When it comes to physical and mental fitness and health we generally think of getting our exercise and eating wholesome nutrition. However, more and more people are discovering that our intent and the condition of our consciousness play integral roles in our well-being, even applying to the aesthetics of our material bodies. This comes as little surprise to me as I have experienced these effects first hand, but what can you do to garner these benefits? In this article I endeavor to exhibit the indelible correlation between living in a positive, compassionate manner and whole life health and fitness. In physical exercise there are intrinsic positive attributes that can be carried throughout life and in nutrition we are constantly presented with opportunities to make ethical choices which can either generate boons or woes for us depending on whether they are mature ideas or greedy notions respectively.
Physical exercise covers a wide variety of practices, but all of them exhibit comparable characteristics such as discipline, patience, diligence, honesty and the building of self-confidence through both accomplishment and the abilities and aesthetics gained from them. It is well understood that discipline is a prerequisite of success in exercise, but more importantly exercise begets discipline. As we feel and see results from our discipline our mind inherently makes a Pavlovian correlation between our dedication and the positive results, as it very well should. So more exercise makes us realize the value of exercise and then we are encouraged to exercise more. This is the way of things: everything snowballs in the direction of our intention. The true value of building discipline is that it carries over into all aspects of life such as work, nutrition, relationships and our artistic endeavors.
We have often heard it said that patience is a virtue which, unfortunately, makes it sound like some kind of spiritual attribute that can only benefit our souls. However, the pluses of patience are represented broadly in our material existence with special attention to physical exercise. All of us have seen others, and perhaps some of us are guilty of this as well, lifting weights that are far too heavy or endeavoring exercises that the individual has no business undertaking at his or her current physical state. In these instances short- and long-term injuries are all but ensured. Conversely, when we approach exercise with patient diligence not only are we greatly diminishing the chances of injury, but we are also accelerating and increasing our strength, flexibility and capability gains. By listening to our bodies rather than our egos we avoid setbacks due to damaging our joints and muscles and perform exercises with better alignment and correct tempo which are cornerstones to manifesting a strong, fit body. Tied in with this is another virtue: honesty. If we are receptive and honest with ourselves then we know what we can do and what we are not yet ready to accomplish. This is integral to maintaining both proper patience and due diligence.
When most folks think about the self-confidence gleaned from exercise they generally will assume that what is meant is that exercise makes us look pretty so we feel more confident. While there is certainly truth to the whole-life benefits of improving our physical appearance, that is not where I find the primary source of self-confidence flowing from exercise. The true fountain that springs forth our feelings of self-worth is the accomplishment of goals and the progression from easier exercises to more challenging ones or even simply being able to do more repetitions of the same exercise. Time and again I have seen the light and near tears in the eyes of people who could barely do a single push-up when they, after diligent and patient discipline, find that they can easily crank out 10-15 well executed presses. While beauty is a factor in our confidence, the aforementioned kind of accomplishment is the creator of true, unshakeable joy. It teaches us an incredibly valuable lesson: with hard work and intention there is no limit to what we can attain as human beings. This is perhaps the most crucial realization in all of conscious existence because not only does it fill us with joy at our possibilities, but it also causes us to understand that, because the power is in our hands, the responsibility for our health and well-being is entirely our own. I cannot stress enough how important this is and also how much diligent physical exercise can help us come to understand the concept.
Aside from these characteristics of exercise there are even more blessings to be taken from the practice. For instance, since the brain is a part of the physical body we can equate physical well-being with good mental health as well, and a healthy brain is an excellent environment for a happy consciousness. We have all experienced the effect on our attitude of exercise in that when we are at our least motivated and happy if we make it to the gym despite these obstacles we always leave with a better mental state. When the body releases endorphins you can take it as a sign that you are doing the right thing. In short, better health equals better attitude, and that is something we could all use. Linked to this fact is the self-respect that is garnered from routine exercise which then allows us to show love, respect and compassion to our fellow inhabitants of Earth. A further extrapolation of this that we can take from people such as firefighters and true practitioners of parkour is that it is our duty as human beings to stay healthy, strong and able so that if an emergency or time of need should arise we are capable of lending a hand and helping our fellow women and men. Another practical reason to keep the body fit is that it will bestow upon us more energy and mental clarity enabling us to handle our work and responsibilities more deftly. Ultimately exercise has myriad benefits making it one of the most valuable tools for self-exploration and engendering a whole, happy and long life.
