Miraculous Encounter: Walking with Christ in Contemplation

The other day, a Christian man shared an amazing religious experience that he had had while practicing walking contemplation.

On this site, we’ve talked about various forms of Christian mindfulness. Walking contemplation is commonly done in a labyrinth. But this experience shows how many ways there are to practice mindfulness and how profound the experience can be.

Backing up a little

I am beginning to participate in several Centering Prayer groups on Zoom these days. My wife and I restarted our own centering prayer group that meets every Wednesday. Centering prayer groups are a great place to discuss the idea of integrating light exercise, plant-based fasting, and mindfulness into one’s daily prayer life.

About three weeks ago, I was in a group discussing the benefits of doing about 20–30 minutes of light exercise before one’s prayer. I mentioned that Asana Yoga was originally intended to prepare the body for contemplation (aka yoga-style meditation). This was a group of older folks, and we talked a little about tai chi and exercises that older people can do. “It can be as simple as walking for 20 minutes before your prayer,” I said.

This sparked a fascinating exchange of email afterward. One humble Christian man, who wished to remain anonymous, shared an extraordinary theophany while walking and reciting the Rosary.

“I paid close attention to Cornelius’ current research involving physical activity with spirituality via Centering Prayer. Combining Centering Prayer with Tai Chai is a promising combination – I wish him luck.

I have an exercise routine that mostly includes walking around in the basement while saying the Rosary. Not all that many years ago, I would say the Rosary while running. Then as I got older, I said the Rosary while walking outside. Now it is usually saying the Rosary while walking up and down the driveway or walking from one end of the basement to the other. So – I have for about 30 years combined spiritual activity with physical activity.

I [recently] had an email conversation with [name of a female priest withheld] recently, where she said she also usually said the Rosary while walking.

About a month or so ago, after saying one of the Rosaries while walking in the basement, I continued walking while trying to impose silence/(no thought) in my mind. After a few minutes, I “saw” Jesus walking beside me adjacent to my right shoulder. He mimicked every move I made as though we were moving in complete tandem. There was some humor as a few times when I moved or did a circle to the right while he did an exact mirror image opposite to the left – we exchanged smiles, and both considered this as true humor. This continued for perhaps several minutes, and we only communicated by looking at each other and using facial expressions – mostly smiles – it was obvious that there would be no verbal communication.

The message I received from the “communication” was that God is always with us in complete tandem, experiencing everything exactly as we do. The experience was, for me, definitely real. Somehow via heavenly power, I trust this is true for all the almost 8 billion of us currently living here on Earth.”

-Anon. Contemplative Christian

Truly amazing. But I am sure this kind of experience isn’t that unique, as I find Christians tend to be very hush-hush about their spiritual encounters.  Thank you, sir, for sharing this expereince with us and our readers.

PraXis doesn’t promote mysticism or aim for such lofty things as visions of God. We endorse the use of Centering Prayer or other forms of contemplative mindfulness as a way of deepening our relationship with God, while cultivating the resilience to depression and anxiety that these practices also yield.

If you have experiences with contemplation you wish to share, please send us an email at praxiswellness@gmail.com.

Intro: Christian Diet/Fasting

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:16 

Fasting isn’t self-torture; it’s an ancient spiritual practice that improves our health while cultivating our intimacy with God. In remembrance of Christ, we recommend eating a “biblical” dairy-free, meat-free Christian meal two days a week, or any time you complete your session of light exercise and contemplative prayer. 

As we’ve said before, nearly 25 percent of all US deaths each year are related to heart disease. Almost 72% of Americans are overweight or obese. Seventy percent of Americans also identify as Christians. We can’t say they are the same folks, but there must be a major overlap. Clearly, something has to change with how Americans eat. But that can be a hard pill to swallow.

Plant-based diets are not some trendy fad. They are part of ancient Christian practices. They are, uh, also a trendy fad. But, the wellness benefits of a plant-based diet is a scientific fact. It can:

  • reduce cancer risk
  • reduce inflammation in the body
  • help maintain a healthy weight 

But it’s tough to change what we eat. Food can reflect our identity. We can find ourselves inextricably linked to our culture, traditions, and upbringing through the ritual of breaking bread. Whether we carry forth these values in our adult lives or teach what we’ve learned to our children, the prospect of changing our eating habits can be hard and even frightening. 

