Home Articles Channels Daily Retreat Inspiration Classroom Boutique Community Singles Resources Contact

SoulfulLiving.com :: Personal Growth, Spiritual Growth, Self Help and Self Improvement

Your #1 Online Resource for Personal and Spiritual Growth Since 2000.
Mandala and Chakra Pendants
New Age Gifts and Products, Buddhist and Tibetan Jewelry, Meditation and Yoga Supplies
Mandala Art Prints



Our Sponsors:

The Mandala Collection :: Buddhist and Conscious Living Gifts
Inspirational Gifts

Energy Muse Jewelry
Energy Muse Jewelry

Body of Grace
Eco-Friendly Gifts

Yoga Download
Yoga Download

The Mandala Collection
Give a Gift with Soul

Suzanne Falter-Barns

The Secret of Sweating While You Pray
by Suzanne Falter-Barns

I first stumbled onto the concept of spiritual exercise because of a nagging pain in my back. It was a pain that would not go away despite hours of ice, heat, stretches, and chiropractic adjustments. "I know what the problem is," my chiropractor finally announced one day. "Your spiritual practice stinks and you're in lousy shape."

How Much Joy Can You Stand? by Suzanne Falter-Barns

He was right on both counts. While I kept meaning to meditate and exercise regularly, life as a working mother constantly intervened. And so I began to get up early and walk, and while I was at it, to save time, I prayed.

An amazing thing happened. By meditating as I exercised, my body became charged with positive energy; my head felt clearer and my soul lighter. Unlike the phantom exercise programs of my past, this one was made me feel so great it was easy to stay committed to it. The back pain disappeared as my body grew stronger. My days, in turn, became both productive and peaceful. I thought I'd invented something miraculous.

But, in fact, combining spirituality with exercise is as old as the hills. Since religion began, pilgrims have walked, Sufis have whirled, and yogis have stretched, all with prayer as their guides. And the trend continues. For the last twenty years, Bible Belt Christians have merged prayer with everything from rock climbing to kid's baseball and step classes, as part of an effort to build community. 'Fitness ministries' with names like "Fit for Him," "Body & Soul," and "Praisercise" have sprung up across the country. Meanwhile, most yoga has become the ‘next big thing’ in the US, with most American health clubs now offering several types of yoga throughout the day. Yet, since most health clubs still maintain rules prohibiting religious teaching, you're more likely to find exercise classes, with an overt spiritual basis, in churches, temples and community centers around the country.

At the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, Judy Greenfeld, a fitness trainer and cantorial singer, joined forces with Tamar Frankiel, a religion professor to create a unique class that begins with standard aerobics, then moves on to traditional Jewish prayers and ancient Hebrew chants. Greenfeld choreographed these with simple, symbolic movements -- a moving meditation she described as 'dancing from the inside out.' According to one long-time participant of Greenfeld's classes, "Sometimes I am moved to tears. Sometimes I really feel the divine spark of God's energy going into my hand in one of the movements. And then I place it into my heart. I really feel that happen. That's above and beyond what normally happens to me in a traditional synagogue service. It brings it more alive because my body, mind and spirit are feeling it all at once."

At a similar, non-denomenational class, "Sacred Fitness," the focus is on stretching to induce relaxation, then deep meditation and prayer. By completely removing tension accumulated throughout the day, participants are able to reach a deeper spiritual level. For one participant, "It was almost like I was on another plane. I didn't even fully realize where I was... just deep in thought and in prayer. It was like I wasn't even lying on my mat on the floor."

I contend there is something real and physical that happens when you raise your heart rate and sweat. Suddenly you become more open to your spiritual connection; ideas flow, messages are delivered, a sense of spiritual well-being floods your body. For this reason, your workout can be an excellent place to receive information about your projects and goals. How often have you lain in peace at the end of a yoga workout, thoroughly enjoying corpse pose, when a thought pops into your head that solves the two week dilemma you've been wrangling with at work? By bringing your soul work into the workout with you, and staying open to any messages you might receive, you very well can advance that cause as well.

