It’s a sunny afternoon.
I am watching swans and ducks swim in the lake.
A wonderful feeling of peace and joy fills my heart.
My breathing deepens. My body relaxes.
“I could stay here all day,” I say to myself.
Then, a question comes to mind:
“Why does watching these birds swim make me feel so peaceful and happy?”
I have no answer for a few minutes. I keep watching the birds move around.
Then comes a thought with an answer:
“It’s because they are free. It’s a sunny day and they are swimming in an open lake in whatever direction they choose to go.”
A mother with her child passes by me. The child laughs, pointing at the birds. They distracted me for moment.
My body is leaning against a wooden fence. I am at the top of a bridge looking down at the water.
The swimming birds have all my attention again.
It feels great!
It doesn’t take long for another thought to come up again. This time, as gracefully as the birds swimming in the water.
“Oh, I know. It’s the beautiful pattern they leave in the water as they move with freedom while being themselves.”
I step away from the fence, and walk with a smile on my face.
Did you leave a beautiful pattern somewhere today? :)
Physical adoration has driven many of us away from our unique and true gifts. Some of us have become so obsessed with a fit body, or ashamed for not having one, that, along with exercise, unnecessary suffering has also become part of our lifestyle.
It was a nice Monday morning. I was having a conversation with a client who I’d been training for a couple of months. It had been a year of self-discovery for me. My mind pondered about what gives us real purpose and what really matters in life.
In the middle of our session, I said, “Susan, you know what I found out recently?”
She said, “What?”
“That the foundation of health is love, it is to feel truly connected with one another in compassion. Doesn’t it make a lot of sense?”
She looked at me and said, “Valeria, can you get the mat for my next glute workout?”
We continued with the session as if there were no comment made and no questions asked.
If you are like me and are inclined to engage in physical activity, integrating fitness and spirituality is essential. For many, many years I struggled to answer the question, “How do I take good care of my body but not fall for preconceptions about physical attractiveness and health?”
The answer was very simple, yet also highly complex and paradoxical. The closer you live to your spiritual heart, the less you tend to engage in purely physical activities and beautifying methods, even if they promote a healthy body and high self-esteem. This is because your spirit knows that sickness, old age, and death are inevitable. The time we have on earth is too limited to concern ourselves with the impermanent aspect of our existence. Every second becomes a valuable chance to recognize our true nature and to realize who we are in the spiritual reality.
When you know that there is a lot more to you than a body and a thinking mind, but you don’t know how to access that deeper part, you end up struggling between the two. This journey in limbo can be interesting, especially because it can teach you to have compassion for your own body. The paradox is that even giving attention to thoughts about fitness and health can lead you to believe that you are a physical being whose psychological needs must be met in order to feel good or to be whole. At this level, you are not living a spiritual existence yet.
However, this is all part of the journey to reaching the happy you. Listening to the heart, so that we can live more and more as a spiritual being can bring our existence to a conscious space where life becomes a loving and joyful adventure that renews itself with every moment.
Weight lifting can be of great help with weight loss, staying in shape, and building strength. But as I mention throughout my boo, Fit for Joy, this type of training focuses only on the physical body, which is just one aspect of our being. We are so much richer and complex than just our bodies. The approach to fitness that works the body in isolation from the mind and the spiritual heart is not a sustainable source of health. This is the reason I created the Fit for Joy lifestyle which integrates conventional physical fitness with spirituality.
“The Paradoxical Commandment” is another collection of words I cherish. It embraces the indestructible human spirit, honoring its power - regardless. "Do your best, forgive and move forward," it says. This is precious to me.
The Paradoxical Commandment
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
By Kent M. Keith
Fear and insecurity can turn physical fitness into an addiction. While most of us consider the pursuit of physical fitness to be a great habit, for me, it was a painful cycle disguised as a healthy practice. The more unsatisfied I was with myself, the more strenuous, restrictive, and consistent my exercise and diet became.
