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Can Being Physically Fit Help You Feel More Spiritual?

Can Being Physically Fit Help You Feel More Spiritual?

The fact that spirituality is inexorably tied to mental health is no longer a substance of debate. A plethora of studies indicates that those who make time for a rich spiritual life are happier, less depressed, and less likely to suffer from anxiety. One study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that even small amounts of spiritual based training (in this case, meditation) can improve anxiety, depression and pain.

Another study by the London School of Economics found that participating in a religious organization was the only activity promoting lasting happiness. As noted in a fascinating article in Time, “Some experts think that believing in a religion gives you a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life than a secular viewpoint alone does, and that can help carry you through the low periods and elevate the higher ones.” Does it work the other way around, however? Does being physically help aid human beings with their quest for spirituality, or enhance their ability to engage with their ‘collective unconscious’?

Sport as a Religion

Harvard academic, Professor Casper ter Kuile, has noted that these days, spirituality can be achieved in many ways apart from organized religion. One of these, is through fitness. In an article entitled CrossFit as Church? Examining How We gather, he notes: “Instead of worshiping in old wooden church pews, Millennials are jumping on top of wooden boxes until exhaustion at CrossFit affiliates, and it's not just to replace a trip to church with a workout.” CrossFit is a global phenomenon boasting over 4 million ‘followers’. Rather than simply honing the muscles, however, it also offers fitness buffs the chance to form part of a close-knit community made up of people who are focused not only on self-improvement, but also on helping others achieve their aims. Working out regularly serves many important functions; as noted by ter Kuile’s colleague, Professor Angie Thurston, CrossFitters “are in communities that are some ways mirroring the function that religious communities have served. These communities are helping people aspire toward goals, transform themselves, and work toward change while holding each other accountable to make things better.” They are boosting creativity, purpose, and innovation – all of which are as useful for individuals as they are for society.

Being Unfit Affects the Psyche

Many studies have been carried out into the mental benefits of keeping fit. As noted in a 2015 study by S Djalalinia et al, obesity (which can result when human beings lead sedentary lifestyles) is linked to poorer social and sexual health. Obesity affects self-esteem, mood, and body image, which can make it less likely for individuals to engage in communal worship or form part of a spiritual community such as that mentioned above. It is a bit of a Catch-22 situation, since, as noted by the researchers, “lower levels of spiritual well-being is correlated with higher levels of emotional eating, especially in women. There is some evidence that, emotional eating contributes to impaired nutritional behaviors such as higher caloric intake, binge eating, and bulimic eating desires.”

Exercise boosts one’s self-confidence and enhances one’s sex life. However, it also has important effects on spirituality, owing to its effects on boosting our desire and motivation to form part of a spiritual community. These days, people are finding crucial support in CrossFit and other fitness regimes that emphasize working for others as much as for oneself. In this new era, spirituality can be found as much in a yoga class as it can while mountain biking with friends, meditating, or completing a record amount of burpees at one’s next CrossFit session. 

Sally Benson is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.

This article is written exclusively for CrystalWind.ca.  © 2018 crystalwind.ca. All rights reserved.

© 2018 crystalwind.ca. All rights reserved.

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