The words “diet” or “fasting” might be loaded terms for us as we conjure up images of celebrities on low-carb diets or extreme times of not eating. But at a very basic level, Christian fasting means eating simple food or a plant-based diet without meat and dairy.  

In the Synoptic Gospels, Christ’s disciples did not fast because God in Christ was among them. Every day was like a feast. But when he rose from the grave, it was expected that his followers would go back to the fasting tradition. That is how the early Church saw it.

In the Eastern Church, fasting is still done on Wednesday and Friday in remembrance of the day Christ was betrayed, and the day he was crucified. Fasting, in this sense, is a tool that assists us in spiritual growth, rather than a kind of deprivation. These fasts were times of reflection. Times when Christians, and the Jews before them, turn their attention away from their stomachs and toward God. 

Fish is allowed in many forms of Christian fasting. Ok, we’ll give you that one.

Fasts are biblically rooted, and today there are plenty of resources out there for building your own biblical fasting diet. Some Evangelicals have embraced the Daniel Fast in recent years. Many Catholic churches continue this tradition in some fashion. The Anglican/Episcopal Church endorses fasting every Friday in its 1928 Book of Common Prayer. 

Longer fasts like Lent vary depending on the season. Remember that in the earliest days of the Great Church, there were both feasts and fasts. Most of us still embrace the “feasting” while conveniently forgetting about the fasting. So burned.

Rules have been developed not for additional suffering but for guidelines for spiritual benefit. Remember, God’s grace in the process is part of our growth. There are exceptions to all rules.     

Here are some basic pointers on starting to fast

1. Start small. Maybe fast one meal a week for several weeks. Then try two meals, and work your way up to three meals a day, for two days every week. Or eat a fasting meal after you exercise and pray. Remember not to eat at least three hours before exercise and prayer. 

2. Plan what you’ll eat in advance. Fasting isn’t merely an act of mindful eating, but a spiritual discipline about being deliberate in the way you seek God’s fullness. 

3. Don’t replace meat and dairy with sugar and a lot of carbs or seek out a lot of exotic spicy, rich, or saucy vegan options like Indian or Thai food. This is fine in the short run as you try to transition to a new habit, but the Christian fasting tradition is about simple foods, not simply being free of meat and cheese out of concern for animals or the environment (which is good to do, but not the point). We aren’t simply trying to replace one set of rich foods for another. 

4. Consider how it will affect others. Fasting is no license to be unloving. You may get grumpy at first. Be mindful and pray upon how your behavior toward others during your fasts. 

5. Pray and meditate upon the fast. Pray with special earnestness for God’s help. As hunger arises, become present and mindful of the sensation. Meditate on it and what it means to your relationship with God. What does it mean to your connection to the body God has given you to care for? What does it mean to your relationship to a life in Christ? 

6. Go into it graduallyDON’T jump in with both feet. DON’T go all in. This will only make it more likely that you’ll break your diet and fall off the mark. If you GO BIG, you may quickly find yourself GOING HOME. Slow and steady wins the race. This is a marathon.

7. And like all things, do it with others in the Body of Christ. Find a group, start with some friends, talk with your parish about it. We all need one another and Christ in our midst to know God and make a change for the better.

We’ll have more posts with recipes and ways to ease into fasting in the future. Until then, think on it, and remember that it is Christ who fills our hunger, not bread…hmmm…yummy, yummy bread.

Intro: Christian Mindfulness, Gradual Approach to Silence [Part 3 of 3]

If “wordless prayer” is hard for you, try Lectio Divina for a while as you gradually deepen into silence.

In our last post, we talked about the form of mindfulness prayer known as contemplative prayer. We also went through the step by step process of Centering Prayer. However, a lot of people find it hard to do Centering Prayer right off the bat.

For those unfamiliar with these types of silent prayers we recommend a gradual approach towards deepening into silence. Pick and choose. Go at your own pace. But the telios (fancy Greek word for goal) is to sit in centering prayer or ceaseless prayer (see below) for 10-20 minutes after light exercise.