Looking back, it’s clear to see that dissatisfaction, not poor health, was what propelled me to dedicate more than twenty years of my life to fitness. I strongly believe that the reason fitness and fit people are so popular is because most of us are attracted to the idea of having a “healthy distraction” from our inner conflicts.
Although it is true that exercise and physical attractiveness can improve our overall health and lift our self-esteem, using these methods to hide our pain can also result in increased, unnecessary suffering. I don’t know anything healthier than having the courage to dive deeper into our own hearts for answers.
To be healthy is to be loving!
The links between my painful past and fitness became clear to me after a period of major inner turbulence. I knew that most compulsive behaviors had their roots in traumatic experiences, but I never connected my obsession with fitness with my lingering inner pain from the past. I believed I was a strong person who had overcome pain because I had a fit and healthy body to prove it, as well as a life that seemed to be driven by (and built on) authentic and exciting experiences. However, the truth was that my fitness habits, to a great extent, were escapism.
To be healthy is to be loving.
Given how exercise, diet, and even therapy can become traps for a painful emotional reality, it’s crucial for us be aware of the fundamental causes of our suffering.
Think of how we might sometimes consciously (or unconsciously) believe that we are not good enough or not worthy of happiness. When this happens, we then begin to work hard in pursuit of this worthiness.
As a result, anything external that gives us the illusion that we deserve happiness for our effort will also become our own created prison.
This cycle of sustaining habits out of fear turns exercise and diet (or whatever our external source of happiness is) into negative forces, thus compounding the root problem as we live for our bodies and for conditioned emotional stability through abusive mechanisms.
This can cause disharmony within the heart, creating a state of mind where true happiness cannot exist.
To be healthy is to be loving.
Susan had a session with me at two in the afternoon. I was not feeling well after Destiny’s encounter. During lunch, my thoughts had been much more centered on love and kindness, and this reflection was hovering over me when Susan arrived. She’d been training with me for a couple of months.
I began chatting with her about these tender reflections. In the middle of our session, I said, “Susan, you know what I’ve begun to realize?”
“What?” she asked.
“That the foundation of health is love; how can we feel comfortable in our bodies if we are not in love with life? Does that make sense to you?”
She looked at me as if she was thinking about it. Then she said, “Valeria, can you please get the mat for my next buttocks workout?”
We continued with the session as if I’d never brought up the insignificance of a fit body without a loving heart and a happy mind.
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Karen was my last client for the day. We met at seven sharp, right after Steve.
Karen was an obese woman I trained twice a week. She was thirty years old, weighed 250 pounds, and was 5’ 2”. However, these numbers don’t say anything about her as a person. She was a painter who owned her own gallery in Manhattan. The serenity in her eyes and the way she smiled for no reason introduced her to me before she even told me her name.
She had been married for more than five years to someone who was in good shape. I knew this because her husband came to pick her up after our sessions. The conversation we had the first day we met left me pondering about life for days.
I asked the same question I asked every client before we began the program: What are your three main fitness goals?
Karen said she only had one goal: to enjoy the workouts.
I recall looking into her eyes as if she had not understood my question. I rephrased it, and this time I was more specific.
“I understand, Karen, and I will ensure that the exercises will be fun, but what I meant was, how many pounds do you want to lose?”
Again, she answered with a smile and said she didn’t care about the weight; she just wanted to feel good during and after the workouts. Furthermore, she said it didn’t matter if she didn’t lose any weight at all. Her peaceful eyes and joyful smile reinforced the truth of her words.
I could not believe this woman and how out of touch with reality she was. She was obese, for God’s sake! She could actually die of a heart attack at any moment, and my mind refused to believe that anyone could be at peace with a body like hers. It couldn’t be possible.
I insisted. I tried to force her to make a deal with me, and asked her to agree on losing one to two pounds per week.
Once more with the same serene, happy look on her face, she replied that I didn’t understand her. Patiently, she repeated that she was fine with her weight and that she enjoyed her work. She was a person who loved and was loved by her family and friends. Her life was a blessing, and she was grateful for what she had. There was nothing else to be added or removed to make her happier. The workouts with me were just to get her body moving while she had some fun.
