We may not be conscious of it, but exercise is more often seen as self-torture than pleasure. We need to “whip our bodies in shape” because “no pain, no gain” right? There are even yoga classes stripped of its emphasis on soul and well-being. What’s left is another exercise striving to perfect Madonna’s buff arms and six-pack abs.

In Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, author Thomas Moore says, “Exercise could be more soulfully performed by emphasizing fantasy and imagination. Usually we are told how much time to spend at a certain exercise, what heart rate to aim for, and which muscle to focus on for toning.” Doing so, he says, deprives us of exercising our other senses. “We might listen to the music of wind in the trees, church bells, distant locomotives, crickets and nature’s teeming musical silence. We could train our eyes to look with compassion and appreciation…Body exercise is incomplete if it focuses exclusively on muscle and is motivated by the ideal of a physique unspoiled by fat.”

We’re in the thick of summer. As we shed our heavy clothes and don our tank tops and swimsuits, there is added pressure to be thin. We exercise to be muscular, fit and tone. We workout not for pleasure, but to mold our bodies into the shape we think we’re supposed to be. In the age of unrealistic expectations of our bodies, however, Moore’s definition of exercise is refreshing.

You don’t have to give up your dream of being fit. But next time you hit the gym, go for a swim or do yoga, be open to the possibility of what exercise can do not just for your physical body, but for your mind and soul.

{Photo from here.}

{Photo from here.}

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