Second in this article but certainly paramount in each individual’s quest for outer strength and inner peace is the ever important aspect of nutrition. Here perhaps even more than in exercise we find that moral and ethical choices are presented to us every second of every day and our decisions shape our bodies and our minds to astounding proportions. Most people understand that the quality and quantity of foods that we put in our mouth have a very real effect on our bodies, but they tend to miss out on the profound effect of the subtle nuances of the acquisition and preparation of our nutrition. Typically ignored factors that affect our whole life fitness include killing for food, the “you are what you eat” principle, the love and intention put into food preparation, the use of antibiotics and external sanitizing agents, and ecological and sustainability concerns.
As an American citizen and a conscious, compassionate being I would like to start with my nation’s primary ethical shortcoming: the raising of animals for the sole purpose of slaughter for our consumption. Now before the reader assumes this will be a preachy description of spiritual and magical ramifications from this practice let the author assure you that the distaste for such practices is based on scientific as well as experiential data. Firstly, let us explore the nutrient contents of meat (and by meat I mean anything consumed from kingdom animalia) versus vegetal foods. As the chief purported reason for consuming meats is to acquire protein I will examine the value of these food sources based upon that criteria. While it is true that meats are high in protein as well as certain vitamins, minerals and trace minerals it is important for us to find out whether or not we can obtain better sources of these without requiring the economically and ethically costly practice of raising animals for meat. If meeting our daily protein requirement is the true reason that so many people consume meat then we should be glad to hear that abundant, readily assimilated protein is available from a diverse spectrum of vegetal products such as micro-algae, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, spelt, wheat and oats, fermented foods like tempeh, tofu and seitan, as well as from vegetables such as spinach, seaweeds like those found in sushi and miso soup, asparagus and Brussels sprouts. These are just some of the long list of vegetal foods that provide ample protein, but it is also of extreme importance that we recognize that they provide a much more complete and diverse set of vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients. This is where choice and the universal law of cause and effect come into play. If we choose the unethical path of killing for food we are filled with excessive fats which are prevalent in flesh products and also robbed of vital nutrients that can only be obtained through vegetal foods.
Ever since we were children we have all heard the old adage “you are what you eat” and have laughed it off or used it as a joke. However, there is far more truth to this old saw than we might be cognizant of, especially in the case of animal products. When we pay careful and close attention to the actions of people who consume animals we can observe that their behaviors often resemble those of animals. Characterized by increased aggression, general confusion and a lack of ability to focus and be consciously aware, flesh consumers tend to be more prone to fear and a lack of serenity; attributes innate to animals. On the other hand, plant eaters tend to be calm, slow to anger, peaceful and accepting of their current states, much like a great tree. It is difficult to notice this effect when one is in the mindset created by consumption of immense amounts of flesh foods like most Americans are, but after enjoying a kill-free diet for a period it becomes overtly obvious. This aspect of moral living is comparable to the smoking of tobacco products and chemical dependencies where we see that only after cessation of these behaviors do addicts realize the strength of their previous compulsion and the negative effects of their actions. Tied to this concept of “you are what you eat” is the care and intention devoted to the process of creating the food that we consume. We have often heard chefs and mothers alike say that the reason their dishes are exceptional is because they are prepared with love. While this may seem like outlandish magic there is substantial experiential evidence of its truth as I am sure we have all had opportunity to find. Meals prepared by loved ones or passionate cooks are often better simply because the intention of the person creating them causes them to use more care in the preparation resulting in better food. Also, if you are one who knows about our subtle body then you will understand that the energy put forth when cooking with compassion is imbued into the food and passed on to the recipient. Along with this the anger and indifference used in killing and brutal factory farming techniques are also instilled into the meat products.
