Source / Credit: Dallas News / Leslie Barker
Religion, for many people, holds a significant spot in a workout regimen, manifesting itself in a variation on this phrase:
“Oh Lord, do I HAVE to do this?”
Yet spirituality and fitness are, in many aspects, interwoven.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people to atrophy on both ends,” says David Schaefers, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Richardson and an avid CrossFit participant. “It takes a discipline — both things do. Regular faith practice does, and an exercise regimen does, too.”
The connection between physical and spiritual health is being played out in churches and religious affiliations across the area. Among them:
At Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (ocbf church.org), what began 30 years ago as one room with donated weights and Christian aerobics classes has become a full-fledged workout facility with weights, classes, machines and a part-time certified trainer. It’s part of the Fitness Ministry of the 9,700-member church.
The Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas (jccdallas.org) holds a Jewish Mindfulness Course taught by Rabbi Nancy Kasten. “Our mantra is body, mind, spirit,” she says. “Those are interrelated and interdependent.”
The nonprofit Fit and Faithful Living (fitandfaithfulliving.org) holds Saturday exercise classes in Cedar Hill that are set to gospel music. “It brings something out in people that no rap music or anything else can,” says founder LaChanda Dupard.
At Concord Church of Dallas (concord dallas.org), Monisha Randolph leads Sole Patrol running workshops that culminate in a church-sponsored 5K.
“I don’t think you have to be fit to serve the Lord,” says the Dallas running coach, “but I really feel like this helps us through disciplines in all areas of life. We make ourselves more accessible for God’s use.”
Randolph, 30, begins each twice-weekly session with stretching, “a nugget of wisdom to think about as we work out,” she says, and a Bible verse. One of her favorites is from Hebrews 12: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
During the three eight-week workshops, she’s seen participants transform on several levels. Several have told her how much being part of Sole Patrol “was a blessing to their life in that season of their life,” she says. Some who were unemployed became inspired to start looking for jobs again.
“It feels awesome to play a role in that stage of life where a person says, ‘You know what? I want to live better. I want to do better,’” says Randolph, who also holds walkathons at her own church, St. Matthew Baptist Church in South Dallas.
“To know you played a role in them becoming more disciplined, becoming stronger in the Lord, viewing the body in a more positive way is amazing to me. I feel like there is a connection between taking care of our bodies and being useful for God.”
At the Jewish Community Center, the 90-minute Mindfulness Course begins with participants on the floor, settling into class and getting ready “spiritually and physically,” says Kasten, who started the class with yoga and meditation instructor Ruth Lurie.
“We usually do body work and breathing to open ourselves physically. It’s yoga in the real sense, the integration of what’s going on in your body with external factors,” she says.
“We see a big connection between tension of our bodies — the tightness — and feeling restricted in our lives in terms of what we’re thinking about, like interpersonal relationships and work. We try to get unstuck in our bodies as a corollary to being less stuck in our minds and in our hearts.”
The yoga portion of the class is followed by studying in another area of the room. But because she considers meditation a tool to living, she incorporates it throughout the spiritual time in class.
“I wouldn’t separate meditation from spirituality in people’s lives,” Kasten says. “Spirituality is being able to see all of this as part of one thing.”
At the weekly workouts sponsored by Fit and Faithful Living, the integration of spirit and body isn’t quite as quiet.
The group’s Saturday morning workouts draw 20 to 30 people to EnduraSys Strength Training gym in Cedar Hill. As they dance and move to gospel music, “people are more open to the next person struggling: ‘C’mon, you can do it!’” Dupard says.
The workouts focus on music, testimony and prayer. “It’s like Father, Son, Holy Ghost,” she says. “There’s an anointing that takes place. I don’t know how to explain it other than God and the Holy Spirit. We’re high-fiving each other. We hug. It’s such a light environment, you know it has to be God.”
She believes the human body — as written in 1 Corinthians — is God’s temple: “If you don’t take care of it, you can’t do anything for anyone else.”
At the end of our workout, she says, “We’re sweating and our sweat meets our tears, and they’re made of the same thing. That inspiration is like no other.”