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Mina Samuels

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Give Your Workouts A Purpose

Posted: 09/13/11 09:30 AM ET

We work out for all sorts of reasons -- maybe we do it to de-stress, to lose weight, to get stronger, to be healthy or for all those ends and others. All good reasons, but beneath this first layer of forces driving us out onto the roads and trails, into the pool, to the yoga studio or to the gym, resides a sub-layer that is the deeper core of meaning we bring with us into everything we do. That is: we nurture our physical, emotional and spiritual health, so that we can live our best life.

As integrative physician Tieraona Low Dog, MD, of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in an article in Delicious Living, "When you make health the goal rather than viewing it as a resource, it's easy to get stressed out, rigid, and narrow-minded. Health is what helps you live the life you want -- it's a resource, not a destination."

She is talking about the negative stress we can bring to the very act of working out. For example, working out to get thinner, and beating ourselves up every day we're not thin enough (never mind by what media-mediated standard we might be judging the result) or working out to get stronger or faster, but in the process actually wearing ourselves down and getting super-cranky.

I would take this resource-not-destination thought another step further, and point out that if you are inclined to feel that we are here for a purpose, and that part of our raison d'être is to make the world a better place (after all, what else could it be? Certainly not to make the world a worse place, right? Besides, what better way to feel that we have agency in our lives, than making a difference in our world), then having the resource of our good health and well being is a key ingredient in our ability to fulfill our purpose.

Pilar Gerasimo, in her "Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World", goes further still. She says that being healthy is a revolutionary act by which we reclaim our vitality that is both our individual right and our collective responsibility. Big words, those -- "right" and "responsibility."

Indeed.

How we are in the world matters. How we approach our workouts is just one aspect of how we are in our lives. Not a separate aspect, mind you. We are one person, consistent within ourselves at our essential center.

Lest this all sound a bit high-minded and unattainable, I'm not talking about becoming Gandhi -- quite the contrary. I am referring to the small things, the every day things. Most action we take has the power to make the world a better or worse place. How we treat the people around us. Did you smile at the barista when you got your AM coffee? Or were you scowling for your caffeine, your mind already hours ahead into your day? The very energy we bring to our life affects those around us, and ripples outward. You know what I'm talking about -- those people who make you feel good, just by being around them (and their opposites). And when we are strong and healthy, how much more likely it is that we will have that positive energy to spread around?

That's who we want to be. And in the end, that's really why we work out.

Sounds heavy. But in fact, adopting this perspective can bring an incredible lightness to your workouts. Instead of feeling the pressure of the goals you may have set for yourself (that you may be fixating on, or beating yourself up about), you are lifted in the updraft of energy that purpose creates.