The popular book ‘Fitness Is a Religion’ might have a daunting title, but it certainly contains some truths. It raises a few interesting and transformative ideas – the central one being;
‘Fitness is a religion, a way of life rooted in the deeply held conviction that physical, psychological and spiritual health are inextricably related.’
Ray Kybartas, the author (and personal trainer of Madonna), is essentially suggesting that fitness is: the pursuit of wholeness, a ‘religious regimen’ that can empower each of us to handle the pressures of our daily lives.
Here are a couple of fitness black-and-whites from the author:
- Fitness can be seen as the difference between health, or no health.
- It is a lifelong practice.
- There are no shortcuts.
These are all true, but things aren’t as gloomy as they sound. In a gently inspiring manner, he more romantically elaborates here:
‘Fitness is a lifelong pilgrimage – and like religious pilgrims, all who seek health must commit themselves to the journey.
Those who do will find lasting results. Here is the irony: to achieve physical beauty you must look beyond it. if we keep our eyes focused on a particular short-term goal we may achieve it, but victory will be temporary.
We must be transformed inside out.’
A Culture of Shortcuts
Our society places a huge focus on efficiency and pace – and this applies to fitness, and our bodies too. We see this in fad diets and crash exercise programs.
However, our object should not be to lose weight, but rather to become fit.
If you apply this idea, you’ll naturally find yourself pursuing a healthier, more active lifestyle. Your relationship with your body will change, as everyday you will learn more about how to listen to its needs. Consistency over time is the key. Plus, you’ll learn something that only you can: what specifically works for you. A fitter physique becomes a natural side effect – just a bonus, within a larger, ongoing, goal.
The Physical and Spiritual Link
‘Our neglected bodies often serve only as a repository for stress, depression, and illness.’- Ray Kybartas
There is an incredibly deep connection between our mental and spiritual well-being, and our physical health.
As our pressures increase with juggling work, homes, relationships and family, our personal wellbeing can often take a backseat. Stress causes imbalance in both our bodies and minds, and we start to develop health conditions. Unfortunately, many of us unconsciously choose pain and immobility rather than health. There is a common yet untrue perception that the pursuit of fitness is a just another burden within our already commitment-filled lives.
As mentioned above, many practices can work and it’s about finding what works for you. Today we’ll explore a personal favourite and an incredible for tool for strengthening body, mind and spirit: yoga.
Over the past few decades there’s been a widespread and renewed interest in yoga’s benefits. Pretty often, the emphasis is placed on yoga’s physical aspects – which when practiced, are of course, hugely beneficial (in terms of fitness, strength, circulation, flexibility and mobility). However, this view is still limiting to the full, transformative potential of yoga.
To begin understanding the many layers of yoga, we have to turn to its roots. Thousands of years ago, the forest sages of ancient India recognised the seeming duality of a unified universe; matter and light, body and spirit, heart and mind. Inspired, they drew on this truth and evolved asanas (postures) and meditations that could gently guide others into a unified moment of body and spirit. Yoga was a gift they created, to heal the world, to cultivate gratitude and deeply honour creation.
When infused with a conscious knowledge and gentle application of its original purpose, your yoga practice will deepen – allowing you to essentially become an embodied channel of peace. In the process, you will gain focus, clarity and vitality. Reducing stress, yoga heals and strengthens both body and mind. Simple techniques applied with consistency and commitment will encourage mindfulness – organically and gradually deepening your practice.
‘I am practicing asana, but at a level where the quality is meditative. The totality of being, from core to skin, is experienced. Mind is unruffled, intelligence is awake in heart rather than in head, self is quiescent, and conscious life is in every cell of the body.
That is what I mean when I say asana opens up the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities.’ – B.K.S Iyengar
Cultivating a Long-Term Practice
A key part of cultivating a long-term yoga practice is to avoid letting it become coloured by notions of ‘self-improvement’ goals. Instead, try and approach your yoga meditation with patience and love.
As mystic Andrew Harvey notes, ‘a body at peace with itself radiates peace.’
Approaching your practice with an uncritical outlook creates a spaciousness in your practice, through which the mind will gradually empty. A beautiful effect of mindful yoga is that gradually, self-critical thoughts will fade to be replaced with self-empowerment and authenticity. Plus, if you are practicing for the love of practice, rather than to tick off goals or compete with others, you are far more likely to stick with it.
The beautiful thing about yoga, is that it truly is for everyone. While it is incredibly rewarding to witness your gradual development in flexibility and strength, even from the outset, you can never be ‘bad’ at it. Rather by, stretching to your limits, you are always exactly where you should be, providing your body exactly what it needs. It truly is a lifelong journey.
Everyone faces mental resistance with their yoga practice at some point. Despite our best efforts we might find ourselves having negative like ‘I’m definitely not improving.’ The trick here is to simply acknowledge these thoughts as only thoughts, without identifying with them, and then to move on. Eventually you’ll see that your yoga practice is spacious enough to contain everything – even your resistance! Ironically, it’s only through accepting this that the negative thought stream begins to fade.
A dedicated practice, and the pursuit of fitness truly is a lifelong project. We must realign out priorities to place our health first (or at least in our top three!), and from there, figure out what is most sustainable for us to continue everyday. This is a combination of what we enjoy (or to start with, dislike the least!), and where we’re currently at. The practices that we don’t mind committing to, for our whole lives.
There is no such thing as a quick fix, your health and fitness is a space which will slowly grow and develop with time. There’s no pressure here, rather the opposite: a requirement of commit and surrender.
If you’re seeking some momentum to start, or even just an encouraging nudge, why not visit us here at Happy Buddha? Our retreats include Vinyasa flows as well as gentle Yin yoga – classes perfect for all levels (even total beginners!). We provide a truly welcoming and loving space for those taking the first steps on their long-term health journey. Good luck!