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“God has created us with a body. Why aren’t we praying with our body?”


~ Marcus Freed


and parasympathetic (calming) nervous system reactions. “Normally, when one of these is active, the other one shuts down, but when people drive one or the other to a very heightened level of activity, there is some evidence that the other turns on too,” explains Newberg. That intense dual firing can


paradoxically lead to an interruption in sensory information traveling to areas of the brain that control our sense of ourselves at any moment. “Not only do you have this great feeling of energy and calmness, but you tend to lose your sense of space and time,” he notes. Newberg’s own research also


suggests that when people “surrender” themselves in a spiritual practice, the frontal lobe (the practical part of the brain that keeps our thoughts in check) quiets. He speculates that something similar may happen in the midst of, say, a marathon or intense dance, enabling out of the ordinary thoughts and feelings to surface. “It can allow for creativity—a blending of different, more intuitive ideas in ways you don’t nor- mally mix things,” comments Newberg. So, is exercise able to only make us


feel like we’re having a mystical experi- ence, or is it somehow actually opening a channel to the divine? Newberg declines to go there, commenting that a brain scan


tells what’s going on in the brain, not in the soul. Yet he has no doubt the two are inextricably linked. He says, “There are many well-known examples of intense experiences, like Sufi dancing, generating spiritual experiences for people.”


Whole-Being Workouts Marcus Freed is one of those people. He grew up in a traditional Jewish fam- ily in London, England, and attended a rabbinical seminary in Israel. Still, he felt that something was missing in his spiritual life. “I thought, ‘God has created us with a body. Why aren’t we praying with our body?’” Freed says that Biblical text often references the body: King David, in the Book of Psalms, says, “Let all my bones praise the creator.” The Jewish Talmud refers to a rabbi that “stretched his spine with a prayer of gratitude.” Yet, Freed observes, the physical elements of daily spiritual practice have been largely forgotten over the centuries. When he discovered yoga, it filled a gap for him. “I found a way to draw upon this incredible spiritual literature but ground it in the body, so that experience is not just in the head, but also in the heart.” Thus, Freed founded Bibliyoga,


which launches each class with a He- brew or Kabbalistic teaching, followed


by poses that incorporate its themes, as reflected in his book, The Kosher Sutras: The Jewish Way in Yoga and Meditation. The practice, now taught in cities around the United States and Europe, has prompted the birth of similarly religion-infused classes, including Christ Yoga, and the Jewish Yoga Network. “A lot of people separate things, saying they’ll get their spiritual- ity from one place and their exercise from somewhere else,” says Freed. “I think they are missing out.”


Mindful Sports The spirituality-exercise link likewise resonates through other traditionally solo pursuits such as triathlon activities and running, in which many athletes say a more mindful approach to train- ing has infused their sport with more meaning, and in some cases, improved their performances.


Ironman Marty Kibiloski, for- merly a competitive marathoner and road racer, led what he terms a “high achievement, low contentment” life for years, measuring his self-worth by timed results that never quite satisfied him. In 2006, he attended a Running with the Mind of Meditation three-day workshop, based on Rinpoche Sakyong Mipham’s book of the same name. The retreat combined with his newfound interest in Buddhism, completely rede- fined running for him.


Kibiloski prefers to steer clear of the word “spiritual” (which he sees as


natural awakenings


September 2013


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