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  • Exercise for the body

    Dear Ajahn,

    My question relates to how much we should look after our bodies in terms of exercise etc from a buddhist point view. As some background, I work as an exercise physiologist and so it is my job to promote being active and healthy. The issue I am struggling with at the moment is how far do you think we should listen to our bodies in terms of stiffness / tightness / pain / lethargy and how far to go in attending to that need through exercise / physical activity rather than through meta meditation etc?

    many thanks and warm wishes,

    Michael

  • #2
    Hi Michael!

    Meditation is an exercise for the mind. But it lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate, so it has good side effects for the body as well. It can help lessen certain tensions and even diseases--that has been proven in many researches. It also helps us get more in tune with the body. However, I would never say it replaces exercise. If people have physical problems, exercise is important. I'd say a combination of both meditation and exercise is best. How to balance meditation and exercise will of course depend on the person and their specific problems.

    There is an interesting documentary about this. It's on the mind-body connection: www.theconnection.tv. It talks about how the health in the mind influences the health of the body.


    Warm wishes to you too,

    Sunyo

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    • #3
      Venerable Sunyo, may I ask how you and other monks at your monastery stay physically fit? Thanks.

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      • #4
        Thankyou Venerable Sunyo your help is greatly appreciated! That video looks like it will be very helpful. May I ask another question... In relation to how I personally try to balance meditation and exercise, it has become apparent (through meditation) that there is a pattern of behaviour especially during the week where stress builds up (which usually seems to be frustration towards myself) and with that comes craving to do hard exercise as a means of 'blowing off steam'. Since starting to meditate regularly (around ten years ago now), this pattern has become much less automatic. In the last one or two years whenever this frustration seems to be growing, I have tried wherever possible to do meditation instead (mindfulness, meta, forgiveness etc) and to use physical exercise as just a moderate activity. The problem where balance comes into it is that when frustration arises, I find that I subtly force myself to meditate and not allow the urge to release the feelings through exercise. The outcome is pains in my body (especially my stomach). It seems quite obvious that meditating regularly over a long time will eventually allow me to see this whole process in action leading to better balance - and allowing myself to just act out this pattern through exercise without being mindful will eventually bring suffering (ie, as the body is impermanent). So getting back to the question! Do you think it wise to continue in this fashion? Ie, making meditation the priority and then exercising at a later time, even if I do seem to get these pains in my body? Obviously middle way applies, but it's hard to tell where 'middle' finishes and ends!

        Thankyou once again!

        Best wishes,

        Michael

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Michael Craven View Post
          Thankyou Venerable Sunyo your help is greatly appreciated! That video looks like it will be very helpful. May I ask another question... In relation to how I personally try to balance meditation and exercise, it has become apparent (through meditation) that there is a pattern of behaviour especially during the week where stress builds up (which usually seems to be frustration towards myself) and with that comes craving to do hard exercise as a means of 'blowing off steam'. Since starting to meditate regularly (around ten years ago now), this pattern has become much less automatic. In the last one or two years whenever this frustration seems to be growing, I have tried wherever possible to do meditation instead (mindfulness, meta, forgiveness etc) and to use physical exercise as just a moderate activity. The problem where balance comes into it is that when frustration arises, I find that I subtly force myself to meditate and not allow the urge to release the feelings through exercise. The outcome is pains in my body (especially my stomach). It seems quite obvious that meditating regularly over a long time will eventually allow me to see this whole process in action leading to better balance - and allowing myself to just act out this pattern through exercise without being mindful will eventually bring suffering (ie, as the body is impermanent). So getting back to the question! Do you think it wise to continue in this fashion? Ie, making meditation the priority and then exercising at a later time, even if I do seem to get these pains in my body? Obviously middle way applies, but it's hard to tell where 'middle' finishes and ends!

          Thankyou once again!

          Best wishes,

          Michael
          Hi Michael!

          As I see it, frustration is a slight form of anger, of ill will. Meditation is really great to counter that, especially loving kindness meditation (metta). It is specifically meant to remove such emotions. Metta against ill will is like a medicine against a sickness - the best antidote. (Forgiveness that you've mentioned I feel is very closely related to metta, so I'll just treat them as being one and the same thing.)

          When you feel frustrated and then exercise, I think that mainly drowns out the emotion in other feelings. The body starts producing hormones and such, which create new feelings. And you become tired, making you less aware of emotions. Frustration needs energy, so if you are tired, frustration tends to get less as well. So while it is not harmful in itself, exercise does not really remove the underlying problem. It's like being sick and ignoring the sickness, not really taking any treatment. You may forget about it for a while, but it comes back, often even stronger.

          Pains in the body (especially the head and stomach) can often be a stress response. You could be subconsciously tightening muscles around that area. Try to relax and also send metta to those areas. That will most often work. Another possibility is that you are sending negative mental energy to those areas, creating the painful sensations. Because you say you "force to meditate" that may be the problem there. Forcing yourself to meditate is not a great start to your meditation. It's better if you do it because you enjoy it!

          Maybe this helps. Find a good balance for yourself Michael.

          With metta,
          Sunyo

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Billy Bogert View Post
            Venerable Sunyo, may I ask how you and other monks at your monastery stay physically fit? Thanks.
            Of course you can! But I should first say that not all monks are equally fit. I feel very healthy myself, perhaps not as fit as I used to be but good enough. I'm in the lucky position of being able to do physical work here most every day: digging, building - things like that. Apart from that I do some yoga and take walks. Walking uphill is a decent exercise. Overall this is good enough for me.

            Bye Bill!

            Sunyo

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            • #7
              Thanks once again venerable
              best wishes,
              Michael

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