4. Incarnate Values

Unity of the Body, Mind, Spirit

Any fitness company should be able to clearly explain what they believe the human body to be. How can we put something in order if we don’t know what it is and what it’s for? If proper thought isn’t given to this basic question, we’ll be left standing naked when the tide goes out – when traditional fitness metrics stop satisfying the human heart. It’s already happening. 

There are 3 views of the human body that reduce it to something less than what it is:

1. Materialism. The body is a material made up of 30-100 trillion atoms held together by chemical bonds. It’s a complex machine with a brain as its computer. You are your body, and only your body.

2. Spiritualism. You are pure spirit. Your body is an illusion.

3. Dualism. You’re inside a body like a ghost in a machine or Tony Stark in an Iron Man suit. The body is something that you have and use.

Dualism, which we call the Iron Man Myth, is the most prevalent in today’s world. It’s easy to fall into!

Most of us can acknowledge that we have an outer life that people can see: our bodies, words, and movements. We also have an inner life that is hidden from the world. These are one and the same life.

But we believe we most recognize the fundamental relationship between the inner and outer self. They can’t be separated. The spirit and the body are oriented to each other not by accident like the color of your hair (which you can dye and still be you) but essentially. Both of them go together to make you. The movie Avatar gives us the illusion that it might someday be possible to “switch” bodies and still be the same person – but thousands of years of philosophy and human experience disagrees.

The relationship between the inner self and the outer self is so closely united that it’s one and same thing. If the body is viewed as something that I have or use, it’s not really me. I am just a person who lives “inside” of it. When the unity is severed, it can easily become my prison, hotel, instrument, slave, or another piece of technology for me to use. On the flip-side, the things that are going on in my interior life – a broken heart, being in love, depression, or joy – can become disconnected from their physical expression. I become like a robot, and I live a kind of double life: there’s the inner me, and there’s the outer me.

We don’t know what most fitness companies believe about the body because they rarely say anything about it at all. But having worked in it for well over 100 combined years, and after listening to how fitness is done and talked about, we can say with confidence that the industry has went the way of Door #3 – dualism. Fitness has become about optimizing our bodies, doing maintenance on ourselves, and transforming this lump of matter that we live with into something that makes us look and feel great. Is this all that the body is for? We don’t think so.

Our Response – Core Belief #1

The body is a psychosomatic unity. We’re not bodies that have souls, or souls that have bodies – we’re a body and a soul that exist as part of one and the same reality. We can’t do anything to one without it affecting our whole being.

We are not 50% body and 50% spirit, or 1% body and 1% spirit. All of this reflects a certain dualism. We have to say emphatically that we are 100% body and 100% spirit. There is a complete perichoresis, or interpenetration, between the two in a reciprocal exchange. We must have the humility to admit that exactly how this happens is a mystery.

We use different words for these two parts of the person simply to talk about them more clearly, but sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking that they exist totally independently of the other. The soul is the act of the body, the first principle of action and of life. It moves first. In a living person, it is absolutely inseparable from the body.

Some practical consequences of this are as follows:

1. Ad intra. From the “outside-in”: Whatever you do to your body, you do to yourself. If your body is kissed, it is you who is kissed. When you give your body to another person, it is yourself that you are giving. The body speaks a language in and through its actions, which is ultimately your language. What you do matters. Every action matters.

2. Ad extra. From the “inside-out”: Your interior life is deeply connected to the exterior life of the body. If you have a “bad day” in the gym, don’t blame it on the pre-workout supplement you took or how much sleep you got the night before. It could simply be a consequence of not having spent more than 10 minutes in silence with no cell phone, recollecting yourself, in the past two months.

How can we place value solely on external, physical variables and metrics in our training? Fitness easily becomes something that folds a person back in on himself, and it becomes an end in itself. At its worst, it becomes selfish.

Since every exterior act is linked to an interior act –everything we do to our bodies we do to ourselves – then measuring fitness only in terms of pounds lost, reps done, weight lifted, miles ran, or calories consumed is completely inadequate. It’s like measuring the quality of an apple by looking at its skin. We can drop it, tap it, rub it, bob it, or turn it into a candle apple – but none of these things will tell us much about the apple itself if we don’t peel back the skin and look under the surface. We can’t be content to go skin deep.