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Step 1: Walking Contemplation: The Labyrinth

Labyrinths are a form of walking contemplation (or what non-Christians would call walking meditation. See terms.) that appeared in Church around 1200 CE. The labyrinth itself is less important that being able to walk in a space where you do not have be aware of your surroundings, or respond to your environment. You need to be in a distraction free environment, so usually just walking around your neighborhoods or a busy park won’t do. Many church yards have Labyrinths these days. It’s worth searching around for area for a deliberate place to do this. This site can help you find one near you.

The key to this form of contemplation is to let your active thinking rest, even as your body slowly moves. Before you begin, open a prayer to God, asking only that you welcome the presence of the Lord into your heart. As you begin to walk place your attention on the souls of your feet, or the sensation of breathing in your chest. Let your thoughts and emotions go. Don’t put any more energy into them. Just let your walking or breathing let the thoughts and emotions dissolve. As new thoughts come up, turn your attention away from the thought and return it your feet or your breathing. When you get the center, you may pray again. Asking for nothing other the to invite God’s presence. Stand in stillness for a few moments, and then continue out the way you came. You can do this with any kind of there-and-back again, walk. Continue for 10 – 20 minutes. Learn more HERE.

Step 2: Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina or sacred reading in Latin, has been around since the 12th century. It is a kind of self-reflective scripture reading that leads gradually into silence. This form of prayer was based on the Jewish tradition, and was developed by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century CE. This can be done in groups or alone. It’s a good practice for someone who is not use to extended silence. Essentially there are four stages that gradually lead you to contemplative silence. There is a lot written on this, so we will simply refer you to this BLOG for the details.

Step 3: Audio Divina

This form of sacred listening, is less common, but it can be a step towards greater inner stillness. In this form of prayer, you actually just listen to a calm, soothing piece of music and reflect on God. In a four part process, just like Lectio Divina, you slowly become mindful of God and images and emotions that arise. The point here is to begin to let go of word prayers, and instead simply sit with the feelings and images that arise as you listen to the music. In time, you will want to let go of these images and feels, and just let them pass without pondering or savoring them. Here is a four step guide to the prayer. However, we recommend a slight modification. Do not journal or write your thoughts down after your prayer. Just let them go. Also, add a fifth step: just listen to the music one more time, as images, thoughts and feelings arise, just let them go, and turn your attention back to the music. Turn back to the music in the same way you would turn back to your sacred word in Centering Prayer.

“Pray without ceasing” 1 Thess: 5:17

Step 4: Ceaseless Prayer

This passage from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is at the root of the ancient Christian practice of ceaseless prayer. This is when a very short prayer phrase is repeated mentally to oneself over and over again. The prayer should not be longer than about thirteen syllables. Most commonly, in the Eastern Church this would be something like Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) or the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me. As with Centering Prayer, as thoughts arise, return your attention to your prayer repetition. Do not ponder your thoughts, judge them (at this stage) or hold onto them, just return to your prayer. You should really only use this prayer as a way of getting to a more silent posture like Centering Prayer. We recommend, using ceaseless prayer for a few weeks, and then slowing your repetitions down until you have long silences in-between. Eventually you will come to rest at a mental posture that the same as Centering Prayer.

At this point, you should be ready for Centering Prayer.

Intro: Christian Mindfulness and Centering Prayer [Part 2 of 3]

Be still (the waters) of the mind, and wait on the Lord.

“The vigilant monk is a fisher of thoughts” – St. John Climacus, 600 CE

Please read the first post to understand some of the terms we will use in this conversation. The PraXis routine is to do 20 minutes of light exercise followed by 10–20 minutes of Christian Mindfulness, also known as contemplation. Ideally these sessions would be followed by a meat- and dairy-free fasting meal.

Join our group on Zoom. We meet each Wednesday night.

Christian Mindfulness is the term we use to describe contemplative prayer practices that help us to sit silently and wait on the presence of the Lord. Contemplation is a form of sacred silence that deepens our relationship with God. While in Contemplation, we also train our minds and our hearts to be more peaceful, flexible, and calm in the face of anxiety, stress, and depression. Medical science calls this type of resilience neuroplasticity.

“Be Still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

The training challenge

Contemplation is a form of spiritual training. Perhaps the most challenging form. The oldest contemplative tradition in Christianity is simply known as hesychia, the Greek word for stillness. Think of it as stilling the waters of a turbulent mind. When the waters are still, there is a moment in which God can emerge.