Of course, you don't have to go to an organized class to find such inspiration. Guided by spiritual exercise gurus like Gabrielle Roth, women are learning to 'sweat their prayers' on their own. Roth's books, tapes and workshops urge seekers to abandon themselves into "the freedom of ecstasy," a looseness and freshness that comes by letting go as you dance, wildly and freely.

Then there's my friend Julie, who found God on a hike and has carried that energy with her on many subsequent hikes. Julie was hitting some kind of personal nadir in her life when she felt the urge to hike one of the neighboring mountains near her home in the Adirondacks. She reached a stopping point where she sat on a rock and began crying, feeling she could move neither forwards nor backwards in her life, but knowing she needed divine guidance. "... an inner voice spoke to me as I sat on the rock crying. 'WALK’ – it said - ‘the light is within you.’ So, I got up and plugged on to the top of the mountain. Along the way I made a cairn, each stone representing a character vice I was seeking to overcome -- selfishness, stubbornness, jealousy, materialism, fear, anger, resentment, etc.. When I finally reached the top, exhausted and emotionally and physically drained, I stripped away all that hid who I was ... A cool April breeze seemed to carry away my pain of loneliness. I knew that I did not understand, but that I was not alone."

From then on, Julie created a personal ritual of bringing a stone home from each hike she went on, for a spiritual cairn she keeps on her porch. As lessons are revealed and growth takes place, her pile of rocks grows. "To me each stone represents the significant milestones in my progressive journey through life," she explains. And the cairn serves as a reminder of how far she has come.

Many of us have found similar solace on the ancient path of the Labyrinth. Dating back to the Middle Ages, a labyrinth is a tightly coiled pathway with no dead ends, but a specific, circuitous route of less than a mile, which one walks in prayer to deepen their connection with God. At the center, after the grounding, calming experience of walking this slow, winding path, one often finds answers, encouragement, or a simple sense of release in this private, focused moment with God. The pattern one walks never varies, from labyrinth to labyrinth, and looks like this:

Labyrinths are not affiliated with any particular religious denomination. They've found their way into Presbyterian, Lutheran, Unity, Unitarian, Episcopalian, and even American Baptist churches. They can be laid in tile, painted on asphalt, mowed into a hay field, constructed from wood, even painted on portable burlap panels that are Velcroed together. The walk takes an average of twenty minutes, and covers a space about 35 feet in diameter.

The beauty of walking the labyrinth, like much of spiritual exercise, is that it provides just enough activity for a person's thinking processes to relax and go on auto pilot. When your mind is empty and your spiritual self is allowed to surface and take over, what's left is communion with God. Unlike seated meditation, you are on a path with a destination in sight. And if you can just quiet down enough as you walk, which the circuitous route supports, you can have remarkable experiences.

I know from my own walks on the labyrinth that there can be distractions. Children might wander or run this way and that, and you find yourself entertaining your own fear of 'doing it wrong' and somehow stepping off the path. And yet, when you reach the center, it's as if you've prepared the stage for God to come in and you are now quite ready to receive. I have had moments of tearful ecstasy at the center of the labyrinth and received critical blessings on my work -- just as I have known moments of peaceful calm and an 'everything's just fine' tranquility. At the very least, the labyrinth provides an entry point for God that you might not otherwise be able to access. So it becomes another valuable tool for supporting the life you want to live.

For more information on where to find labyrinths, go to Grace Cathedral’s Labyrinth Locator, which lists labyrinths all over the country.

Participants of spiritual exercise classes report remarkable trickle down effects. They talk about naturally being kinder to people, and more able to observe life's vicissitudes, instead of just reacting to them. They find themselves becoming vegetarians, or doing community service for the first time in their lives, simply out of the grace that comes with such intense doses of God-based physical exertion. One woman who took the Sacred Fitness class, said the deep connection she felt there "enables you to forgive yourself so you can move forward." Others talk about "finally feeling whole."

