Intro: áskesis and mind, body and spiritual striving

We look back to the ancient Christian practice of asceticism for inspiration. Asceticism and athleticism both come from the same Greek word for training.

All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.1 Cornin. 9:25


We draw our inspiration from the ancient Christian tradition of asceticism. Asceticism is practiced by spiritual people all around the world and practice typically involves things like fasting (special diets), and forms of meditation (what Christians call contemplation). Christian monks, nuns, and Eastern Church Christians still practice asceticism today. Asceticism is largely misunderstood in the West. Some people see it as a form of self-punishment. There are extreme forms of it to be sure, but the oldest Christian traditions used modest asceticism as a way of turning attention away from our bodily and mental fixations and towards God.  Asceticism and mysticism tend to go hand and hand. And while many people are familiar with Yoga and Buddhism as a form of mysticism, these traditions also for of asceticism.

The PraXis approach is not about punishing oneself. It is about bringing the mind and body back into one’s prayer life. Here we challenging ourselves to:

  • incorporate fitness, diet and mindfulness practices into our prayer life
  • evoke the spiritual practices of the earliest church
  • turn our attention to God

Asceticism and athleticism come from the same Greek word áskesis, which means to strive. Athleticism is a striving for the body and asceticism is a striving for the spirit. Both require a series of self-imposed challenges in order to build strength. The spiritual striving tradition in ancient Christianity comes from, in part, from passages like 1 Cornin. 9:25 (above).

The earliest church battled over how much asceticism was too much. Some early Christian communities, like those in Asia Minor, were chastised by the Church for being too ascetic. Starting with Anthony the Great and the Desert Father and Mothers, early ascetic communities gradually turned into the monks, nuns, and hermits of today.
These often mystical Christians, were motivated by a desire to live as closely as possible as they could to the life of Jesus. This required celibacy, fasting, and like Jesus’s time of prayer in the wilderness (Luke 5:16), plenty of silence. Over time, the silence of the desert grew into prayer practices that allowed one to cultivated mental silence wherever that person happened to be.

In the earliest Church, fasting and some level of asceticism was expected of all Christians. Today, Orthodox Christians still practice varying levels of fasting, and asceticism. But much of this ancient ascetical/mystical way of people is unknown to most Christians around the world.

In PraXis, we are doing physical and spiritual áskesis. But we are not training to be monks or nuns, or Olympic athletes. We are practicing to build up healthy daily habits that nourish the mind, body and spirit. Moderation is key.


Learn most about Christian Diet AKA fasting.
Learn about contemplation or Christian Mindfulness.
Christian exercise?

Published by Cornelius Swart

Master in Public and Pastoral Leadership Fitness and Wellness Coach in Training 200 RYT Yoga Instructor (former journalist)

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