Contemplation is about sitting and waiting on the presence of the Lord. As one Christian has said, “We spend most of our prayer time asking the Lord for things. How often do we use our prayer time to simply sit and be in God’s presence. Just to be with Him.” Exactly. And it’s in the silence of stillness that God’s presence can emerge.

Silence and stillness, however, are actually very difficult to come by. It’s not only because we live in a world where we are constantly being stimulated by TV, mobile apps, social media, and earbuds blasting music into our brains, it’s just something most people don’t want to do. Studies have shown that 60% of respondents would rather give themselves an electric shock than sit in silence [citation pending]. When we still our bodies, and still our mouths (stop talking) we find that it is very hard to actually still our minds. We immediately see how many thoughts are popping in and out of our minds. And it can feel like our minds are out of control. That can be scary. But it’s very normal.

Our minds pump out thoughts in the same way our hearts pump blood. Thoughts come and they go. Just like clouds in the sky come and go. The monks of the Eastern Church call these thoughts logismoi—tiny words that pop in and out of our minds. And as we practice stillness and silence, we learn how to let these thoughts go, or just ignore them. Eventually the thoughts slow down, and this opens up a still and silent space in which God will emerge.

There are a number of different Christian practices that we can do to bring about this stillness. The most common one is called Centering Prayer.

Everybody likes candles.

Centering Prayer

This is the basic prayer we use in our own daily PraXis. This is a modern distillation of mental prayers that have been practiced through Christian history all the way back to the fourth century.

The practice is simple.

Set a time for ten minutes (at first)
Sit comfortably: As you sit, you may find your body itches, or wants to move this way or that. Just ignore those urges. In time, those urges will pass. This will set an example to you. Just as these bodily urges pass, so too will your thoughts pass.
Set your intention: Open your heart and invite the presence of God, wording it in any way you see fit.
Choose a sacred word: This is a single syllable word, or short word like Abba (Aramaic for father), or Mar (Aramaic for Lord), or Kyrie (Greek for Lord), Christ, or Love. It should only be a short word.
Sit in silence: Just sit with your eyes closed (or in a relaxed, unfocused, gaze in one direction if that is less distracting than closed eyes).
Thoughts arise: As thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images arise, do not repeat them, judge them, add to them, or cling to them. As soon as you realize you are thinking, gently put the thought to the side, and repeat your sacred word to yourself silently. Try to once again rest in stillness.
Repeat
Timer goes off: Slowly come back into your sense of your self and your body. Say a closing prayer thanking the Lord.
Goal: 20-minute sits, twice a day.

There are many resources out there for Centering Prayer. Go here for more support and information.

Easier in Groups

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” Matt. 18:20

It takes practice to feel like you are getting anywhere. Like most forms of training, spiritual training takes repetition. That can be very hard when you are doing it alone. So finding a group that can support you is vital. It will help your mind, body, and spirit to practice with other Christians.

That said, many people find this kind of silent prayer VERY challenging. So, in our next post, we will show you some other forms of Christian Mindfulness that will help you ease gradually into deeper forms of stillness.

GO TO PART THREE

Intro: What is Christian Mindfulness? [Part 1 of 3]

There are many Christian contemplative practices (like walking a labyrinths) that can be considered mindfulness exercises.

PraXis explores evidence-based wellness practices in exercise, diet and mindfulness as they relate to the ancient Christian tradition of askesis or spiritual training. Wellness addresses two core chronic health problems in America: heart-related disease and mild anxiety and depression.  We’ve talked a good deal about how exercise and diet can address our bodily health. In this post, we’ll introduce you to practices that contribute to our emotional and mental health, while deepening our relationship with God.

The idea of PraXis is practice Christian diet and do light exercise before a mindfulness practice. Before we can jump into what that mindfulness bit might look like, we’ll need to define some terms.

“Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10

Contemplation: Contemplation is an ancient Christian practice, but most don’t know much about it. This type of prayer is referred to as mental prayer, wordless prayer, imageless prayer, silent or noetic prayer.  Contemplation is different from other common forms of active prayer, in which we spontaneously or through written words, praise God, or ask for something ie: supplication, intercession, confession, etc. In contemplative prayer we are sitting in silence, and without words or thoughts, we open ourselves and wait on the presence of God. 

“Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act.” Psalm 37:7

You might see contemplation in terms of the form of prayer that the Jews refer to as Tifalah, or join with the divine. Or we can look at the Latin word, con-templatio, which denotes, con– to join with, templi,  the temple. A nice way to think about it is, in contemplation we are engaged in the most sacred of actions: waiting on the presence of the Lord, in the same spirit that temple priests  in Jerusalem use to enter the Holy of Holies once a year to encounter the Earthly presence of God. Contemplation is a spiritual act of intimacy with God that occurs in the deepest and most profound state of our own mental silence.  

CLICK HERE: To join our Christian Mindfulness Group on Zoom

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” Joshua 1:8

In the Christian context, Meditation means to think profoundly on something.

Meditation: Meditation is a very confusing term, because it means two different things depending on if you are a Christian or a non-Christian.  If you are NOT a Christian, meditation basically means the same as contemplation. If you are a Christian, then meditation means the opposite. It means actively thinking about or pondering a specific question, issue or text.  The scriptures say to meditate on the bible every day, for example. This conflict in the Christian and non-Christian use of this term causes a lot of confusion.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

Mindfulness:  Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of our thoughts and emotions on a moment-to-moment basis, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us or inside our heads. We are mindful when we are not carried away with our own thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is when we can see things first, as they truly are, and then act– rather than being triggered by events, thoughts and emotions and just reacting rashly or robotically out of reflex. You can think of this as simply having inner peace or calmness in the face of stress.  And taking actions in life deliberately and not mindlessly.

How are these things related?

Contemplation is not like other forms of prayer, in which your use words to praise God, or ask for Grace.

Contemplation is a form of spiritual training in which we learn to sit in silence, and wait on the Lord. And that training essentially strengthens our ability to concentrate, while relaxing our tendency to react to our own thoughts and emotions prematurely. The process of strengthening and stretching our  mental muscles is referred to as neuroplasticity. Increased neuroplasticity makes us more resilient to stress and less susceptible to anxiety and depression.

We’ll go into greater depths in other posts. But what is important at this time, is that as we practice contemplative silence, we learn to let our thoughts just drift by. Eventually our thoughts slow down, and this opens us a silent mental space, in which we can encounter the Holy Spirit. Practicing this silence also allows us to respond to everyday life with more mental/emotional calm.

Christian Mindfulness: We are going to use this term to refer to anything that moves us along the path towards silence, as we wait on the Lord. There are lots of forms of prayer including labyrinth walking, and forms of scripture reading like Lectio Divina, that move us towards silence, without you having to actually sit in complete silence all the time. So, if you are terrified of silence, don’t worry. There are alternative ways to ease into this at your own pace.

We’ll explore some of the health benefits of mindfulness and look at some forms of Christian Mindfulness in the next post. Hope you keep reading.

GO TO PART TWO

Intro: Wellness as spiritual practice

PraXis might be a strange concept to some Christians because it brings the idea of spiritual life into how you approach your fitness, your food, and even your thoughts and emotions. But these are the three elements that have comprised spiritual practices all around the world and throughout time. The word praxis is just Greek for practice. The idea of spiritual practice distinct from liturgical worship was foundational to the early Christian Church. The idea and tradition of the right practice went hand in hand with moral living and faith as part of the way Christians lived in ancient times. These practices included worship, going to church, and the scriptures, but also things like fasts (abstaining from meat, cheese, wine, etc.), vigils (staying up all night), pilgrimages, and other rituals that deepened one’s relationship with God outside of Sunday service.

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Today there is a hunger for spiritual practice—something that many Christians have lost touch with. Research has shown that only 52% of Christians in the United States are making efforts—exerting discipline—to grow spiritually. Meanwhile other forms of spirituality like Buddhism and other Asian religions that offer concrete spiritual practices are gaining popularity. For more on this, we recommend the book The Cultivated Life, by Susan Phillips.

It’s a shame we’ve overlooked Christianity’s rich history of spiritual practices. That’s why we will look back to the early Church tradition known as the Great Church for inspiration. The Great Church period, from Christ’s resurrection until about 1,000 CE, is part of the common heritage of all Christians, regardless of denomination. 