I wasn’t amazed by her attitude, because I neither understood nor believed in what she was saying at the time. Nevertheless, after our encounter that day, I went home thinking about her, and I remembered a thought I’d had when I was a teenager, one that had returned many times throughout my life.
I would die young.
I believed I would not reach the age of thirty, despite being physically healthy.
Perhaps intuitively, I knew that my heart could fail at any time because of my lack of understanding of what life was really about: love and kindness.
I am convinced that Karen became my client for a reason—to teach me that to be healthy is to be loving. She trained with me for almost a year, and never lost any weight.
Karen was the healthiest client I ever had.
A simple practice we can engage in to cultivate peace and harmony is to give up hope and replace it with aspiration or motivation from the heart—that is, to stop waiting to be happy when something happens. Instead, rejoice in this very moment because what you are doing now should already be the realization of what you want to happen in the future.
The moment we choose to recognize our experiences in the world as lessons of love, life turns into a lucid dream. This recognition can come from the depths of our hearts—the spiritual awareness through the senseless suffering caused by our minds. Either way, the main difference between a nightmare and a lucid dream is a shift of our perception grounded in love. In the dream of life, there are many mountains to climb every day, and they might crumble, the dust might blur our vision, fear might replace our hope, but if we have faith and recognize our own essence, we will never fall.
I believe that any physical activity can become a spiritual experience, even a tough type of training like weight lifting. The location where we train can become an auspicious terrain where spiritual awareness and physical practices can be integrated. I feel this is important. In most commercial gyms there is nothing there to remind the mind to practice virtues like trust, respect, patience, and kindness among others.
At best, weight lifting in commercial gyms can give us a feeling of being present in the moment, which is induced mostly by safety considerations. This is because the owners and staff of such places are not aligned with the idea of offering both a physical and spiritual space to us. Most gym managers are more preoccupied with signing up new members than they are with their well-being and happiness.
Weight lifting can be of great help with weight loss, staying in shape, and building strength. But as I mention throughout my book, Fit for Joy, this type of training focuses only on the physical body, which is just one aspect of our being. We are so much richer and complex than just our bodies. The approach to fitness that works the body in isolation from the mind and the spiritual heart is not a sustainable source of health. This is the reason I created the Fit for Joy lifestyle, which integrates conventional physical fitness with spirituality.
The moment we choose to recognize our experiences in the world as lessons of love, life turns into a lucid dream. This recognition can come from the depths of our hearts or from spiritual awareness—brought about through the senseless suffering caused by our minds. Either way, the main difference between a nightmare and a lucid dream is a shift of our perception grounded in love. In the dream of life, there are many mountains to climb every day, and they might crumble, the dust might blur our vision, fear might replace our hope, but if we have faith and recognize our own essence, WE will never fall again.
We know that the best way to lose weight is to eat less, especially of foods that are high in calories. Sugar is a well-known adversary of weight loss. But before depriving ourselves of healthy fats and sweets, it’s wise to try to understand the real reasons we eat more than necessary. I believe that wishful thinking and fear are subconsciously operating in our minds when it comes to our eating patterns. Food can become an addiction, often stemming from emotional triggers when we wish our lives to be different. Steven Pressfield, the famous writer, once wrote: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.”
The way I see it, having the courage to realize the unlived life within is essential to our physical and psychological health. Trusting this moment for what is—this is courage. Feeling grateful for what we have can empower us to follow our hearts, thus making each moment fulfilled and joyful. The happier we are within, the less preoccupied with food we become.
The perfection of this moment embraces us with unconditional love for our spiritual wealth, for who we truly are—there is nothing lacking.
KIND HEARTS...STRONG BODIES...PEACEFUL MINDS.... Fit for joy!
Much, much love!
Nothing in the past can hurt us when we have learned a lesson from it. Nothing can happen in the future that is not happening now. Our job is to recognize in the present moment the peace and joy in our hearts.
SPIRITUAL CONFIDENCE: THE ETERNAL JOY