Since time immemorial, great civilizations have discovered and utilised the link between physical fitness and clarity of being. In the ancient civilizations of India, Greece and Rome physical fitness was given the highest importance – our title is in fact derived from the old Latin saying “mens sana in corpore sano“. This connection works on multiple levels and being aware of each aspect can really motivate you to have a fitness regimen as an integral part of your practice of self-improvement.
1. (The obvious one) Stress relief
During the day all the annoyances and troubles of the day slowly build up in our nervous system, turning us into the human equivalent of pressure cooker! But when we do some physical exercise, all that stored up energy suddenly finds a channel through which it can operate. So when you finish, not only do you have that feel-good physical factor, but also an enhanced sense of mental clarity.
2. Shake off lethargy
Often (especially if we have slept too much) we arise with a feeling of lethargy and sluggishness which can impair our effectiveness during the day. That’s why a run first thing in the morning works wonders in shaking off that half-asleep feeling. In fact, next time you get up and are tempted to go back to bed for a little while, try doing some exercise instead – you’ll be surprised how alert you feel at the end, and you will wonder where all that tiredness you had this morning went!
3. A feeling of accomplishment
In my vegetative college years, I would have days that just seemed to slip by without me really being able to put my mark on them, and I would go to bed with a feeling of disappointment and not being able to accomplish something meaningful during the day. However, when I started running early in the morning, things changed – I would meditate as soon as I got up, and then go out for a run and watch the sunrise. This meant that when I sat down for my breakfast, it was not even nine o’clock and already two things were accomplished. And when two things were done, it was then much easier to do a third, and then a fourth…in other words it helped to generate a momentum which persisted throughout the day.
4. Going beyond
We all know that deep inside us there is boundless inner potential waiting to be fulfilled. One way which many people tap into this infinite potential is through sports. Through sports, you gain access to a sense of joy and fulfillment that comes from transcending your own finite capacities. In a way, aiming to better your capacities through sports has a lot of similarities to meditation. As you near the limit of your capacity, you find that it is in fact your mind and its negative thoughts which often stands in the way of you going beyond. And so to really transcend yourself, you also have to go beyond the mind, just like meditation – and when you do you can get some very insightful meditative experiences. I do quite a lot of long distance running, and challenging myself through participating in marathons and other long distance events has given me some profound inner insights in to the deeper part of my nature.
(Photo: I couldn’t resist this one -This is actually my younger brother Colm running with the torch of the World Harmony Run, the world’s largest global relay for peace. This year, Colm was part of an international team which circumnavigated the entire continent of Australia. )