Monday, February 16, 2015

Enlightened Exercise: Discovering Your Body's Natural Shape

enlightened exercise, spiritual awakening, sand, footprints, beach
Enlightened exercise is not about a certain state of awareness or fitness goal. It's about aligning to your body's needs and how to achieve your optimum health. That last phrase may sound a little cliche and like a goal. But your body does know what optimum health is, and it can't be described by a nutritionist, doctor, personal trainer, or whomever. Only your body truly knows what that feels like, and while we certainly take advantage of what all the aforementioned people may have to offer us, the more we relax into our body awareness, the more easily we can find out what exercises and general health strategies work best for us.

Enlightened exercise is also not about doing yoga or anything that currently carries the "spiritual" label in today's culture. To be sure, yoga is an awesome system for alignment of heart, body, mind, and spirit. It's also much more than the physical regimes that have become popularized in the West. But it is not the only system to be used, and it cannot supplant your own awareness around what kinds of exercise you need.

Because the more you can sense what you need, the more you will heal, grow, or stabilize in whatever way you currently need to. This will lead you inevitably towards a level of health and a body shape that best suits you in your journey this lifetime.

Your Body's Natural Shape

What do I mean by "your body's natural shape?" I mean that everyone has a natural shape. It's just how your body is set up. I'm a six foot four inch guy with a naturally lean body. That's just how my body is. That shape also is better supported by some exercises than others, and my body tells me all about that. To fight against our natural body shape is to put undo stress upon ourselves to create culturally approved of body shapes (thin women, muscular men, whatever) that our body doesn't naturally support. Because of that, we feel like we're always bailing against the tide in our exercises. The guy who is trying to get a six pack (a Western phrase for having a lot of abdominal muscle definition) feels like he can't maintain the definition or do enough sit-ups. The woman fretting about having a smaller butt keeps making it bigger as she naturally builds more muscle there. This has lead to all kinds of butt-busting, ab-building, and other specific workout regimes that work for the short term, but your body doesn't really want to support that physique long-term.

The number of ways these stories of striving for a body image can go are endless, and really what we're dealing with is the sickness of the mind imposing itself on the body. Exercise should not be done to make our bodies fit an ideal or a picture in a magazine. The images we are being shown of other people in a good portion of Western Society media are utterly distorted. They overly focus on youth, clear complexion, thinness (for women) or excessive muscle (for men), and many other things. This has caused so many people to reject their natural body shape, and because many people can never even come close to attain these ideals, many people are excessively miserable with their bodies. People say absurd things such as, "I hate my body."

You may be one of them.

The Punitive Bootcamp Exercise Regime

The story of self-hatred is so pandemic in Western Culture that we accept a lot of terrible things as good things. One of the popularized terms is the "bootcamp" where people pound their bodies through intense exercise regimes to get fit. It's not kind to the body. It's not gradual or gentle. It's a mentality of "give it to me now"--which is another core issue in our culture. Certainly, it can have some benefits, and some people can get in shape by doing it. But because that type of working out isn't really sustainable or enjoyable for most people, a lot of physical gains (or probably more accurately said--gains in believed in attractiveness) start eroding pretty much the moment someone stops going to the bootcamps or whatever intense exercise regime they're involved in. Then the person ends up quickly right back where they were, and at no time in this process is the person really loving and appreciating their body. Their body is simply an object to be beaten into submission. It's not a nice way to treat yourself.

The Other Side of the Coin

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that some people are so badly out of shape that they don't know what feeling in shape is like. As such, they are cut off from a strong sense of what their body intelligence is like in a healthy shape. It's very easy for a lot of people to think that how they are is just how they are, but there are so many choices that we make. We don't even realize we're making them, which is why we call them unconscious choices and thinking. A lot of this takes us back into the issues around food, which I also talk about on this blog. What we eat creates a huge impact on how we feel. So invariably diet and exercise are intertwined. How could they not be?

But getting back to the exercise part of this, if you're completely out of shape, getting into shape isn't fun. It's can feel grueling at times. Running if you haven't been running much if at all can churn up all kinds of physiological junk in the lungs and elsewhere. But when you come to something like this with spiritual mindfulness, you start out slowly. You push your edges gently. There's no need to do a 10K marathon overnight. The self-discipline needed in exercise is very important, and increased self-discipline in this area can help you in other areas of your life. Being able to facing inner difficulty whether its at the end of a long run when you are tired or when you're facing a lot of strong emotions from childhood abuse are equally supported by your self-discipline and trust in being able to work through something.

