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The Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo by Chelsea Ferrel.

Exercise for the Body and Mind

Dorje, my eight-year-old homestay brother, bounces his basketball in a steady rhythm on the concrete porch outside our house.  With each bounce, he recites one syllable of the Tibetan Buddhist prayer: “om. mani. padme. hum.”  I watch in admiration, as youthful recreation is fused with sacred prayer.  A young boy just trying to get a bit of exercise now becomes a young boy upholding ancient tradition.

Thinking back to the many hours I’ve spent on the soccer field, I wonder why recreation, especially sports, is often seen as medicine for just the body and not the soul.  Because, in reality, each time I block a shot or steal the ball, I feel a lightness that is not far off from the feeling I experience during our morning meditation.  While I may not be chanting “oh mani padme hum” on the soccer field, I am still performing a sort of mantra that helps me feel centered and calm.

A few days back, we began talking about the upcoming trek; a journey in which the strenuous physical activity required has begun to worry many of my peers.  In response to the building nerves, Claire responded by saying, “think of the trek as a sort of pilgrimage.  You need physical pain for spiritual growth.”  Whether it be trying to sit cross legged for minutes on end during meditation, or working through the pain in your arm from dribbling a basketball, the value of physical pain and exercise extend beyond endurance of body to endurance of mind.

Returning to the therapeutic sound of my brother’s basketball hitting the pavement coupled with his repetitive chanting, I see how this ritual of linking pick-up basketball with ancient prayer is actually a very natural one.  Without even realizing it, whenever we undergo a physically difficult task, we are putting our focus and determination to the test.  Even though most of us are likely not reciting ancient Buddhist prayer each time we hit the gym, we share with Dorje the union of mind and spirit that comes naturally with physical perseverance.