After starting a new early morning exercise routine, I’m starting to realize the spiritual self-care benefits of getting enough exercise.
Exercise and self-care go hand-in-hand. What would happen if you saw exercise as a powerful self-care tool instead of a drudgery you must check off your already too-long to-do list? We’ll explore the mental, academic, physical, and spiritual aspects of exercise during the month of June.
Maybe I’m Quirky
“Oh! Turn off the light!” I groaned from the floor where I struggled to do another pushup.
“What are you doing?” Pedro asked, “And why do you need the light off?”
“I’m doing my physical therapy exercises.” I huffed out and collapsed on the floor.
“Buy why do you need the lights off?”
“It’s easier to do exercises I don’t like if it’s dark,” I explained.
He laughed and flipped the lights off. “Whatever works for you.”
Everyone has their quirks, including me. In looking back at my new exercise-before-waking-up-fully routine, I’ve discovered some unexpected outcomes. Doing an after-action review when I make changes in my routines has helped me discover what really works.
I used to wake up, stumble to the kitchen, and make my decaf latte before sinking into my rocker for morning devotions. Last fall I started visiting a physical therapist for leg and shoulder pain. He had a plethora of exercises for me, but I struggled to fit them into my routine. I finally discovered I can do the exercises first thing in the morning when I roll out of bed.
Instead of putting on my glasses and heading to the kitchen, I lay on the floor and go through a series of stretches and strengthening exercises. Something about the semi-darkness of my bedroom, the lack of focus (I keep my glasses off until I finish), and the quiet makes it easier to do exercises I don’t enjoy. I think of it as my active snooze session.
At first, I thought the only benefits of my routine came from the decreased pain and increased muscle tone. But now I see other benefits, too.
Spiritual Self-Care and Early Morning Exercise
In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain Dr. John Ratey, shows how students benefit from exercising before they attempt to learn anything in the classroom. What if we applied the same technique to our spiritual self-care routines?
Without knowing about Dr. Ratey’s research, I had started exercising before my devotions. I found it easier to stay awake and alert when I sat in my rocker and opened my Bible. In addition, I added a new element to my quiet time.
As part of my morning devotions, I usually spend a few minutes listing things I’m grateful for. Then I copy the verse of the day from the YouVersion Bible app. As I started establishing my new exercise routine, I began to not just copy the Bible verse, but to personalize it as I copied.
This habit has led me to new insights about God’s word. The increased understanding and exercise-first routine may be coincidental. But maybe not.
Jesus ministered first to people’s physical needs. He healed their infirmities and their spirituality grew as a result. Matthew 11:5 records Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist’s question about his divinity. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (NIV).
And the Research Says…
Not many people research the exercise-spirituality connection from a Christian perspective. In fact, I only found one research paper suggesting a form of exercise to increase spirituality. The paper, written by Carol Rogers and Colleen Keller describes how geriatric patients who use the Sign-Chi-Do exercise program gain confidence in their physical abilities as well as feel a deeper spiritual connection.
Most references to spirituality and exercise involve practices from non-Christian religions, so Sign-Chi-Do piqued my curiosity.
Dr. Anne Borik developed Sign-Chi-Do to help her grandmother recover from a stroke. In her research, Dr. Borik discovered something unusual about sign language. “Sign language stimulates an area of the brain that’s not stimulated by any other movement.”
Because of her grandmother’s deep faith and her own education in physiology and medicine, Dr. Borik developed a simple routine for her grandmother using American Sign Language, movements from Tai-Chi, scripture, and music. Sing (language)-Chi (Tai Chi movements)-Do (pronounced ‘dough’) combines exercise, memory, music, and scripture.
Exercise helps us learn, so it only makes sense exercise would increase our ability to learn more about God.
The Interconnectedness of the Four Pillars of Wholeness
Although I talk about the four pillars of wholeness, like the compass, the four pillars link together to form a whole. The interrelatedness of our mental, academic/artistic, physical, and spiritual sides makes it impossible to talk about one without mentioning another.
Exercise improves depression (mental wholeness), our ability to learn and create (academic and artistic wholeness), and our physical health. It stands to reason exercise would play a part in our spiritual wholeness as well. Even if no one’s researched it and proven it scientifically.
Exercise Hacks for Spiritual Self-Care
1. Define Your Why
Why do you want to improve your spiritual self-care? Do you feel estranged from God? Perhaps your daily devotions seem stale or impersonal. Why do you think exercise will help? You can use this free resource to determine your why.
2. Exercise First
You don’t have to go for a jog before your devotions to gain the benefits of exercising before learning. Dr. John Ratey does a simple exercise you can watch here which helps prepare the brain for learning and takes only a minute.
3. Dance it Out
2 Samuel 6:5, 14-15 tells the story of David and the Israelites combining exercise and worship when King David and the others danced before God.
If you love to dance, you could listen to Matthew West’s song ‘Amen’ and dance along. I guarantee you can’t sit still during the song! This music video has sing-along lyrics to really get your heart pumping.
4. Remember the Temple
Don’t forget our bodies are the temple of God. He wants us to keep ourselves healthy and whole. A journalist and explorer, Dan Buettner, in conjunction with National Geographic, led a team of anthropologists, scientists, and demographers to the five different areas of the world where people live the longest.
5. Take a Prayer Walk
The next time you go out for a walk, make it a prayer walk. You can do this several different ways. I like to choose an object from nature to look for. In the winter, I’ll choose white-crowned sparrows. Each time you see that object, say a prayer for a person on your prayer list.
You can also take your prayer list with you to use as a reference and just talk to God about the needs on the list as you walk.
6. Go on a Gratitude Walk
Like the prayer walk, the gratitude walk focuses on turning a simple walk into an act of spiritual self-care. Grateful people live longer. Spend time expressing your gratefulness to God when you go out for your next walk.
When I move, it’s easier for me to think of blessings than when I sit.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Lament
David doesn’t only give us examples of dancing and rejoicing—he laments before the Lord, too. I’ve spent many a brisk walk or run pouring out my laments to God. Just remember to do your lament walks or run in a safe place where you don’t have to worry too much about tears blinding you.
Walking helps us regulate our emotions, and sometimes only a lament walk will do. I always return feeling better and closer to God.
Exercise and Spiritual Self-Care Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Honey
Whether you choose to jumpstart your learning before you study the Bible or go on a purposeful walk, you can improve your spiritual self-care through exercise. Don’t take my word for it, though. Try it and let me know how it worked for you!Seven hacks to help you improve your spiritual self-care routine using exercise. #selfcare #spirituality Click To Tweet