I have been exercising for almost a decade and I have come to believe that it can be a profound spiritual experience as it nurtures both the body and the soul. It has become my place of solace and has served to increase my capacity physically, spiritually and emotionally. It clears my mind, lowers my anxiety, lifts my depression, keeps me strong and my immunity high. I’ve found that focused discipline in one area can yield discipline in others and in a cross-cultural life that drains so much energy, exercise has been a life-giving stress reducer that draws me to Jesus.
But, exercising cross-culturally often means being more creative and intentional about the type of exercise as well as the environment that we exercise in. While living in North Idaho it was easy enough to take a run outside my house, tracking my mileage and running along the road. There were endless resources and people to hold me accountable. Here, however, I am unable to run on the street with the open sewers, the cars, the yelling and the overwhelming sense (or reality) that everyone is watching me. Access to equipment is minimal or extremely expensive and energy is a lot lower which puts me at risk of injury.
And most days, I just want to sleep.
So, while it is not always easy to make exercise a priority, I’d like to give you the opportunity to begin a disciplined routine that can act as soul care. Here are some practical steps for getting an exercise routine started or reignited within the home. Hopefully you can glean information from this and cater it to your own personal needs.
Step 1: Designate a Space
Choose a specific place that you will exercise. If you have to continually shift or move furniture before you exercise it becomes an easy excuse to skip working out and adds minutes that we don’t always have to waste. But a cleared space, large enough for you to hold a plank is all you really need and having a designated space for exercise means you have one less decision to make during the day. For a long time, my space was at the foot of my bed. It wasn’t a lot of space, but it was enough.
Step 2: Choose What You’ll Do
What do you like to do? Kickboxing? Yoga? Step? With access to internet there are a lot of resources that give a lot of variety. Some of my favorite free sites are fitnessBLENDER, Yoga with Adriene andMillionaire Hoy but there are a lot of other options as well. I have a monthly subscription to Cathe.com which gives me access to hundreds of workouts with varying levels of time and energy commitments. Choose something that you enjoy within the time constraints that you have. Exercise ought to work for you so don’t feel that you have to be at a particular level of fitness before you start. You can modify exercises, take rests as needed and don’t worry about how goofy you might look because it doesn’t matter, no one is watching.
Step 3: Make a Plan
When starting a program from scratch it is important to have a plan. As exercise becomes a consistent discipline, intuiting a plan may be ok, but at the beginning a plan will keep you on track and accomplished. A good exercise program should include both cardio and strength training, focusing only on cardio can be damaging to the body, actually increasing stress, and gaining strength is highly beneficial for overall health, especially as we age. I use this Workout Manager from which I can either input a pre-made plan or create my own. I workout anywhere from 4-6 days during the week and generally alternate between cardio and strength days. FitnessBlender, Lift Like a Girl and Yoga with Adriene, all offer premade plans that would be a good jump start into fitness.
Step 4: Gather Your Equipment
Once you have decided what you would like to do, and your plan is set, you can narrow down the type of equipment you will need. You don’t have to have any equipment in order to exercise and I know that a lot of you do not have access to sporting goods stores. Take heart, that’s ok, there is still a lot that you can accomplish with body weight alone. However, I want to give you an idea of what I use in my own routines. I have a club step that I brought with me from the U.S. that doubles as a weight bench and cardio step. I have varying weighted dumbbells ranging from 3lbs to 22lbs and a barbell from 20lbs – 50lbs. Along with these I have a yoga mat, weighted kickboxing gloves similar to these and workout bands which are super easy to travel with and offer light resistance.
Step 5: Be Consistent
We all know that consistency in cultural acquisition and language is necessary before we can take part in the fullness of its value and the same is true for physical activity. This is especially hard, though, in a life that tends toward chaos more than structure, so while consistency is necessary, flexibility is essential too. The days and times that I can exercise during the week are often disrupted by visitors, power outages, sick kids or travel and it does impinge on the gains that I can make to physical strength and endurance. But ultimately, my goal for exercise is not six pack abs or a bikini body, it is for a calmer soul, stronger resolve and a re-centering in hope. Where consistency in the U.S. looked a lot more structured, consistency overseas takes on a more fluid structure, fitting in as a priority, yet allowing the time and type of activity to shift as needed. My workouts rarely look perfect or ideal, but consistency alone gives me access to the benefits of reconnecting the body with the soul.
What exercise resources do you have to share? How do you hold yourself accountable to physical soul care? If you have any specific follow up questions don’t hesitate to ask.