In order to address the current health crisis among Christians today, we look back to ancient history to find a uniquely Christian approach to mind, body, and spirit practices that won’t divide us along denominational lines. There will be no pleasing some people, for sure. But this system of exercise, diet, and mindfulness should also be flexible enough that once you get the point, you can adjust it in light of your own denominational needs. We just need to remember that Christianity is the original mind, body, and spirit practice. We are unique in our view that the body and soul are ONE—we do not see a division between our bodies and our souls. In Christianity the human is a psyche (soul or mind) and soma (body) joined with the pneuma (Spirit). Our spiritual praxis (practice) should involve all three.  

Not a replacement for Church 

PraXis is ultimately an experiment in integrating physical and mental well-being into our prayer life. It is intended to enhance church life, not replace it. Nor are these practices in any way salvific in nature. PraXis is not about your spiritual Salvation. We are highlighting practices that might bring you better health, while deepening your existing relationship with God.

We hope you explore this unique approach to wellness. We think you’ll find it enriching and challenging. And remember, if you want to get better, praxis, praxis, praxis.

Intro: U.S. health crisis, “salvation” and a Christian view of wellness

“Your Faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19

Too often we forget that the English word salvation, is actually a translation of the Greek word soteria, used in the New Testament. In Greek, the word applies to more than protection from harm, but also to health and well-being through Christ: the Healer (soter).

The medical profession started using the term wellness in the 1950 to describe conditions that promote optimal health. Today, Wellness constitutes an $8 billion a year global industry, promoting everything from Wellness branded shampoos to snake oil medicines.  But at its core, wellness tries to get at two critical long-term health problems in the West. The crisis of heart-disease and mild anxiety and depression in America.

Forget COVID-19, heart-related disease is the number one killer in America. Heart-related disease accounts for 25 percent of all deaths. Meanwhile a staggering 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders, nearly 20% of adults over 18 yrs. old. Anxiety and depression is by far, the most rampant mental disorder in the US.

The problem is a combination of lifestyle and environment. Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are the leading cause of heart-related illness. Only 5% of American adults are physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, and only 20% of kids. Nearly 72% of Americans are overweight or obese.

Anxiety and Depression affect 20 percent of all adults in the U.S. Mindfulness practices have proven to be effective ways to combat and prevent these mental and emotional problems. A handful of Christian prayer practices fall into the category of “mindfulness”.

Anxiety and depression are harder to pin down. Stress is a driving force behind mild forms of anxiety and depression. We, in the US live in a hyperstimulated, hyper active culture, that may contribute to stress and anxiety. What we can say is that certain mental exercises known as mindfulness, meditation or contemplation, have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and make us more resilient to anxiety and depression. That is because these forms of mental exercise literally stretches our minds, producing neural plasticity, making it easier to cope with traumatic mental and emotional events.

Despite the unhealthy state of many Christians, we are called to life. God wants us to be healthy and to thrive. And the tools we need already exist in long forgotten Christian spiritual practices like fasting (no meat, no dairy Wed. and Friday) and contemplative prayer (medical science now referred to this as mindfulness).

“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life.” Matthew, 7.14. Note here that the word for life in Greek in this passage is zoe. The word bios, in Greek, means animated life, like biology. But zoe means more. It means alive-ness! God wants us to be more than just a life form. God wants us to feel alive! And that’s what wellness is all about.

Salvation, Soteria and Wellness

The funny thing is that what Christians normally refer to as Salvation, can also be translated as wellness. The word Soteria is the Greek word in the New Testament that has been translated into Salvation. But in Greek and in Latin the word means more than just protection from harm. It also means, wholeness, healing and yes, wellness. 

Christians were the first wellness-focused people. Christ the Savior, was Christ the soter, or healer, the bringer of wholeness to those in mind, body and spirit.

The data shows that changing daily habits is hard, and it really can only work with an engaged and supportive community, uh… like a church!

At PraXis we want to bring back this sense of Soteria, or Christian Wellness, not in the sense of spiritual salvation but in the sense of physical and mental aliveness and peace.  Christ can bring spiritual Soteria. But we humans can practice daily habits that cultivate a healthy body and mind, while at the same time, deepen our relationship with God. 

Christianity is a path that celebrates life. We are led by the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, to Salvation in Christ. Upon our baptism, the Holy Spirit literally came to dwell inside our bodies. And in this spirit, we should honor our bodies with daily practices that cultivate better bodily and mental health while bringing us closer to God: a Soteria or Wellness of mind, body and Holy Spirit.

