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NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
The Elephant in the Room: Physical Fitness In Pagan Spirituality
Article ID: 15280
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 966
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Author: Eardstapa [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: December 9th. 2012
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Imagine the feel of dark moist earth beneath your feet and the thick smell of rain and fallen leaves in your nostrils. Hear the sound of your footfalls muffled in the foliage as you lunge over a root that rises in your path. Feel the burning in your lungs as you labor to pull in the cold morning air and propel yourself down the winding trail. As you round the bend and gaze over the valley before you, drink in the majesty of the natural world around you. Revel in being alive.
One of the drawbacks of modern life is that we are cut off from experiences like this one, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A fitness plan can provide you with just the outlet you need to live a healthy life while feeling better and, in an often neglected way, it can provide you with a very satisfying supplement for your spiritual life as well. Though it may seem counterintuitive, including fitness as part of your spirituality is not a new idea and can be accomplished through a straightforward regimen of diet and exercise.
Throughout most of our history fitness has been a necessity, not an option. Our ancestors needed to be fit in order to engage in grow food, hunt, or fight off other people. Because it was important for survival, it is not surprising to see rituals and ceremonies tailored toward imbuing or maintaining vitality of body amongst practitioners. One of the most vibrant historical examples of this celebration of vitality is the ancient Olympics. Myths on the origin of the ancient Olympics are varied, with one version stating that they began with a race of lesser gods to entertain Zeus in his infancy, and others attributing the start of the games to contests created by Hercules after he completed his labors. With the first recorded Olympics held in 776 BC, the contest continued until 393 AD when they were suppressed by Roman authorities enforcing Christianity as the state religion.
During this time competitors from various Greek city-states came together to compete for olive tree wreathes in many well known athletic events. While the games took place an Olympic Truce or ekecheiria took hold over the often warring city-states of Greece that allowed athletes to journey to Olympia to take part in the event. Interestingly, the games were as much as a religious event as they were a secular one. The Greeks held the games in honor of Zeus and included religious ceremonies and animal sacrifices. The site of the games at Olympia was even home to a temple of Zeus that housed a 42-foot statue of the God that was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Though the modern Olympics have largely dropped the spiritual aspect and become a secular event, the example of physical fitness tied to spirituality is still an important one today. The Greeks understood the idea of holistic approach to spirituality whereby if one area is ignored, the other areas suffer. That idea is even more important now in the era of television, fast food, and desk jobs.
A cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle is a healthy diet. With all of the fad diets, the health food craze, and a plethora of other advertisements we are bombarded with, what is a healthy diet though? To put it simply, everyone is different and has different dietary needs. Without going into excruciating detail, you should look for a diet low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and artificial ingredients. Most people, when faced with a lineup of food, can identify which food items are better for them by using the guidelines above. The issue is not recognition of healthy food—it is getting people to change their dietary habits. By spending a little more time while shopping for food, you can identify which items are better for you.
When was the last time you examined the nutrition facts printed on something at a grocery store? If you have to think for more than a moment, try to set aside more time for your next shopping run to figure out which items will better suit you. Once you’ve secured some wholesome ingredients, make sure you’re managing your portions and keeping a decent variety to what you’re eating. Simple changes like eating your salad “European Style” can help you cut down on your portions (basically it takes about 15-20 min for your stomach to register how full it is so to avoid eating heavy items until your full feeling kicks in, eat your salad at the end of your meal instead of at the beginning) . This way the salad will satisfy your oral fixation while your stomach has time to register how full you actually are.
Finally, something must be said of fad diets. There is a confusing array of exotic diets out there from the Atkins Diet to Veganism. If you are looking at starting one of these diets, only a nutritionist and your doctor can help you determine if these diets are right for you. Keep in mind that most people fail to follow fad diets because they require drastic change that is hard to implement; by instituting small gradual changes into your dietary habits, you can make the transition in a way that tends to be much more successful.
Next we’ll cover the other half of a fitness plan, that which most people dread: exercise. Again, everyone is different and has a variety of fitness goals and bodily concerns. The path to success is to create a plan based on your needs. For instance, if you plan to lose weight you need to aim for long workouts of 30-60 minutes at the low end of the cardiovascular spectrum. If you have a bad back, you might want to consider low impact ways of achieving that, so instead of running you might swim laps in a pool instead. Your plan should include the type of exercise you’ll be completing, the intensity of the exercise (for cardio your target heart rate and for weight training the weight you are using) , and the duration of the workout. To get the full benefit, you should plan to work out for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week. The most important part is to stick with your plan once you have established it.
This topic leads us to the fun part and the key to staying with your fitness plan—keeping it interesting. Without an active effort on your part to stay on your plan, it won’t work. You can accomplish this in a variety of ways. One is to recognize who you spend most of your time eating with and see if one of them would be willing to make dietary changes with you. Maybe your best friend or mate has been looking at dieting as well and you have a built in diet supporter. The same can be said of finding a buddy or group of buddies to work out with. Workouts with a group tend to push you further and it’s easier to find motivation for that morning run when you have someone waiting on you. A Pagan running club would be a great thing to see.
Another technique that will help add variety is to take your workouts outdoors. Exercise is a great way to get outside and spend some time in and among nature whether the activity is hiking, trail running, biking, or climbing. So how can you mix it up in order to stay on track? You guessed it, everyone’s different and you have to find out what works for you.
An interesting practice that most Pagans have never considered is ritual incorporation during an athletic activity. If you have considered this, it probably conjures up images of group prayer before a high school football game. However, ritual used in conjunction with athletic activity can be a potent combination. The next time you go for a hike or a trail run plan to invoke a deity or spirit either to dedicate the activity to or to ask for guidance and protection from. The benefit of this practice is to widen your perspective, while at the same time allowing your day-to-day cares to drop away through physical exertion. You can include ritual or meditation before, during, or after a workout. Formats can range from pre-planned activities with multiple participants and alters to individual rituals with just you and the open sky. Again, you should experiment to find what works for you.
Getting on the path to a fit lifestyle is one of the most important life changes you can make. While our ancestors may have expected physical fitness while going so far as to celebrate it, with our modern society the impetus is on us to take charge of our own lives in regards to our physical and spiritual health. To focus entirely on your spiritual health while disregarding your bodily health is an approach doomed to failure. Start making changes today and you will reap the benefits in every aspect of your life. Revel in your body and its use, take care of it, and offer thanks to whatever Gods you follow for it.
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