Using the framework of a new asceticism, I have come to believe that an integral part of stress management is learning to identify stress in the body and using exercises and stretches to gently relieve that tension. Before I sit down to prayer, I have learned to take a quick check on the state of my interior life. If I can feel my thoughts and I notice that they are racing, or if I stressed out and feel exhausted, I have learned that targeted exercises can work to relieve the tension and cultivate the stillness needed to pray.
In this way, cultivating a habit of ceaseless prayer involves a constant state of watchfulness in which we learn to diagnose our interior state and apply necessary strategies to connect with Jesus and discern the work of the Holy Spirit. Physical exercise becomes just one more tool in the toolbox that helps us be available to God and to neighbor.
The key is to learn how see both your body and its relationship with your interior life. The Eastern Christian monks had a great phrase in which they talked about “keeping the mind within the body.” Through experience, we learn that cultivating this kind of harmony between the two means constantly adapting our strategies to meet the needs of the day. Even things like a gentle walk through the park while listening to music can become a powerful anecdote to help us connect with Jesus.
You probably already have a few strategies such as this up your sleeve. The key is that we have to learn to be intentional in what we do. Exercise is not just a “good thing,” but is an essential part of the spiritual life. Stress relief is not disconnected from our spiritual life, but the two are complementary becomes the integral nature of the human person.
So next time you are tired and stress, instead of ignoring the tensions and trying push away the discomfort, face it head on with gentle exercise. Learn to identify ways to relax the body and to refocus your energy through asceticism and your on-going relationship with Jesus.