Before mindfulness: best exercises for mobility, strength and cardio/HIIT

The key to PraXis is doing light exercise before your mindfulness, or contemplative prayer practice.

In general, adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise 5 days a week just to stay healthy. In PraXis, exercise is followed by 10- 20 minutes of Christian mindfulness, such as Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation or ceaseless prayer like the Jesus Prayer. [Check out Contemplative Outreach for details on centering prayer].

Below are some examples of different exercises you can do depending on your fitness level.  Use discretion and choose types of physical activity that are appropriate for your current fitness and health goals. Increase physical activity gradually over time.  Work with your health care provider if you have chronic conditions or symptoms to choose the activity appropriate for you. Apply the Rule of Pain (see the bottom of this post HERE) if you experience pain, fatigue or discomfort.

For many exercises, equipment is not needed.  Mostly you will need quality shoes and comfortable clothes you can move (and sweat) in. Occasionally you may need a yoga mat, resistance bands, small dumbbells, or any type of weight added strength training.

Exercises here fall into three categories, mobility (stretching and flexibility), strength training, and cardio or HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training).  Excerises called Prehabs, and exercises for seniors are described in a separate post. We suggest doing two days of cardio or HIIT, two days of strength, one day of mobility and two days of rest each week. This will not turn you into a body builder, or get you “swoll,” but over time, combined with the Christian diet, you will feel healthier and more alive.

Mobility is related to the joints and their ability to move actively through their full range of motion in order to express muscle flexibility. Here’s a great video that explains the difference between flexibility and mobility.  Here is a 15 minute full body mobility routine, it’s helpful if you have a short stick and a yoga mat or soft surface.  Below is a simple 15 minute stretching routine you can do daily, or for a light warmup before contemplative prayer.

Strength Training benefits of strength training include improving bone strength, body image and weight control. 

Here is a total body workout, no equipment necessary.  16 minute workout includes 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down (See Fitness Blender for more exercises)

Check this a low impact beginner body weight strength training including cardiovascular intervals with no equipment necessary (See Body Fit by Amy for more exercises). Check this out for an advanced body weight exercise, 21 minute workout (See Relentless Muscle for more exercises).

Cardio (low & high impact) in a nutshell, the term aerobic means “with oxygen.” Aerobic exercise and activities are also called cardio, short for “cardiovascular.” It’s a level of activity that you can maintain for an extended period of time. Can you comfortably pass the ‘talk test’ and be able to talk while slightly breathless? If so, you’re engaging in aerobic exercise. 

Here’s a great 30 minute cardio (no equipment) by fitness blender.

If that’s too much, check out this Beginner cardio, or this Intermediate cardio (both by the Body Project).

Alternatively, you can High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) instead of the classic cardio. HIIT is an efficient for fat burning for those who already have a solid basic level of fitness and limited time for working out.  HIIT is a form of anaerobic exercise, which means “without oxygen.” These burn more fat, but are much more intense.

Here’s an intermediate level workout. HIIT Pyramid style workout with warm up & cool down 26 minutes total (Level 4 HIIT). Or try Level 3 or Level 5 if you need to adjust the intensity up or down.

These are great exercises to do for their own sake. But with PraXis, we recommend you not try to overdo it on exercise. We just want you to build healthy habits, and prepare your body to relax into the next phase, mindfulness. Once you cool down, we recommend giving yourself a few minutes to lay on the floor, or sit silently. Then proceed into a 10-20 minute of Centering Prayer or similar contemplation.

Intro: Christian exercise?

Don’t try this at home…or anyplace else. Ever. There is no such thing as Christian exercise. But some ancient Christians probably did do calisthenics.

“Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  1 Timothy: 4:8

PraXis is about urging Christian to practice healthy living in Body, Mind and Holy Spirit. We do this through diet, fitness and mindfulness in the Christian tradition of the spiritual athlete.

