Fitness, Spirituality & The Quality of Your Life
Spirituality has two basic drives. It's first drive is for you to be not as defined by the the circumstances of your life. We can call this freedom. You need to be less governed by the events, people and contexts that you find yourself in. When you don't have freedom, the quality of your life suffers and you remain entrenched in the limitations of your life as it presently is.
The second drive of spirituality is for you to be more present, connected and engaged with your life. We can call this fullness. While you need to be less governed by the circumstances of your life (freedom) you also need to be more present to what is going on in your life. The quality of your life erodes when you become less connected and engaged with what is happening. Attuning to your relationships, vocation as well as your self that is in the world improves your life and the quality of the lives of those around you.
Fitness used to be optional. Generically speaking we can say that "back in the day" evolutionarily speaking movement and survival were intrinsically connected. You had to move to hunt and gather, often times throughout much of the day light. Today we live in a different world where many of us are what we can call "knowledge" workers. If you are a knowledge worker you gain the means to support yourself by creating, following and managing information flow. If this is you then you can spend large portions of your life without moving much. You can spend the vast majority of your days inside a small circumference facing some piece or pieces of technology and or people. In the meantime, movement spikes while walking to the bath room, someone else's movement circumference (office) or to get into your car to then sit still while technology loco-motes you.
Lifestyles that support sedentary patterns will kill you.
Biologically speaking inactivity sends powerful messages to your body and they sound like this: "you are sick" or "you are dying." Chronic persistent inactivity meant you were sick or dying 10,000 years ago. Today ongoing inactivity sends the same biological messages.
The result, many of us need fitness. Our lives depend upon it in a very direct way. You need an intentional period, each day, to rigorously move your body. Please note, I said "each day" as 3 days a week is not enough. Each day you are not vigorously moving your body you are likely shortening your life. Fail to move and you are actively drawing death just a bit closer to you. So whatever you do, move!
But it is not enough to just move your body every day. Fitness needs spirituality. Movement needs to refine both your ability to be more free from the circumstances of your life as well as your ability to be fully present in the circumstances of your life.
Sadly much of the movement that happens as people move their bodies is an expression of dissociation. Movement that is divorced from attention is a form of dissociation. If your attention is not placed on or into your movement you are likely dissociating from your fitness. I often see people on the stair stepping machines, stationary bicycles, treadmills and the like exercising as they read the latest issues of fitness, fashion and sports magazines. Occasionally I see folded up sections of the today's newspaper in front of glazed over eyes. Or, better yet, they are watching TV as CNN's latest coverage of the political campaign to the White House flickers before their eyes.
Fitness is often riddled with dissociation. Dissociation is a function of not having enough freedom yet simultaneously being unable to be present in life. You dissociate precisely where you are too controlled by the circumstances of life and unable to be present in your life. That's when you "check out" so to speak.
The body is perhaps one of the most challenging dimensions of life. Most adults have tremendous difficulty not being dictated by the embodied circumstances and thus they have immense limitations when it comes to being present to their embodied sensations (this shows up by stunting results yielded in fitness and in every other facet of adult life). Many adults have yet to grow, reinforce and strengthen the neurological wiring and processing power to be genuinely free from their body yet at the same time present in the fullness of their body.
Fitness is an ideal training ground to grow the faculties of spirituality. Next time you train, don't “check out” to what's going on in your body. Check in. Turn your attention into and upon the embodied sensations of movement. You'll find that you will yield much more in return.
Habituation, the enemy that is closer than we like to admit
Thu, Nov 15 2012 10:50 | Aliveness, Change, Comfort, Discomfort, Fitness, Freedom, Habituation, Pleasure, Strength To Awaken, Strength Training
A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents discussing how my book is landing with their congregation and friends. My mom said to me, "one question I've gotten a few times is, What is habituation?" Considering I mention "habituation" or "habituated" over 160 times throughout a 263 page book, this question is a big deal.
Here's how I define it: "habituation is at its essence an automatic response."
I continue on to say, "It's opposite is the conscious presence and agency for intentional action. Habituation has two sides. On the one hand some of your automatic conditioned responsiveness is absolutely necessary for your fluid functioning in life. On the other hand some of the automated responses deteriorate your conscious presence and erode your capacity to intentionally direct your life."
I spend so much time exploring habituation for a few reasons.
1) Habits stand squarely in between you and the change your heart genuinely desires.
2) Some of the most entrenched habits you possess are organized around how you move & don't move.
Interestingly, I have not seen books on fitness or strength training that adequately address how to work with the immensity of habituation (yet another reason why I wrote Strength To Awaken).
