Never underestimate the importance of exercise and sport in maintaining a healthy body, mind and soul. Studies have shown that regular exercise can have the same effect on depression, anxiety and other mental health issues as anti-depressants. Tiger Woods is currently in Australia for the Australian Masters Golf Tour. Golf is a particularly excellent sport as it involves physical exercise, being outdoors in nature, travel, socializing with friends, healthy competition, mental discipline, overcoming psychological barriers and precision mastery. Lets have a psycho-spiritual look at this often overlooked activity, such that sport and exercise can in deed become a highly spiritual part of your life.
Studies have shown that exercise is crucially important for health. This is also common sense. With obesity reaching sky high rates along with outcome diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, we all need to focus on exercising more. Bite the bullet, get up and move that arse! Golf, gym, tennis, squash, rock climbing, gentle strolling, sailing, extreme sports, fishing, football....what ever it is, take up what naturally appeals to you, at least something readily and naturally available. If you don't already play sport or exercise, just give it a go and see how it feels. Give yourself a chance and develop a whole new realm of experiencing life. If you do already play sport and exercise, experiment with other kinds of activity as well. Refresh and re-create yourself.
Exercise, expecially a cardiovascular workout for at least 30 mins 3 x per week, flushes the body of toxins through healthy perspiration and pumps up the volume on blood flow. The natural expansion and heating up of body systems, the passage of energy and natural movement of the whole body creates wellness. Muscle tone supports the skeleton which reduces the impact on bones and joints. The sluggishness that comes with age is abated. Endorphins (feel-good chemicals) are released into the body when you exercise so happiness is more likely to arise naturally. The brain functions better and you will perform better academically, socially and at work with the greater confidence, physical dexterity and brain power that exercise and sport brings. Sport is a natural expression of your mind, body and soul; it is a truly spiritual enterprise as well as a physical activity. It all comes down to your intentions when you play sport. Are you a good sport or a bad one? This is where you get challenged at the deeper levels of self.
A kind of spiritual exercise that is usually focussed on is Yoga. Yoga is all about 'union with God' (the Sanskrit meaning of the term) and ultimately involves deep meditation. However the discipline relies on a great amount of physical posturing which can be highly energetic. The yoga postures or 'asanas' require strength and endurance. The theory is that one cannot meditate effectively and achieve 'union with God' or enlightenment unless the body is properly cared for, balanced, disciplined and healthy. Even on the basic level, it is difficult to sit still unless the body is properly balanced, toned and healthy. We need discipline and focus and it is important to focus on the gross level (the body) and move on to the more subtle levels of mind and consciousness. This is an integrated, multi-leveled spiritual approach - where no aspect of life is deemed irrelevant. A spiritual approach can be a part of everything you do. In fact Yoga, in all its variety of schools, involves 8 different aspects or 'limbs' where the physical postures are but one aspect.
Yoga isn't the only physical exercise that helps. Anything where you get out and move, socialise and have fun is good for you. Concentrate on the movement of the body when you exercise or play sport. Become one with your tennis racquet or golf club. Feel it as an extension of your body. Take joy in participating in a carcophany of physical forces. See the trees and hear the birds, feel the breeze and sun on your cheek. Focus on precision mastery; improving your ability and skill levels.
Studies have also shown that those who play golf, on average live 5 years longer than the average person. I am not sure exactly what this is due to: the physical exercise, the enjoyment and focussed interest that the game brings, or perhaps being in the outdoors and part of a social group. It's probably all these things and more that bring health and longevity.
As they say in zen: when the mind is clear anything can bring Enlightenment. Don't be a spiritual snob. Realize that there are 'many ways to skin a cat', whether it be formal zen meditation, or achieving poise, posture, precision, attention and focus on the golf course.
Personally, I have found that I am brought face to face with many of my demons on the golf course. I also get to expand my spirit and my experiential domain by playing the game. I get to practice anger management (!) and emotional regulation when my shots don't go so well. I get to practice cooperation and courtesy when it comes to playing in a team. I also get to be tested ethically and morally when I am tempted not to count a false swing in coming out of a bunker! Being brought face to face with these 'inner demons' (real or figurative) enables a person to confront and deal with them. Bringing a problem into your awareness takes it out of the shadows of ignorance where it can otherwise fester, and brings it into the light of the conscious mind. When you are aware it can no longer hide. You can then take steps to deal with whatever it is, to understand its deeper nature and origins in your life, and it then becomes a tool for growth and self-awareness; the key to genuine power. Loving conscious attention can heal and repair almost anything, if not everything in your life.
So do yourself a favour. Take action. Integrate exercise and sport into your everyday life. Let it be a physical and spiritual expression of your self. Enjoy your body while you still have one and learn to confront and overcome barriers to wellness, and dare I say it, your own personal excellence. Enjoy the unfolding of your body, mind and spirit in its infinite growth and expansiveness. Take heart and courageosly challenge your own limitations. Courage is its own reward. 'Exercise' those inner demons; don't let them hold you back a moment longer. Have fun and act healthily in order to be healthy, happy and joyous.