Spiritual growth begins in the gym. This is why.
It was a text on my phone that arrived at 6AM from across the world. “We’re done, don’t call me anymore.”
So, that was the finale of our complicated, passionate, and long distance relationship. Although the relationship wasn’t spotless, the break-up came out of the blue. The fact that everything was decided for me, that I wasn’t even given a chance to say a word, at least to bid farewell, that my time zone and beauty sleep were not regarded made it more bitter.
I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got up, took a shower… I didn’t know what to do. Without thinking, I rolled out my yoga mat because this is what I always did after a morning shower.
Inhale, stretch, exhale, bend… “We’re done, don’t call me anymore”…
…Jump back, plank, exhale, chatturanga.. “We’re done, don’t call me anymore”
…Reach up, inhale, exhale, down-faced dog, stretch… “We’re done, don’t call me anymore”
…Second round, third round, round after round, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, with the “We’re done, don’t call me anymore” pulsing in my head…
Triangle pose, half-moon pose, warrior pose… “We’re done, don’t call me anymore”
All of a sudden I physically felt something… different. I felt that those words, that text, that person on another continent were not real compared to the long and thorough sun salutation, the mat that still smelled of rubber and was a little slippery, that feeling of openness in my chest and the way I felt my leg muscles.
I became grounded. I managed to accept that it was just a break-up and it will be as bitter as I allow it to be.
By focusing on my body I discovered that I could reach inside myself and find a sacred spiritual essence that is stronger than all those calamities of everyday life.
“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity,” Guruji BKS Iyengar wrote in his book “Light on Life.” Iyengar teaches a lot about the culture of developing the body (I speak about Guruji in the present tense because his spirit is present although his body is not). Iyengar yoga is often mistakenly considered a “body focused yoga”. This is not true.
The focus is on humans as the divine creation. However, that divinity can’t be achieved unless our body is healthy, powerful, strong, and unless we reconnect with our nature.
“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind, and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”
A healthy body cannot be achieved just by eating well, or just by meditating, or just by jogging, or just by stretching… a healthy body is a combination of strength, power, endurance, flexibility, skillful nutrition, unobstructed energy flows, and regeneration of cells and tissues.
You need to exercise your muscles, your cardio-vascular system, your tendons and ligaments, and create healthy hormonal background to reclaim your body to contain your divinity.
This isn’t to say that it has to be done in a yoga shala or on a yoga mat in your living room. Whether you’re lifting weights in gym, doing push-ups in a park, shoveling snow from your driveway, your body is at work and that’s what matters most.
When I felt that craving for burning muscles and decided to suspend my yoga practice and start regular gym sessions, I was prepared for a long talk with my yoga teacher, overflowing with the guilt for making that choice.
She said: “This is great. This is yoga. Follow what your body asks from you and give it the work it needs. This is the best form of yoga to practice.” I am grateful to her for those words.
I often see how development of the body and spiritual growth are thought of as contradicting concepts. The idea that spiritual growth implies disregarding the body is quite a misconception.
In his book “The Journey Home” Radhanath (Richard) Swami describes meeting with an old friend, Harry, many years after their spiritual journeys separated them. Harry became a celebrity fitness trainer on Malibu Beach, living in a beautiful villa where he bulked up. It was all about physical fitness. There was Richard- bald, serene, wearing the saffron clothes of a monk, and confessing he’d never even had a bank account.
Harry couldn’t believe how different they became.
The Swami didn’t think so: “God lives in the heart of every one of us and our body is God’s temple. We work together: you teach people how to improve their temple whereas I teach people what to fill it with.”
The body is a temple. The body is an important tool. For spiritual growth, it is essential to have a healthy body.
We may think that reading books, listening to teachers talking, praying, and preaching develop our spirituality but the only real way to develop spirituality is to live the spiritual life.
Just like the only way to become a painter is to paint.
You can study the visual arts, distinguish styles and genres, visit galleries, and watch painters at work but you won’t grow into a true painter until you start painting. In the same way, spirituality doesn’t happen without exercising it in life. In many ways, our body is our paint.
I’m not saying that body-builders and fitness fanatics are on the path to spiritual enlightenment. The same goes for the yoga. Lulu Lemon pants, intense stretching, and naming you poses in Sanskrit won’t take you there.
The process of building a strong temple for the soul should not be confused with grasping at the superficial body image.
What makes exercise a path to spiritual growth? Here are 3 principles:
When you exercise, focus on your body. Be introspective. Many workout routines and gyms are designed so that the exerciser pays little attention to process. The idea is to exercise without noticing and to just “get one in.” This sends a message that the process of exercise is to eliminate the pain of working out by distracting your attention with loud music, television, fashion fitness, and the latest fad.
If you want your fitness routine to take you further in your spiritual journey you should do the opposite: remove distractions and concentrate on the process.
Buddhists say, it’s not the challenge and the effort that create pain: it is the avoidance of challenge and effort that causes pain.
Challenge is necessary for growth. By facing it, embracing it, and welcoming it we make real blissful and painless progress.
People frequently exercise because of deficiency~ they think they’re not attractive enough, not slim enough, not strong enough, not fast enough…
Life shows that no matter the achievements, if a person starts off from the point of deficiency, the person will only progress deeper in said deficiency.
You were given a lot: this body, this day, this air to breath, this sun to keep you warm, and this food to satiate you. Be grateful. Approach your body with gratefulness, praise its divinity, its natural perfection, and you will be rewarded with so much more than just a slim “beach body.”
Ahimsa is one of the basic moral principles in Buddhism and one of the petals of Raja yoga. Ahimsa means causing no harm, being compassionate, and to care for all life.
The same principle is applied to us.
We must exercise with the best intentions making sure the routine causes no harm to our bodies.
There are a lot of exercise routines out there that are extremely demanding for an unconditioned body. Since intense and demanding routines promise fast and impressive results, many people push their bodies way beyond healthy limits to achieve those astonishing results fast, disregarding the all the harm that FAD diets, HIIT training, and unskillful routines can cause. Metabolic syndrome, damaged joints, risk of heart and brain stroke, and eating disorders, just to name a few, are not uncommon with the body development routines when ahimsa is not observed.
Compassion to the body doesn’t mean being lazy. Compassion doesn’t mean not challenging the body or neglecting its natural requirement to move and develop. Compassion is giving your body the best treatment you can.
Remember your divine self, create your temple without attachment, grasping, or arrogance. Even when you do just a routine exercise, do it from the point of abundance, love, compassion and gratefulness that will open the gates to your soul.
ABOUT THIS GUEST: Olga is a life coach with Accomplishment Coaching organization. She truly believes that happiness is a choice and she helps women cultivate their happy lifestyle. She’s a professional fitness trainer who promotes an anti-fitness concept. She helps women create the body that empowers them for making their dreams come true without that dieting, sweating, “six-pack”, “no-pain-no-gain” nonsense. Olga is also a motivation ninja, idea generator and “no excuses” coach: she’d rather help you find a way or make one. She hosts a podcast “Fitness for Grown-ups” (in Russian), co-founded an online fitness club “Best for Health” and provides personal online life coaching and power anti-fitness program. Not so long ago she packed 30 years of her life in two suitcases, moved with her husband and a three year old from Kazakhstan to the USA, and started a new exciting life from scratch. Now she helps women find their own point of self-actualization and freedom, and create resources for awesomeness, with healthy body being an essential one. She’s bilingual, a big fan of Russian rock music, devoted Iyengar yoga practitioner, singer and rock-model in the making, and a Buddhist at heart. www.olgareinholdt.ru/en