In my line of work—as a Christian fitness instructor—I often exercise and pray at the same time.
In my Pilates class one evening I made an accidental discovery. We were doing some mat exercises while I recited Scripture to the students and created a time for silent prayer. A palpable sense of peace came over the room.
I noticed the same cause and effect at home. I was stressed out. It was my daughter’s first day back at work, my baby grandson was going to the daycare for the first time, and while I had mixed feelings about that I also had a long list of things to take care of.
So I cleaned my outside windows while I talked to God. Within minutes, I felt calm, focused and able to turn my attention back to my list of what needed to get done by dinner.
This is what I discovered: Exercise and prayer are the perfect combination to diffuse stress and settle our whirling minds and anxious hearts.
Certain exercises calm us more than others. Best are movements that stretch and strengthen our body at the same time. They literally give a “time-out” to muscles that have become tight with stress.
I’ve found that when we pray while doing these movements, God’s peace eases our mental and spiritual tension, too. It’s the best-kept stress-release secret around!
Here’s my recipe for a two-minute time-out for your body, mind and soul. Do a simple exercise like the Single Leg Stretch, described below. As you stretch and release your hamstring and back muscles, shape your worries into prayers and release them to God. The Apostle Paul describes the result this way: “Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.” (The Message, Philippians 4:7)
Single Leg Stretch Lie down on your back with your left leg straight on the floor and your right leg raised to your chest.
Place your right hand on your right shin or beside your right ankle. Place your left hand on the inside of your right knee.
Raise your left leg a few inches off the floor. Flex your spine as you lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor and look toward your belly. Keep your core muscles engaged as you exhale, then switch legs and corresponding hand positioning. Inhale and switch again.
Continue switching legs and keeping your core stabilized through this exercise. Do not move your back or spine, only move your legs and arms. Repeat five times on each leg.