On the eve of my husband’s two-week Christmas break from school, I set the goal of working out at the gym at least 12 times between December 21 and January 5, an inspiration that came out of a clear blue when the realization of how physically sluggish and tight I felt at the threshold of holiday feasting filled me with dread for the new year. The goal is simply to exercise frequently, to wake up every day with the expectation of going to the gym, to not think so much about it and just do it. For accountability, I announced my plan on Facebook and record the completion of each day’s workout there as well.
Eleven days and nine workouts later, I am surprised at how good I feel. My workouts consist of varying combinations of cardio and strength as the spirit moves that day and always end with significant stretching; I expect it’s the unprecedented consistency that’s creating this energized, loose and flexible feeling.
Our oldest son has a unique sense of theological humor, and at Christmas morning mass, he wished everyone, “The peace of the Risen Lord!” At the time, I laughed and shook my head at him, but pondering these 12 days of fitness prompts me to consider that the incarnation and the resurrection are at least related. I’m re-examining my unconscious perception of exercise an extra add-on that takes away from higher priorities of writing and reflection — classic dualism. Putting exercise first for this focused period has been an invitation to experience body and spirit as a unity. I try to be fully present to the sensations of muscles working, heart pumping, and sweat dripping, and the workout becomes unexpectedly like meditation, an opportunity to clear the mind and listen within. More tangibly, I observe that when my body feels good, I think more clearly, and while I’ve certainly indulged in holiday food and drink, my consumption is rather moderate overall.
What will be different for me in the new year as a result of this experiment? Two things come to mind. I’d like to be more consciously grateful for the workings of my body each and every day, whether it’s tasks like carrying groceries or typing at this keyboard or simply breathing or eating. Second, much as I resist early morning activity, I’m going to re-frame my mindset — try to see the workout as an essential spiritual practice — and commit myself to it.
Happy new year, and all the best in your 2014 body-mind-spirit endeavors!