Commercialism in America and most Western cultures often pushes products such as antibiotics and external sanitizers as our only hope at defeating the legions of invisible bugs that seek to destroy us at every turn. Advertisements depicting every surface of our homes as a gross infestation of monstrous-looking microbes have created an unnatural and unnecessary terror of touching anything for fear that we will certainly pick up a horrible illness. However, our very bodies as well as the air we breathe are constantly crawling with the very same microbes. Indeed the world is an ocean of germs and amoebas floating about. So how, for thousands of years, did our ancestors manage to survive and thrive to the point that we have taken our place as by very far the most dominant species on the planet? Also how do people in areas such as India and Africa as well as other “third world” countries survive and thrive? The difference in this case is a difference of ethics which has real world effects. In the West our typical demeanor is that we must seek out and destroy all perceived enemies whereas in the East the focus is often on taking responsibility for our own selves and utilizing discipline and self-love to properly fortify our bodies and minds so that no force might be able to destroy our temples. While the prior’s choices of aggression and casting aside responsibility leave us with the highest rate of many deadly dis-eases, morally correct behaviors allow human beings to flourish in areas and conditions that many of us would consider entirely uninhabitable. In recent years we have seen the emergence of many “super-bugs” which are directly created through evolutionary processes in reaction to our use of chemical killing agents. Prideful arrogance in our infant modern medicine, ignoring and often obfuscating the millennia of traditional medicine techniques such as Ayurveda, has and will continue to cost us dearly. If you do not believe me then I challenge you to research the cancer, heart dis-ease, diabetes and thyroid condition rates in America versus places like rural China and India.
Our environment, our only home, is properly becoming a real concern to a growing number of people. The ability of our choices to affect it in positive or negative ways is becoming more and more apparent as globalization sets in. When it comes to the effects of raising animals for meat consumption some of the numbers can be staggering to say the least. What is more alarming is that most of these numbers are on the grow at dangerous rates. Presented here for you are some figures that should be made known on a wider scale. 30% of the world’s land mass is currently used in the process of raising food animals, including 260 million acres of forest in the U.S. chopped down and used to grow feed for the animals. This process also degrades soil and causes once fertile lands to become desolate wastelands. Fishing is no exception with many miles of ocean being stripped of life, much of which never even makes it to the table because it was not the fish that was desired by the trawling boats so it is cast aside. More figures: 70% of grains and cereals we grow are used to feed animals for slaughter. It requires 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat and 5 pounds of wild caught fish to make one pound of farm fish. Without going into excessive detail, the whole process of creating meat products uses approximately 11 times the amount of fossil fuel as the process of creating vegetal products. That is a huge carbon footprint as well as an entirely unnecessary economical strain. Now poor morals and a lack of right living are even hurting Americans where they feel it the most: their pocketbooks. Water usage numbers are even more ridiculous with almost 50% of our nation’s water being used for animal production even though we waste water on a personal level to a fantastic degree. 2,400 gallons of water is required to make one pound of beef but only 1/100th, just 25 gallons, is necessary for production of a pound of wheat. Aside from these ludicrous excesses there are other considerations such as the massive destruction of the Amazonian rainforests, greatly increased generation of pollution and a disgusting amount of fecal contamination in our water and air which has contributed to the death of millions of fish in rivers. Frankly the author does not like the idea of breathing dust laden with animal excrement, but the decision is not mine alone. Each of us has the power to be one less person consciously deciding to continue this outright madness.
Taking into consideration all of the information which I have presented for you above it should start to become clear that the universal connection between right living and our individual and societal health, wellness and fitness is undeniable. Our choices, our intentions, these are the power that we have to shape the future of our unique selves as well as the universe that we call home. Every second we are each presented with our own challenge of whether to follow our true essences to greatness or to succumb to our manipulative egos and fall further down into suffering and confusion. Fortunately, when equipped with knowledge and understanding we are better empowered to make better choices, not only for ourselves but for others and the generations to come. Take a look at the world around you and ask yourself if it is the world you want to live in. If you see that changes need to be made to make this existence the best that it can be then start with yourself, and I swear to you that you will see your vision begin to manifest in your life as well as the world around you.