Body Work

Exercise as a spiritual discipline might seem - at first - counterintuitive. Think about it. As integrated beings we cannot separate our spiritual, emotional and physical selves.

As a spiritual discipline, running for me is a place for emotional and spiritual restoration. It might be yoga, walking, cycling or stretching that connects your physical self with your spiritual self. Through physical fitness, we gain spiritual fitness.

Monotonous movement is a method of meditation. So, if you - like me - have a difficult time sitting still, moving can be as much your sacred space as the yogi’s contemplation cushion. That is not to say every run is a spiritual experience for me. The spirituality shows up in the beauty of nature and the gift of friendships forged out of the road.

A discipline implies effort and sometimes that is what our daily routine is - effort. And sometimes, our spiritual practice is effort. Our exercise - and our spiritual practice - can be a place for vulnerability with ourselves, with others and with God. It’s where we nudge ourselves toward our edges. Out where we develop our juiciness and our fierceness, in communion with strength and courage and shortcomings and limitations.

As a spiritual discipline, I sometimes use my running as prayer. I run with a mental list of people to pray for at each mile. For example: mile 1: mom; mile 2: sick friend; mile 3: friend struggling with career choice - you get the picture. Some marathon runners list names of people or things they want to pray for on their pace bands. Other times, I set out for an entire run and repeat a prayer I’ve memorized in honor or memory of a loved one.

Whatever exercise speaks to your heart - running or walking or yoga or stretching or cycling - turn it into your foundation for what is authentic and sacred. Do it alone. Do it in community. Ritualize it. Make it a daily ceremony dedicated to practicing being your best physical self. Dedicate some miles, stretching, and intention to the Divine within you.

“Run by my side-live in my heartbeat; give strength to my steps. As the cold confronts me, as the wind pushes me, I know you surround me. As the sun warms me, as the rain cleanses me, I know you are touching me, challenging me, loving me. And so I give you this run; thank you for matching my stride. Amen.”
A Runner’s Prayer from Day by Day: The Notre Dame Prayerbook for Students