A year-and-half ago a CrossFit gym opened up in my office building, and I got to test out the intense fitness routine that has taken the world by storm. CrossFit isn’t an exercise routine that is suitable for everyone, however, after doing it four times a week for nearly three months now, I’m really starting to see the results in terms of energy levels, mental acuity, and weight.
While doing CrossFit, I’ve noticed the similarities between a physical exercise routine, and the discipline needed to gain the full benefits from a spiritual practice. There are five types of people in relation to CrossFit. First, there are those for whom fitness and exercise is not at all a priority. They never step foot in a gym and the entire concept of any fitness routine is foreign to them. These people are often unfit and at higher risk for a whole host of health-related issues.
The second type are those who care about the idea of becoming fit, in theory. A week into doing CrossFit their bodies become sore and they have yet to see the benefits, and they begin to realize how challenging CrossFit is. After the initial excitement period wears off, they give up.
Then there’s the casual CrossFitter who shows up maybe once or twice a week, does a solid workout, but doesn’t push themselves too hard. These people are health and fitness conscious, but CrossFit is certainly not their life. The fourth type comes in four or five times a week. These people have serious fitness goals, want to be healthy, but don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the CrossFit community. I would consider myself in this category.
Lastly there’s the fifth type — those who are completely dedicated to CrossFit. They spend long hours in the gym, wear CrossFit t-shirts, and never miss a workout. They attend and compete in CrossFit competitions and are fluent in the CrossFit vernacular. They are religious in their dedication to CrossFit. And, it is those most dedicated to CrossFit who reap the most benefits. They are physically fit, and have found kinship and friendship within the CrossFit community. The more effort put in, the greater they gain on many different levels besides just the physical. Such dedication is obviously not for everyone.
Spirituality and religion have many parallels to fitness regimes. In fact Judaism itself compares the two and sees both as being of supreme importance (see Maimonides, Laws of Temperament, 4:1 and in a letter Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch, d. 1772 wrote to his son for example of this). Judaism, thus, thinks we need to be cross fit and maintain high levels of fitness across both disciplines–physical and spiritual.
Like fitness, the spiritual benefits one can gain from the religious practices of Judaism take effort and dedication. The five types of people mentioned above are mirrored in relation to religion and spirituality.
For the first group, spirituality doesn’t make it onto their list of priorities. These people would never think of attending a synagogue or any other type of place where spirituality is practiced. These people don’t realize that without a spiritual practice they are at risk for a whole host of spiritual ailments.
The second group are those who in theory would like to be more centered and spiritual, but are disappointed every time they show up to the synagogue. It seems too hard, it’s not fun, they don’t know the prayers, people are not friendly enough, they don’t like the rabbi, the services are too long, the sermon too boring, they could not follow along, the list of complaints and excuses goes on. Ultimately they walk away uninspired. These people might come once or twice, and then not show up again. After trying it a couple of times, they maintain that Judaism and religion has nothing to offer them.
The third group consists of those who come to the synagogue regularly. They may not be experts at the prayers, but they have put in enough effort to be able to appreciate the prayers, are able to gain a spiritual benefit and a sense of community. For these people spirituality is important, but it does not define them.
The fourth group comes to synagogue at least once a week and on occasion will pray on their own. These people are serious about their religion and about their spirituality. They can navigate the prayer book and when they pray it is meaningful and uplifting for them. They see the benefits that a regular spiritual practice and a relationship with God brings. Religion is therefore an important part of their lives. Yet there is a clear separation between their religion/spirituality and the rest of their lives. Whilst religious and spiritual community is a focus, its not their primary focus.
Then there is the fifth group, made up of those who are seriously committed. I would consider myself to be in this category. They pray three times a day. They have a regular meditation practice and set aside time each day to study a spiritual text. Their community is defined by their religious practice, and they are comfortable in the practice and language of religion and spirituality.
In the final analysis, spiritual fitness is just as important as physical fitness. But, to become fit both spiritually and physically takes dedication and effort. While it may not be fun initially, if you stay with it the benefits will become self evident. It always amazes me when people are able to see this clearly with regard to their physical fitness, but are blind to it when it comes to spirituality or vice-versa. Clearly Judaism wants us to be fit spiritually and physically. And rabbis with big bellies have just as much fitness to catch up on as lapsed synagogue goers.