(originally written April, 2009)
Reach. Extend. Bend. Stand. Carry. Pull. Lean. Twist. Sit. Push. Hold.
The ability o perform any of these should not be taken for granted; no one a luxury, each one probable in the course of a day. Only two gifts are awarded at birth; the conscious and the body. In matters of virtue, most seek to nourish the conscious by use of the conscious; prayer as a means of better fulfilling one’s purpose. The virtues of love, forgiveness, healing, compassion and others can be enhanced by prayer, providing vast returns. This kind of prayer is practiced by billions each day.
There can also be physical prayer; actions of a body practiced to better enable the virtues of movement, and connect with one’s ability. That investment in regular action can provide both intimate internal, as well as cascading external returns – just like conscious prayer. Move with confidence. Direct your body without fear. Live with ability, and be poised to give more of yourself to family and to your community. To connect with one’s body in this way is to be closer to fulfilling one’s purpose and potential. I believe this in a literal sense.
Statistics tell us those who practice exercise are a great minority in comparison to those who practice conscious prayer. In the current era there are many genres of exercise practiced world wide. I will not say that any one form of exercise is better than any other. That should be left to the individual. Today I only suggest that traditional strength training, seemingly on its way out of the modern exercise agenda, is an exceptional way for individuals of any age to connect with, and to expand their capacity for movement – to body-pray.
Strength training offers many secondary values; improved flexibility, enhancement of athletic performance, slowing of bone density loss, decrease of blood pressure, improved balance, ability to shape and tone the body, and much more.
As a vehicle of prayer, the primary benefits of strength training I speak of are derived from two elements; range of motion and capacity. Combine range of motion with capacity, be it done with free weights, machines, dumbells, or bricks, and one can not help but live inside of, and better identify with their body. When one slowly and deliberately extends a loaded muscle or a group of muscles, concentrating on how these muscles feel throughout the extension and subsequent contraction, one experiences a very intimate connection between mind and body – a literal inventory of that which enables us. This can be grounding and poetic.
There are those who will suggest that exercise today is better done out of doors and not in gyms. Others propose that since strength training devices; barbells, machines and the like were not around 100,000 years ago, they are not relevant for human beings. Others still will suggest there are better forms of exercise to connect with one’s body; the ancient yoga, the well-thought Pilates, the in-vogue endurance and cardio classes, martial arts, running, etc. They all make great cases too, though not exclusive ones. I have been a practitioner of all of these and none, in my opinion, offer as much utility and benefit to the human experience as proper strength training practiced in moderation. My strength training is how I know I’m the physical me.
Where human priorities were once completely instinctive, they are now largely manufactured and clearly this will never turn back. This is our time, and this is our place – we should make the best of our options and opportunities. In no way am I suggesting that strength training be one’s exclusive outlet for exercise – there is so much more out there than the dirty old gym. I do much more physically in the course of a month than just lift weights; kayaking, trail hiking, running, stretching, yoga, and more. I am saying that, as an investment in prayer, strength training is unique, and has an amazing return value per moment of effort.
Historians 200 years from now may shake their heads in disbelief that gyms, barbells, Nautilus machines, and dumbbells ever existed, or needed to exist. This may be true. Those same historians though, will also shake their heads in disbelief at the notion of cars, manicured green lawns, neck ties, trash bags, recreational drugs, hedge funds, television, Krispy Kremes, labor unions, and prejudice – but that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone from embracing these in this time and in this place.
This is my time, and this is my place. Since the weight room exists in my here and my now, I accept it, and will continue to use it as one sanctuary for my body-prayer. Be well. rc