“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
The first time I set foot in a gym, I was struck by one thing: all of this effort and sweat with no product. I thought of how it would appear to the hardworking farmers and laborers of developing countries. They would look at these middle class men with disdain. How could they not know that a hard day’s work in the field, swinging a cutlass or a hoe, lifting rocks out of the way, or planting yam on a hillside would give you all the muscular definition your heart desires! Men who provide for their families by the sweat of their brow and sheer physical effort can climb mountains carrying heavy loads all day long, not just for 90 minutes on a treadmill three days a week. Men (and women) who walk miles carrying goods to market, possibly on their heads, with no means of transport apart from their legs, unlike us, who are guilty of driving around looking for the parking space closest to the mall entrance.
Fluid replacement is important when working out. The men in the field stop for an electrolyte filled drink from a fresh coconut, and get their vitamins from the fruits around them, not picked off the shelf at the local GNC. Yes, the routines of city mouse might perplex an observing country mouse. Yet for those of us who lead these sedentary lives, a repetitive, meaningless run on the treadmill or those weight resisting machines at the gym may be all we can manage to try to stave off the ill-effects of city life. And when middle age hits, or we suffer the occasional twinge of back pain or sciatica, we are reminded that we have not been doing our work to keep our abdominals strong.
It is surprising to some of us when we learn that the secret to a strong back is strong abdominal muscles. When I amuse myself by watching workout videos (I am a lapsed exercisaholic – I need to get back into my city mouse routine!), I am always struck by how important it is to have a strong core. And for those of us who have had to accommodate strangers in our abdominal cavity, carrying them everywhere for months on end, our poor abdominals may have become lax over time. Stress, that ever present companion in our hectic bill-driven life, is another conspirator. Cortisol, the stress hormone, tries to help us out by providing layers of fat in our abdominal region, further compromising the strength of those muscles, not to mention obliterating the potential six-pack! So core-training is essential for our strength, to help protect our backs, to give us that sleek defined look of the man of the soil, and to add years to our life.
So if core training and a regular exercise regimen can protect you against wear and tear, how do you protect your inner core? What can you do to keep your inner reserve full, prepared for taxing times and challenges to the spirit? Last week I threw out a question: what is it that gets you through your darkest night? The answers were varied, and I was reminded that there may not be one strategy that works; it may be a combination of faith; a sense of humor; family; spirituality; laughter; balance; perspective. Some of us do not even recognize that we are demonstrating great inner strength and resilience at the time of our deepest struggles, it may only be in hindsight that we are amazed at how we made it through. In fact, in much the same way that the gym addict loses themselves in the moment, trying to just do one more mile, or one more set of reps, so a person who is going through trials and tribulations does it one day at a time. When we find the strength to put one foot in front of the other, we find we have covered many miles.
In much the same way as sticking to the gym routine is made easier by a commitment to another, whether a paid trainer or a good friend, so we can build up inner strength by reaching out to others. You never know when your words of support are what make the difference to someone who is going through a rough patch. When we take the time to share the troubles of another, not only do we nurture and strengthen them, it also helps us to realize how fortunate we are. And part of reaching out to others involves graciously receiving their help. Many of us are so proud, so determined to be self-sufficient, that we forget how to accept the kindness of others. Although we are taught that it is better to give than to receive, it can be demoralizing to always be in the position of the receiver. A heartfelt thank you is all it takes to show appreciation.
If you are not able to get your physical workout in this morning, I hope you can think of ways to increase the strength of your inner core. Whether by meditation, chanting a psalms, getting together with friends and family or working on accepting those things over which you have no control, we all need to develop inner strength. I am frequently amazed by my students who are juggling financial woes, sick children, and all manner of other calamities while they are determined to obtain an education. I was reminded of the old adage:
“It is easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows along like a song;
But the man worthwhile
is the one who will smile
when everything goes dead wrong.” ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox
May your workouts go well, may you sail through whatever challenges face you today, and may your inner core be strong enough to keep you smiling no matter what!
Have a great weekend family!