Issues Come to Light in Greater Physical Health

In "Awakening Your Body With Exercise," I mentioned how issues can get churned up through exercise. Yoga is particularly good at doing that because it's a system developed to meld everything together. Pain has to be addressed the deeper you come into oneness with yourself. Even if you aren't in great shape, this stuff can happen. Your body is super intelligent, and it doesn't want to hold emotional toxins anymore than it wants to hold physical tension and toxins. A lot of times, sedentary lifestyles allow a lot of issues and toxins to sit and fester inside of us. Churning up this muck does not feel good, which makes me only re-emphasize the need for self-discipline. As you work through the physical aspects, your body starts to feel naturally better. The better you feel, the easier it is to identify additional issues in physical health, emotional health, and energetic health. There is a great deal of clarity that comes to you through a healthy body.

Conversely, an unhealthy body will agitate the mind. You may not realize it, but your ego is in service to the body. It tries to address different agitations. A lot of times, it misinterprets body impulses. When you're getting tired signals, a nap is in order, not energy drinks and caffeine. When you're hungry, sugary foods aren't the answer. A healthy meal is. When you've been working through a lot of fear, doing more things doesn't help you to feel better many times. Sitting and meditating will allow the body and the agitation caused by fear to subside so that you can relax. The body is telling you things all the time, and the better health you are in, the easier it is to hear those signals and correctly interpret them.

Creating a Sustainable Exercise Routine

Assuming you are in decent health, creating a sustainable exercise routine is important. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn't have to be anything overtly spiritual. Yoga is obviously a great system, but walking every day does a lot for you too. Running, dancing, hiking, and other things can all be done regularly and in moderation to allow your body to stay fit. Obviously, the medical community has its definitions on what fit is and how much rigorous activity to do. I don't doubt or refute any of that, and I encourage you to learn about those suggestions. But ultimately, you know what feels best for your body, and setting a regular routine will help you to stay aligned to it. When you are doing a style of exercise that supports your body's natural shape and health, it is much easier to commit to, but commitment is necessary.

A body in its natural shape also is a relaxed body. With the body less agitated in general, it is easier to notice when it does get agitated. It is also easier to source the agitation. This is something I talk a lot about in terms of our spiritual practice. So many of our core issues are rooted in the body, and to heal them fully means that we must address them at the physical level. A lot of times simply breathing into them and relaxing is the most powerful way to release those issues. But I mention this so that you don't think that "thinking" alone will get you there. The body doesn't think. It senses life, and it needs to find its own way through sensation into releasing issues.

A Word About Spiritual Awakening and Your Body

In other posts, I talk about the challenges that come up in the body during a spiritual awakening. Depending on your journey, you may suddenly have exercise and the energy to exercise removed from your life for the short-term. It's okay. Your body will not go to waste during these times. Your energy is simply needed elsewhere. Others of you will need to exercise in much the way I am describing in this spirituality post. You may need to detox the body and help it get into a decent shape for some of your earlier phases of healing before moving on to other issues. The awakening moves us all in our own unique ways. I have, however, found that some amount of walking (30 to 40 minutes) can be really useful for pretty much anyone going through awakening. It's a gentle way to be grounded in your body and to move it a little bit--especially if you have chronic fatigue in awakening. For more on that, please read this post:

Chronic Fatigue and Spiritual Awakening

The Beauty of Your Natural Body Shape

For most of humankind, people have been creating beauty ideals for men and especially for women. But on the spiritual path, we learn to embrace all body shapes. They're all beautiful when they are cared for with proper attention, sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Enlightened exercise simply is a way to say that you will honor your body's needs and its natural shape. It means you are saying, "I am beautiful as I am," and even if you are grossly out of shape (too thin, too heavy, too something else), your enlightened exercise says this is beautiful and accepted too. As you dedicate yourself to exercise, the body comes into its natural shape, and with that comes a renewed vigor and glow that can only come through deep self-acceptance and love. When love is the foundation of your workouts, that is true enlightened exercise, and the gift is to fully enjoy living and thriving in your body.
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