I’ve been asking myself this question for years. I used to think that it had something to do with cardio, strength, and flexibility, but I’ve realized that’s only a small part of the picture.
It has nothing to do with your abs or how you look on the beach. Nothing to do with whether you can run an ultra-marathon, bench press a truck, or squirm both feet behind your head.
I’ve landed on a simpler definition, based on two factors: stress and service. Can you minimize harmful stress? How does stress strengthen you? Are you useful?
I notice that some folks glorify their exhaustion or constantly talk about how stressed out they are. They play victim to stress.
First, let’s let realize that we need stress. We need intensity, sweat, and grit. Those moments when we’d rather whine and quit but get through it anyway make us stronger.
However, stress is a leading cause of disease. That shit will kill you but it’s not inevitable. We can minimize so much unnecessary drama in our lives. So much fitness programming is based on introducing more stress to peoples’ bodies instead of excavating existing anxiety and stiffness. No wonder most folks don’t want to exercise. Our physical training can also extract excess tension and pain. We can teach our bodies to more effectively recover from the crap we can’t control.
Second, being useful. My students are already working to make a living, raise families, and participate in a community. To sustain our service, we need a basic level of physical resilience. We don’t all have to be competitive athletes or look like the ripped, tanned, oiled-up guy on the infomercial.
So, maybe we should give up on the notion of exercise and instead have stress practice. Many of us don’t tax our bodies much for work but we’re working out mentally and emotionally all day long. Here’s a new way to become stress ninjas:
-Feel where you’re holding unnecessary stress. Unravel the neck, shoulders, and low back. Discharge anxiety. Introspect to figure out what and who is draining your energy; repair those leaks.
-Build stable alignment: reset the spinal curves, create supple joints, and practice abdominal breathing. Invite stress to fortify that structure: go faster, go slower, so heavier, longer, or more frequently. Relish the challenge.
-Remember why you are here. Set your intention on the bigger picture instead of the personal, petty stuff that we easily get lost in.
Being in good shape means having the energy for more than just survival. After work and taking care of our loved ones, we need to have energy left over for intellectual, spiritual, and athletic pursuits. By befriending stress, the body serves the work of the spirit.