’s perception of the world. Problems seem more problematical, deadlines more deadly. But a moving body is less likely to hold tension. A good run or a vigorous swim, for instance, can be ideal ways to release a dangerous build-up of worry. As Joel Henning said in the quote above, with exercise you can “own the day.”
  • Exercise, like meditation, is a natural way of achieving an altered state of consciousness in which the rational and problem-oriented mind is temporarily put on hold. A deep sense of connectedness to all life and a sense of inner knowledge are potential benefits when exercise is done consciously.
  • Exercising can actually be a form of prayer—a thanksgiving for the privilege of having a body and for simply being alive. When the whole body is used in this way, spirit becomes united with flesh; spirituality is grounded in the things of everyday life. Yoga, the martial arts, and some forms of dance specifically use the exterior posture to foster inner spiritual attitudes, such as serenity, gratitude, courage, or one-pointedness. With practice, these exercise forms and the attitudes they foster will subtly start influencing all your daily activities. You learn to cook your food, drive to the office, and even do your income taxes with a heightened degree of focus, a greater thankfulness for life, and a sense of harmony even in the midst of doing things you don’t particularly enjoy. Such conscious practice helps to build the matrix for understanding, accepting, and participating in the great process of life. And out of that alignment with life, purpose and meaning are created and revealed.

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   Introduction: Simply Well
   Part I: Starting Points
   Part II: Loosening Up
   Part III: Taking Action
   Part IV: One Step Beyond
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