3) As those of you who have read part one of Strength To Awaken know, some of the root habits your conventional self uses to define itself are organized and structured to keep you from the happiness you simultaneously desire. That's right, these habituated attempts at happiness actually wall you off from true happiness.
So, if you want heartfelt change that matters to you, if you are interested in embodying these changes in a full way throughout the movements of your life, and if you're interested in happiness then habituation is something to investigate with rigor, right now.
Some habits support. Notice that the fluidity you may feel as you walk has a lot to do with habituation. There's a plethora of neurophysiological processes that make you proficient in walking. It took you years to master this. This is just one example of how habits can support higher level functioning. To a certain extent, we need habits.
Yet, some habits inhibit, close down, and collapse your conscious presence, ability for autonomous functioning and capacity for adaptation. For example, you may waste energy as you hold unnecessary tension in your shoulders, hips, back and legs. This chronic tension rigidifies your body and mind in both subtle and not so subtle ways. This habituation may stem from a neuro-psychological defense pattern established early on in life.
One massive habituation, one of the most pervasive enemies that you, me and most of our friends, family and colleagues keep too close, is the habituated preference for comfort. Sometimes your habituated strategies to be comfortable are completely harmless and should be celebrated. Other times, though, these unconscious strategies steal your larger capacities as a human being.
When you withdraw from life - whether that be in your training, relationships, and/or professionally, because of some uncomfortable experience - you may be stepping back from the life you are more deeply called to be living. This is where comfort stands in distinct opposition to one of your life's greatest pleasures: living your purpose.
Next time you see your habituated preference moving you toward the most comfortable route, evaluate it. Do not blindly follow and trust your automatic responses to be comfortable. Pause, feel into the discomfort, and assess whether going through the discomfort may be of service to your larger purpose in life.
Regardless of what you discover, freeing yourself up from habituation strengthens you psychologically. Every time you see your habits (and thus are not identified as them) your self gets bigger (more inclusive), more flexible, and more capable. Liberating yourself from the comfort habit enables you to trade in for greater aliveness. Does this greater aliveness have more pain? Often times it does, and it also comes with greater multifaceted pleasure as well.
The Fitness Revolution
Thu, Nov 8 2012 10:34 | Cycling, Embodiment, Fitness, Liberation, Meditation, Revolution, Strength Training, Yoga
When we think of fitness revolutions our minds habitually go toward some "fad" or some "new" trend that does indeed change the landscape of "fitness" for a short while.
This isn't what I am talking about.
Most fads and "new" trends in fitness adhere to the same socially conditioned aims. As long as a fitness movement does not have a genuinely novel orientation, one that is liberated from the social habituations that we are all scripted in, there is no revolution in sight.
None at all.
Fitness as I am re-framing and re-claiming the term here is not interested in shaping your body in some socially habituated aim.
This isn't to say that through this fitness movement, your body may begin to shape and inhabit joy in ways you never considered and perhaps in the process some of these changes may shape you in ways that society looks at and says "yes, I want that" in a deeply conscious way. But, this is not the point.
Maintain your clarity and do not fall into an unconscious loyalty with your social conditioning.
Fitness actually has little to do with the way you look or appear. Fitness as I invite you to relate to this term and practice is something quite different.
The fitness revolution I invite you into is your capacity, ability and skill to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment. Here it is again…
Fitness is your capacity to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this, and every, moment.
This is your true "fit-ness" and, as you can see, this does not have much to do with the shape of your body, the measurements and stats your body possess nor the desires and aims you aspire to.
This fitness revolution serves your liberated embodiment.
If you're like most people you require training for the type of fitness I am pointing at requires you decoupling yourself from your unconscious habituations. We are not trying to get your body "more fit" in the conventional sense. We are cultivating your ability to fit your conscious participation into the larger immediacy of your life.
It is "hot!"
Meaning, this is an alive, liberated, joyful and deeply engaged embodiment of the full unmediated immediacy of your life.
The next time you find yourself looking at something that's claiming to be "revolutionary" put it to the fire to see if it's aims are genuinely liberated from social conventions. Likely you will see that it's the same old intention, aim and goal wrapped in a new costume jumping around like a clown saying "get me and you'll be happy!"
I recommend using these as wake up calls.
There are many!
If you're like me, you need MANY!
Say thank you and move on, cut through and deepen the participatory immediacy that is always already holding you, co-merging with and as you.
And if you're like me, you can use a conventional tool - strength training - to yield unconventional aims with unconditioned results.
Explore fitness from this lens. Engage your yoga from here, ride your bike from here, sit on your meditation fusion from here, cook dinner tonight from here, write your e-mail from here, run from here, read this blog from here.
Fitness, the ability to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment.
Enjoy your revolution.