Psychosomatic Training in the Real World

The military inherently understands Core Belief #1. New recruits aren’t put through boot camp simply so that they can run 3 miles in under 25 minutes. The physical training is forging character. It forms bonds among men and transforms the interior man so that he can respond when called so that he has the courage and fortitude to run back into a battle, pick up his wounded comrade over his shoulder and carry him to an evacuation helicopter if it ever comes to that.

These are not things that we can measure on a whiteboard.

Watch a Marine recruitment commercial sometime. It doesn’t appeal to our bodies. It doesn’t say “the fastest, the strongest, and the thinnest”. It’s the few, the proud, the many. It appeals to our hearts. Bravery, loyalty, self-sacrifice. It appeals to the inner man. Only once that is activated and transformed can the body follow.

The body doesn’t make sense by itself

Fitness can’t be extracted from life. The idea of doing “just fitness” is an illusion – we can never do just fitness. Fitness affects the entire person. We wouldn’t want a doctor performing a procedure on us or on someone we loved if he could only see a “body” in front of him, if he undertook treatments without taking into consideration the quality of life – the inner life – of the person in front of him. We need doctors and fitness professionals who see the whole person in his great dignity.

We believe in providing world-class physical training. We can help a person get bigger biceps. We can help a person maximize his performance in all 10 physical skillsets. But we recognize that there is a corresponding immaterial impact to every single one of them.

The body doesn’t make sense by itself because it is bound up with spirit. A body by itself is a dead body. We’re in the business of living bodies. We have to design programs for a person by taking his unity into account: form and matter both. The body is part of a person, and it’s animated by a spirit with three unique powers that only human beings have: will, reason, and heart. If we ignore any one of these  things in fitness, we short-change the person in a serious way.

I remember a concert pianist that we knew who suffered inner ear damage late in life. This man fell into such despair at not being able to listen to the beauty of Beethoven ever again in his life that he was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Can you imagine a dog suffering ear damage and refusing to live anymore because he could no longer hear the barking of the dog next door?

The body doesn’t make sense by itself because it is ultimately meant to be a gift for others – not only for our spouses, but also for our neighbor. True inspired fitness prepares us to be ready to make that gift of self: to be able to love, to serve, and to respond to the needs of others. It builds not only muscle, but also character – true virtues. It would help us fight not only against “fat” or disease, but also against laziness or vice. In short, fitness would be ordered to the overall good of every person.

A Paradigm Shift

The consequences of this understanding have changed the way that we look at almost everything that we do. We no longer look only at the exterior act – the body – but we “see” more. The body isn’t enough! We have to go beyond the body.

A simple way to think about this new approach would be to view every action as having both an interior and an exterior principle, or a dynamic relationship in which every thing that we do to the body has some “hidden” impact that is not always visible but that we absolutely must take account of. We have to ask: what is eating this way doing to me as a person? How does running on a treadmill shape my personality? Why is it that I like to play football more than soccer? Dig deeper, and you’ll discover a dimension and depth that will allow you to discover the way that you are truly designed to move.

Sometimes – in fact, many times – we have to look beyond the workouts themselves to grasp the full impact of what has happened and to see the hidden principle at work in other areas of life: work, family, or recreation. And ultimately, this is the purpose of fitness: it’s not to be fit. It’s to live your best life. If it’s not helping you be a better father, mother, son, daughter, worker, friend, and human being…then it’s not a fitness worthy of you.

Yes, we believe that the truth about the body is far more exciting than anything Tony Stark could ever invent, and it opens up a new horizon in fitness that we’re only just beginning to explore. We hope you’ll join us.

Luke Burgis
Luke Burgis, CSCS, is a Co-Founder of ActivPrayer, an architect of the activMAP, and a sports and performance coach that has worked in the nutrition and fitness industries for over 10 years. He graduated with a B.S. in Finance from NYU and also completed an S.T.B. in Sacred Theology at a university in Italy where he worked closely with the Vatican's office of Church & Sport about the role of sports and fitness in renewing cultures.

He is a well-known public speaker on the topics of entrepreneurship, fitness, and faith.
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