In PraXis we engage in 20-30 minutes of light exercise and then sit in 20 minutes of Christian mindfulness, otherwise known as contemplative prayer. In this post we go over the basic intent and theology of the exercise modality.  The PraXis exercise intended to do three things:

  • Keep the body vital
  • Prepare for Christian mindful prayer
  • Turn attention to God through embodied practice

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Most people are familiar with Yoga, or Asana Yoga, a series of controlled stretches and poses. Asana Yoga has the same aims as the PraXis exercise modality. There is no real equivalent to Asana Yoga in the Christian tradition.  However, calisthenics and gymnastics are ancient Western traditions of physical training that were certainly present in the Hellenized world of the earliest Christians. Really any kind of exercise appropriate to our age and fitness level will do. There is nothing wrong with Thai Chi, or Yoga. However, we steer more towards modern calisthenics and modes like pilates. Nothing personal, Yoga.

Christians have a unique relationship with the body. In our tradition, you are not a soul having a bodily experience. You are a body and soul equally. Christians believe that when we die we lose our bodies, temporarily, but we will be reunited with them someday, in a place outside time, when Heaven and Earth are finally reunited. So, we must take care of our bodies, for as Paul says, they are not our own. They belong to God. Our bodies were won for us at great price, by Christ on the Cross. So, when we care for our bodies with exercise and fasting, we are performing a kind of prayer of thanksgiving to God.

We have to remember that for most of Christian history, people were not in need of physical fitness. In the days of the early Church, work and for the most part, every task, required physical exercise: farming, making bread, repairing even the simplest tool. Every part of existence was a workout. It was rare for people to make a living while sitting in their chair 8 hours a day. 

It was only as we came into the later part of the Twentieth Century, that we find ourselves in a crisis of physical and mental health in the United States and the West.

Healthy Body, Healthy Soul

According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, adults are way too sedentary these days. Let’s face it, we sit around way too much. We sit all day long at our jobs and then drive around and come home and sit in front of the TV. Adults who do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain health benefits including: prevention of chronic diseases, weight control, strength, improved sleep, stress relief and increased life expectancy.  

Adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise 5 days a week. Exercises that we will promote in PraXis fall into three types, Mobility or stretching (that means you, Yoga), Strength training (we’ll promote mostly body weight exercise) and Cardio or HIIT workouts (High Intensity Interval Training).  We’ll try and show you exercises for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

We will use the term prehab to means exercises that prepare you for exercise.  We will also do some posts for seniors and for those with limited mobility.  Exercise depends on your individual condition, one size does not fit all. Your weight, age and general health are the starting points. So be careful and remember to

  • go slowly at first
  • pay attention to your body
  • push yourself
  • rest

With anything in PraXis there may be some discomfort as you begin to push yourself into doing something new, or physically or mentally strenuous. So, as a martial arts instructor once told us, if it hurts remember this Rule of Pain and Progress:

The first time you feel it, ignore it and keep going
The second time you feel it, pay attention to it, but keep going
The third time you feel it, stop and rest

See some examples of recommended exercises HERE.

Intro: áskesis and physical/spiritual training

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

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We draw our inspiration for PraXis from the ancient Christian tradition of asceticism, a tradition practiced by early Christians. Asceticism is practiced by spiritual people all around the world. The practice typically involves things like fasting, vigils and forms of meditation or what Christians call contemplation or contemplative prayer.  Christian monks, nuns, and all Eastern Church Christians still practice asceticism today. Asceticism has a bad reputation because it’s largely misunderstood in the West. Some people see it as a form of self-punishment, where you starve yourself, or sleep on a bed of nails. 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 bodies and towards God. The point is not to punish oneself, but to do three things:

  • 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 meaning training. Athleticism is a training of the body and asceticism is a training for the soul. Both require a series of self-imposed challenges in order to build strength. The spiritual training tradition in ancient Christianity comes from, in part, from quotes like the one above in 1 Corinthians. 

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 these early ascetic communities gradually turned into the monks, nuns, and hermits of today. But, 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, though not near the levels found in monastics.

In PraXis, we are doing physical and spiritual áskesis. But we are not training to be monastic ascetics or Olympic athletes.  Moderation is key. And it’s important to remember this is not a salvific issue. You are not going to Hell if you don’t do your pushups or eat vegan food on Friday, but you might stay on Earth and enjoy your little longer.

With anything in PraXis there may be some discomfort as you begin to push yourself into doing something new, or physically and mentally strenuous. So, as a martial arts instructor once told us, if it hurts remember this Rule of Pain and Progress:

The first time you feel it, ignore it and keep going
The second time you feel it, pay attention to it, but keep going
The third time you feel it, stop and rest

LEARN MORE:

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