Ask the clergy: How important is physical fitness to your faith?


With the COVID-19 outbreak impacting gym workout opportunities and cold weather limiting outdoor activities like jogging and biking, it can be easy to let daily exercise routines slip. until spring. This week’s clergy discuss why maintaining an exercise regimen through the waning winter months is beneficial to the spiritual as well as the physical being.

The Venerable Kottawe Nanda

Abbot and President, Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center, Riverhead

Maintaining one’s physical health is beneficial to Buddhist practice. The Buddha said that the greatest profit, or gain, is good health, both physical and mental.

The greatest paradox is that a balanced mind contributes much more to physical health than physical exercise. However, our faith does not prevent individuals from exercising. Among many meditation practices, the Buddhist faith advocates walking meditation, which involves walking between long periods of sitting meditation. The Buddha said that “one who practices walking meditation can bear to travel on foot; he can bear the strain; he frees himself from disease; everything he has eaten and drunk, chewed and savoured, becomes well digested; the concentration he gains by walking the meditation lasts a long time.”

There are disciplinary and training rules in the Buddhist tradition that focus on maintaining one’s environmental and physical hygiene. Some novice monks even practice martial arts. However, you shouldn’t exercise just to look more attractive. The physical body is the foundation where spirituality grows, so it is beneficial for the body to be protected, preserved, and kept healthy and comfortable.

Rabbi Aaron Marsh

Oceanside Jewish Center

Judaism teaches that our bodies belong to God, placed in our care during our lifetime. We are therefore responsible for keeping ourselves in good shape. As the first-century philosopher Philo wrote, “The body is the house of the soul. So, shouldn’t we take care of our house so that it doesn’t fall into ruin?

Chief Rabbi Physician Maimonides devoted an entire chapter of his Mishneh Torah to the preservation of bodily health through proper exercise, diet, sleep, and bath. He wrote that you have to get used to anything that is healthy and helps to strengthen the body, and that you have to do some sweat-producing activity every morning.

Judaism emphasizes spiritual pursuits, study, and performing religious obligations such as prayer and acts of kindness. Too often physical fitness is deprioritized, but it is clear that our tradition also calls for devoting time and effort to health, starting with Deuteronomy 4:15: “You must protect yourselves much”, which is understood as a directive to support. ourselves, body and soul. This is particularly relevant in our time of coronavirus, where we must not only protect ourselves against the virus, but ensure that, despite any disruption to our exercise routines and eating habits, we are eating properly and exercising enough. .

Reverend Marie A. Tatro

Vicar for the Department of Community Justice, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

Frederick Douglass said, “I prayed for God to emancipate me, but it wasn’t until I prayed with my legs that I was emancipated.” This was echoed by other great spiritual leaders, such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet the body’s connection to prayer is not limited to freedom marches. In my own tradition, walking through the labyrinth while reciting prayers has been going on for centuries, and of course the practice of yoga in Hinduism is much older than that. Today we call it physical fitness, and virtually every religious tradition now encourages it.

I was a team sport athlete in my 50s. Throughout my young adulthood—a time when I felt unwelcome in church—my sports teams and leagues were like my church. Christianity is a deeply embodied faith, so connecting the movement of my body and my faith feels natural to me. For the entire three years of seminary, I cycled the 13 mile round trip from my home in Brooklyn to the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Looking up at the dawn sky from the Manhattan Bridge, as my blood pumped and my muscles tingled, centered me in a space as prayerful as any great cathedral.

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