Can You Exercise While Sitting Still?
“The primary markers of physical capacity are strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience. These are precisely the same markers of capacity emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Flexibility at the physical level, for example, means that the muscle has a broad range of motion. Stretching increases flexibility.
The same is true emotionally. Emotional flexibility reflects the capacity to move freely and appropriately along a wide spectrum of emotions rather than responding rigidly or defensively. Emotional resilience is the ability to bounce back from experiences of disappointment, frustration and even loss.
Mental endurance is a measure of the ability to sustain focus and concentration over time.
Mental flexibility is marked by the capacity to move between the rational and the intuitive and to embrace multiple points of view.
Spiritual strength is reflected in the commitment to one’s deepest values, regardless of circumstance and even when adhering to them involves personal sacrifice. Spiritual flexibility, by contrast, reflects the tolerance for values and beliefs that are different than one’s own, so long as those values and beliefs don’t bring harm to others.”
(The Power of Full Engagement, Tony Schwartz, 2005,)
We all understand the mechanics of physical capacity. When you train and rest your body, you become more physically resilient (you can recover from strain faster), more physically strong (your body can withstand greater force or pressure), more physically flexible (you can move in a broader range of motion), and more physical enduring (you can endure unpleasant or strenuous sensations longer, without giving up). We know increasing physical capacity makes sense.
Yet physical capacity is not the only capacity that benefits from training and rest. We can also train and rest our mental capacity, our emotional capacity and even our spiritual capacity – in fact, these capacities become weak if we forget to train them and burn-out if we fully exhaust them.
We know this at least half-intuitively. You’ve been emotionally exhausted before, you’ve been mentally exhausted, and you’ve even been spiritually exhausted – losing passion for what you know to be meaningful to you. We know emotional and spiritual energy isn’t infinite (although we often treat it that way). In the end, we know emotional, spiritual, and mental energy can run-out, can flat-line.
You need rest in these areas too. But not too much.
Fat and Lazy in the Brains
Too much rest and your strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience will drop, you become emotionally overwhelmed, spiritually scrawny and mentally mushy.
And many people believe this is an unchangeable part of character: Some people are just too sensitive, others struggle to find meaning, and some are just down-right lazy. And although a small part of this may be true – (just as we all have different body capacities, so do we all have different emotional, mental and spiritual capacities) – it doesn’t mean these capacities won’t benefit from a little exercise. A little balance is healthy and all balance requires is a little increase in capacity.
We have physical capacity. We also have mental, spiritual and emotional capacity.
Sometimes during your daily meditation, you train mental, spiritual, and emotional capacity – just like you would train physical capacity.
And sometimes during your daily meditation, you rest mentally, spiritually, and emotionally – just like you would rest physically.
Remember how we talked about the mechanics of meditation on day three of the course? That’s how you know the process of how meditation can train the mind – first through explicit (procedural) learning – and then into implicit (automatic) reaction.
Now we have taken care of the engine, let’s move onto what I really want you to know:
Deep similarities exist between the process of physical capacity and the process of mental, spiritual, and emotional capacity.
And how you perceive benefit from your increase in capacity is one of those similarities.
Imagine in the last you few weeks you started a physical exercise program, and by now, you may have noticed your physical capacity being tested (e.g, you had to run to catch a bus or carry a bunch of heavy old books) yet you didn’t react like you normally would. You reacted better than before. You reacted with more strength, endurance, resilience or flexibility than usual – your capacity in that situation was increased – and it was likely increased as a result of physical training or physical rest, or both.
In this case, it’s very likely the increase came from your last few weeks of a physical training and rest program – i.e, your physical exercise program.
And to our situation now.
In the last few weeks you may have noticed one of your mental, emotional, or spiritual, capacities being tested (e.g, you missed the bus, or you had a bad day at work), yet you didn’t react like you normally would. You reacted better than before. You reacted with more strength, endurance, resilience or flexibility than usual – your capacity in that situation was increased – and it was likely increased as a result of emotional, spiritual, or mental, training and rest.
Now, if we are to take the same logic of how physical training and physical rest gives us an increase in physical capacity, we must give the following the benefit of the doubt: It’s very likely your increase in capacity came from your last few weeks of a mental, emotional, and spiritual training and rest – i.e, your daily meditation program.
And now, think back over the last few weeks. Have you reacted better than usual in any situation? Reacted with more strength, endurance, resilience, flexibility than normal? In what area was this? Emotional, mental or spiritual? Did you feel less deflated from a rude comment? Did you calm down quicker after a frustrating event? Did your day stop “turning bad” at midday?
This is why you meditate.
The feeling during the meditation is forgettable, just like exercise.
The feeling after the meditation is forgettable, just like exercise.
The measurable increase in capacity throughout your day is your reason to meditate – just like exercise.
Our culture has forgotten that we need emotional, mental and spiritual rest, just like we need physical rest. We’ve forgotten we can train these capacities, just like we can train our physical capacities. And the more that we ignore our emotional, mental, and spiritual capacities the sicker our culture will become.
But you can change that, and you are changing it. All you have to do is close your eyes, twice a day, and follow the process.
And remember that it all makes sense.