A few years ago, three wake-up calls got my attention. My brother died of cancer, and I was reminded of how important it is to honor and care for our bodies. Not long after that, an acquaintance announced on Facebook that he had walked a mile on his treadmill, in just over an hour—quite a feat considering he was paralyzed with lupus. Then I discovered that a friend in his 70s, who moved like a man half his age, was running four full marathons a year.
These experiences taught me that I wasn’t doing enough to respect my body. I knew it was time to make some changes. I’d admired runners from a distance, but I was afraid to ask my body to pay in sweat. Deep down, I had the ability to run, and I knew it would be great adventure for me, so why wasn’t I doing it?
After thinking about all this for many months, one winter morning, I pulled on an old pair of gray sweatpants, laced up my athletic shoes, and forced myself into the biting January air. I only ran about a mile that day—by sheer force of will. But it felt good afterward and I wanted to do it again.
Running has become part of the natural rhythm of my life. I ran two half marathons this year, besting my time each race. I’ve shed 20 pounds and kept them off for several years. I’ve picked up a lot of obvious health benefits from running and I’ve also gained some not-so-obvious spiritual benefits. Here are five things I’ve learned from running that have helped me go deeper spiritually.
1. Running Helps Me Believe in Myself
Why not have faith in yourself? I’m not talking about being arrogant or self-centered, but holding a straight-out belief that you can expect better things out of yourself. I’ve been dancing with a dodgy disease for over a decade, so when I first got started, running a competitive race seemed only remotely possible. But I’ve run 11 races since I started running again. I’m staring that disease down every day, challenging it with faith in myself and in the resilience of my body. And it’s working.
2. Running Helps Me Believe in Something Bigger Than Myself
Left to its own devices, your body will always want the shortcut. Unchecked it will lunge at corner-store junk food, fling itself on the couch, watch mindless television for hours, glut on weekend-long video games, or plead for something worse. But you are more than your body. There is something infinite inside of you that longs to express itself. Turn off the greed gland and you’ll be able to reach for something higher.
3. Running Heals Me
After a few weeks of getting on my feet and peeling the mattress off my back, my body chemistry changed. My body longed to get out and run and started reminding me to do that often. It liked my lower blood pressure, the lost pounds, and the regular endorphin high. And when I really listened to it, my body steered me toward real food, not the imitation stuff. I’ve started to heal and it feels good.
4. Running Amps Up My Meditation
Lots of runners like to listen to music when they run, but I rarely do. I’ve found my thinking is more clear when I’m running than at any other time, and I’m more open to new ways of looking at the world. I listen to my body and to my inner self. I sort through problems and discover solutions. Almost without fail, I come back home with a feeling of peace and a better sense of balance and well-being.
5. Running Inspires Me to Worship
I’ve gotten in the habit of offering a lot of thanks when I’m running. As I take in the beauty of the world and the miracle of the human body, I can’t hold back the sincere, overwhelming sense of gratitude I have for God’s gifts. Running time is a time I feel connected my Higher Power. With new spring in my feet, I feel a oneness with heaven. It’s helped me come face-to-face with who I really am, and the better I know my true self, the closer I feel to God.
Running, to me, is more of a spiritual practice than a physical one. It has taken me places I didn’t think I could ever go again. It’s a path of peace I won’t be stepping off soon.
Michael Fitzgerald is a husband and lover of all things outdoors. You can reach him at www.michaeljamesfitzgerald.com.
The following is the experience of Jennifer Sousa from Spokane Valley, Washington.
Love is an action word, so it only makes sense that one of the best ways to show love to our own bodies is through movement. For me, that means yoga. Yes, I am talking about the weirdo hippie exercises your neighbor has been raving about, and for good reason. Yoga is more than a few poses done in slow motion; it’s allowing movements to bridge a connection between your body and your mind. It’s about realizing that it’s okay to slow down in a way that not only feels great, but also brings health and wellness.
Our heart was the first organ to spring to life, and gave a blueprint to create the rest or our bodies. Your fingers, your lungs, and even that extra roll of fat (gotta love it) is a miracle that’s manifested with every beat of our hearts. With everything we put that little muscle through, it deserves a break a couple times a week. Just like sleep, yoga lowers the heart rate and allows it the sooth, except we’re awake to feel the sensation and reap the benefits in the moment. And when we’re allowing our hearts to rest while opening up our bodies through different yoga positions, we’re also opening up our spirits to instruction, guidance, and reassurance from a higher power.
