Column: Exercise your rights (and lefts)

by Father Mark Goldasich

At last, the perfect exercise for me. My doctor will be thrilled.

This exercise, which promises to build muscle strength in the arms and shoulders, is well-suited for “older” exercisers. Begin by standing on a comfortable surface with plenty of room on each side. Take a five-pound potato sack in each hand and slowly extend your arms straight out from your sides. Hold them there as long as you can. (This is really harder to do than it sounds!) Set a goal to hold this position for a full minute.

After mastering the initial step, move up to a ten-pound potato sack in each hand. Be patient with your progress. Challenge yourself down the line to hold a 50-pound sack.

I know that it’s hard to imagine, but most seniors are eventually able to lift a 100-pound potato sack in each hand and hold their arms out straight for more than a full minute.

Finally, when you feel comfortable at that last level, try putting a potato in each of the sacks. But be very, very careful! (This “exercise” was sent to me via e-mail by way too many friends.)

Well, are you with me on this exercise program? It’s probably one of the few I could actually stick with.

Sadly, I’ve never been much for exercising, despite its positive health benefits. When I do force myself into physical activity, it’s either similar to the “potato sack workout” or to the following “senior exercises” that a parishioner found in The Country Register newspaper last year and recommended to me: Beat around the bush; jump to conclusions; drag your heels; make mountains out of mole hills; run around in circles; put your foot in your mouth; and push your luck. Happily, that same article also suggested other exercises to build up both body and soul, things like: Start the ball rolling; pick up the pieces; kneel in prayer; and bow your head in thanksgiving.

I’ve been trying lately to make room for more exercise, both physical and spiritual.

An ideal way to combine the two is by walking. Way back in June 2001, I wrote about using a pedometer to track my steps and was all fired up about doing 10,000 (about 5 miles) a day. Well, years later, I am still far from that goal; most days I’m lucky to put in 3,000 or so. But I’m keeping at it.

Walking gives me a chance to stretch my legs and get some fresh air, but it also has other just as important benefits. It gives my eyes a workout in appreciating the changing beauty of nature. My voice gets some exercise as I greet parishioners and others along the way. My ears get into the act as I often have either inspirational or motivational music playing on my iPod. My hand does its part in moving the discreet finger rosary round and round. The rhythmic beat of my feet frees my mind to ponder an upcoming homily or to puzzle through problems or concerns. Walking is indeed a total — body and soul — workout.

When motivation flags, though, as it often does, I take out this little story, entitled “The Rock Wall,” from a recent Bits & Pieces magazine:

“Today, we’re going to raise the bar a little,” Jeff said to his exercise group. “Who wants to be the first to climb the rock wall?”

The group declined with statements like: “Not me!” and “You’ve got to be kidding.” Soon, however, a skinny 15-year-old kid pushed through the crowd and attached himself to the belay, or safety, line.

The others in the group quieted down when they noticed the kid begin his ascent. Halfway up, though, he lost his footing. The crowd gasped and started to “coach” him: “Forget it, kid.” “It’s too hard!” “Please come back down before you get hurt!”

But the young man’s belayer prevented him from falling. Undaunted by his earlier misstep, the kid paid no attention to his audience, but continued climbing . . . slowly and steadily. He successfully reached the top and then rappelled like a pro back to the floor.

As soon as he was back on the ground, his mother rushed forward and began signing to him. With rapid hand motions and a huge grin, the kid signed enthusiastically back to her.

Jeff then said to the group, “Maybe this kid’s just uninhibited because of his age. Or maybe he just can’t hear all those negative voices saying, ‘You can’t do it.’”

The group pondered the instructor’s words in silence until he asked, “So, is anybody ready now to take it to the next level?” This time everyone stepped forward.

Maybe our first exercise should be to become deaf to all the voices that tell us we can’t do something, like change our lives — and our world — for the better. After silencing those “coaches,” go out on a limb and take up your cross. Remember: Practice, especially with your faith, makes perfect.

 

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