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Just Keep Moving: Exercise as a Spiritual Practice

Do you remember Virginia McLaurin, the 106-year-old woman who danced with joy while meeting President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama?

It was surely one of the more memorable personal moments recorded during the Obama presidency. Virginia smiles, dances and scurries across the Oval Office with an energy most people are surprised to see in a 106 year old. “What’s the secret to still dancing at 106?” the president asks. Virginia answers by way of more dancing and the first lady offers, “Just keep moving.”

As it turns out, “just keep moving” is some of the best advise out there when it comes to health and longevity.

Exercise as Spiritual Practice

Researchers find that even a moderate amount of exercise can factor significantly in quality of life, resistance to disease and life expectancy. With activity level so strongly correlated to health and longevity, the matter of exercise’s positive effect on health seems to be settled. Now researchers are asking, “Is there an optimal level of exercise for extending your life?” and “Can you overdo it?”

Exercise, then, is one of the most surefire strategies for securing more time, and with more time comes the opportunity for more experiences, better physical and emotional health and deeper spirituality. Move a bit more and probably there will be more time and opportunity to fill one’s life with meaning and spiritual purpose.

But have you thought of exercise as a spiritual practice in its own right? Not just as an activity that extends your life, but as an activity with spiritual value of its own?

Endurance athletes often report that exercise can function like a form of meditation. Exertion, focus and repetition work together to clear the mind of active thought. Focusing on one’s breath is a common meditation technique and runners are often encouraged to do just that.

Or think of the discipline, planning, focus and concerted effort required for strength training. What muscle groups am I working today? How many repetitions? At what weight? Is my form right? Can I squeeze out another repetition with a bit more effort? All that thought, discipline, organization is spiritually valuable. Consider the person whose spiritual problems consist in distraction, overthinking, inability to clear one’s head, lack of balance between work and other aspects of their life. The discipline of strength training helps create balance because it’s a time when the brain can take a rest from some of its other work.

And that’s not to mention the sense of accomplishment and progress that can come with regular exercise. Or the community created through exercise. Or that it can be just plain fun. (Even watching a friend of mine teach classes that combine dance with aerobics into exercise routines brings me incredible joy.)

Questions for Reflection

How are exercise and spirituality related in your life? Are there spiritual aspects of your exercise routine that you are learning to appreciate? What are some ways you could improve your health and shake up your spiritual practice through the simple advice “just keep moving?”

There are a wide variety of spiritual practices one can explore. Please join with us as we celebrate an abundance of spiritual practices on our journey through this season from Epiphany through Lent.

About Rev. Jared Ruari

The Rev. Jared Ruari lives in Mansfield, Ohio with his partner Allison and their three cats. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and serves St. John's UCC.

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