Whether you practice spiritual exercise with a video at home, a yoga class at the nearest Y, or through a program of your own devising, the most important thing is to stick with it. Some of us like variety, so different types of spiritual exercise work well. Personally, I like to combine a weekly power yoga with meditative walks, skis, hikes, and bike rides. In fact, any kind of repetitive exercise will do, as long as God is invoked along the way and you allow that spiritual energy into your routine.

For those of you who've traditionally avoided exercise, shift it to a new context. Instead of seeing it as body-required drudgery, try seeing it as a necessary tool for your creative and spiritual well-being, instead. Spiritual exercise not only gives you the necessary juice to function at max, it puts you in closer contact with your spiritual source. And by doing so, your workout becomes more fulfilling … and more necessary.

Here’s how you do it:

Want to try some spiritual exercise? Choose any quiet, repetitive exercise such as swimming, rowing, biking, walking, running, skiing, skating, hiking, or circuit work on exercise machines. Choose a sport you know well and don’t have to think about too much. (This isn’t as well suited to competitive sports such as tennis, paddle ball, basketball, baseball, or squash. If you're doing aerobics, look for those taught in a spiritual context, so the music, etc., helps instead of hinders.)

Before you begin exercising, take a few moments to sit or walk quietly, and say a short prayer of thanks. Then begin your workout. As you do, use favorite mantras or affirmations to connect as you work out. Maybe repeat a treasured prayer, or simply repeat "I am the light," or "I move with God" or a similar phrase that seems to link you up spiritually.

The rhythm of the exercise will naturally help your mind open to what you're creating, making the affirmation more effective. Also stay open to what God has to say as your consciousness deepens, and you become more open to Spirit.

Answers may present themselves, along with inspirations and ideas. If so, consider bringing along a tiny digital recording device, such as a instant messager that fits on a key ring to record ideas you want to save. If you're exercising on machines, consider playing some spiritually soothing music on headphones to work out to, instead of cranking the TV news.

Finally, be sure to end your workout with a short prayer or nod of thanks.

Some Recommended Spiritual Workout Videos:

Tantric Toning

Stephanie's Tantric Toning; The Stress-Free Workout (Goldhill Video)
This is an innovative hour-long workout that combines full body toning, strengthening, and balance work from yoga, tai chi, chi kung plus a tad of aerobics. Plus, there is a color light meditation at the end. This workout really feels great!


Molly Fox's Yoga; Yoga Stretches and Relaxes
An excellent 45-minute yoga tape that doesn't hold to any particular 'school' of yoga; simply the essentials of yoga in a routine anyone can do. Led with clarity and grace by a New York City fitness pioneer.

Yoga Zone's Introduction to Power Yoga for Beginners
Two twenty minute yoga routines that combine the strength building and challenge of Power Yoga, with the stretch and relax poses we all need. A good place to start.

Yoga for Round Bodies, 1 & 2, Linda DeMarco & Genie Paulee Hadden
Yoga led in the gentle, soothing Kripalu style by two large women who can coach those of all sizes to develop a solid practice. Includes the use of helpful props. "For people not built like Gumby," as one reviewer put it.

Copyright © 2002 Suzanne Falter-Barns, www. howmuchjoy.com. All Rights Reserved. 

Suzanne Falter-Barns
Suzanne Falter-Barns is the author of How Much Joy Can You Stand? A Creative Guide to Facing Your Fears and Making Your Dreams Come True (Ballantine Wellspring). Her website, www.howmuchjoy.com provides practical tools for moving ahead with your dreams, including free articles, a free ezine, e-courses and more.


Visit Suzanne at:




Daily Soul Retreat at SoulfulLiving.com
Soul Retreat Goodies!

Support SoulfulLiving.com
Show Us Your Love ♥


Energy Muse Jewelry
Energy Muse Jewelry

Wild Divine Meditation Software featuring Deepak Chopra
Meditation Software

Energy Muse - Sacred Yoga Jewelry

Copyright © 1999-2014 Soulful Living®.

Soulful Website Design by The Creative Soul®.