How on earth do you get instruction, guidance, and reassurance from a higher power while trying (as gracefully as possible) to maneuver a strange yoga pose? It’s all about not judging the pose. It’s actually about not judging at all. Yoga is a timeout from all of that. It’s a timeout from measuring up, looking down, or thinking sideways. Instead, it’s a moment to relish in all the blessings you’ve been granted over the course of a week, month, or even years. It’s not about comparing your house to your neighbor’s; it’s about the fact that you have a place to live. It’s not about comparing your kids to someone else’s; it’s about the fact that you have brought more little people into the world. Yoga, like faith, is about gratitude, and that’s where the bridge starts to build.
When we have the intention to move and the intention to be grateful, we can be unstoppable forces for God. Our bodies learn to break physical barriers while our minds tear down the barriers of a worldly perspective. With deliberate and raw devotion to your body and your mind, God will recognize your actions not only as an intentional call to Him, but will reply with deliberate answers to your burning questions, and that is where the connection between your body and spirit is formed.
For those of you just starting out, give yourself a break. You don’t have to bend like the person next to you, and it’s okay if your yoga pants rip (it happens). Most importantly, don’t go to one session and expect to know how to do every pose while simultaneously solving all your problems. Like scripture study, yoga takes practice in order to get something out of it, both physically and spiritually. So keep going, test out new instructors, and finally learn how turn love into action.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
What is it with us and stress these days? It feels like with our speed-of-light, have-to-have-everything-figured-out-and-checked-off culture today, there’s hardly time to breath, let alone regroup and be calm. Images flash across screens, projecting perfection, and we feel compelled to comply. We overschedule and impose impossible standards on ourselves, all while cruising social media to make sure we’re doing it just right.
And that doesn’t even begin to touch the deeper life questions of dating, marriage, family, schooling, jobs and job losses, deaths, and broken relationships. It all adds up to very real, sometimes debilitating, stress. I, for one, feel stressed just thinking about all the things that stress us out.
The real issue, then, becomes not just recognizing that we’re stressed but knowing what to do about it when it comes. If you’re like me, you probably don’t like to feel stressed out. Sure, some stress is good, if it motivates us to get moving and get things done. But too much stress isn’t good for us. Listen to this explanation of all the harm stress can do to a brain.
I’ve seen my share of stress over the years. Back when I was younger, I might have fooled myself into believing that a big bowl of ice cream solved the problem. But the older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to depend on two specific types of exercise to battle stress.
Exercise Your Body
The first is any form of physical exercise. Not very specific? It doesn’t have to be. It’s less about what you’re doing and more about just doing it. You can do anything from taking a walk to joining a team to trying a class at the gym. You could even go it solo with a workout on a dvd or gaming console. The sky’s the limit, and I’ve tried them all. My current exercise of choice is a dance class. There’s nothing like an hour of hip hop, house, and Latin dancing to keep the stress at bay.
And if you think you’re too tired, too old, or just don’t have the time for exercise, think again. Physical exercise actually increases your energy level, impacts your body in ways that make you feel younger, and overall just makes you happy with the extra boost of endorphins you get. So even on your busiest days, it’s worth it to squeeze in a little physical exercise to let go of stress.
Exercise Your Faith
But physical exercise isn’t enough. If I really want to keep my stress in proper perspective, I have to exercise a good amount of faith as well. What does that mean, exactly? For me, it means I have trust that everything is going to work out. You can call it optimism or hope or belief in a higher power that is directing your path. But on the darkest days, when things feel really stressful, faith can be a guiding light that will see you through to calmer days. And it can be found through meditation, prayer, scripture study, or talking with other faith-minded friends.
Recently my daughter and I had a conversation about happy endings. Someone told her that the happy ending is misguided because it’s not real life. But we decided, as we talked, that believing in the happy ending is what keeps us going through all the stressful conflicts along the way. We are believers in the happy ending. That’s what it means to exercise faith. It’s a belief that even when we feel stressed out, if we exercise faith, we can achieve our happy ending. It’s what keeps us going.
Keeping the Two Together For me, the combination of the two has always been key. While I love a good workout and can’t go very long without one, physical exercise alone won’t keep my stress in check. But when I couple a good sweat with a healthy dose of faith, I know that everything will work out and I can take a deep breath and relax.
Tiffany Tolman is a graduate of BYU, a busy mom of four awesome kids, and a wife of one incredible husband. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.