2012-02-08

Health and Fitness

Physical "health" is a norm-based concept: it means being within the "normal" range for things like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, body fat, cholesteral, triglycerides, etc. etc. etc. Anyone in the normal range on all the measures of physical health is "healthy." The notion of "fitness" invites us to go beyond population norms and, like Olympic athletes, be "faster, higher, stronger" than we have been, regardless of what the population norms might be.

Physical fitness is a long-established idea and ideal. We have more recently begun to develop a notion of cognitive fitness. IQ tests have been around for only about a century, and we are not as clear as we are with measures of physical fitness just what, if anything, they measure. While some doubts and ambiguities remain, the idea of cognitive fitness is much better developed and supported than it used to be.

A few months ago, I signed up at a web site for brain exercises. It's called lumosity dot com. (Click here.) I log on in the morning and I play a series of brain puzzle games that are supposed to keep my neurons strong. Some of the games exercise memory, others mental flexibility, or problem solving, or speed, or, attention. I don't know if it's really going to improve or help in maintaining cognitive function. But it might. It's only about 20 minutes a day, and it's kinda fun, so it seems worth a shot. And I got LoraKim signed up, too, so we can compare our scores.

I also do some physical exercises -- stretches, sit-ups, go for walks, ride my bike. Brain exercises for cognitive fitness (maybe), and physical exercises for physical fitness (definitely).

Then there's emotional fitness -- also called “emotional intelligence”: the ability to detect and identify emotions in self and others, harness emotions to facilitate the task at hand, and understand the language of emotion, including ability to recognize slight differences between similar emotions. Some of us are really good at that -- others, not so much.

A pyramid of Physical, Intelligence,
Emotional-social, and Spiritual Quotients
Closely related to “emotional intelligence” or fitness is "social intelligence" -- because really resonating with someone, clicking with them, is a matter of knowing your feelings, recognizing theirs, and being able to synchronize with the emotion. Because our skills at managing our feelings and managing our relationships (i.e., managing other people's feelings) are so interrelated, let's treat emotional and social skills together as one thing: emotional-social fitness.

There's physical fitness. There's cognitive fitness. There's emotional-social fitness. Is there such a thing as spiritual fitness?

I have two things to say about that.
  1. Yes, there is a way to measure spirituality, and there are exercises you can do to boost your spiritual fitness.
  2. No, spirituality is not at all one more kind of fitness, and the very idea of spiritual fitness completely misses the point.
In tomorrow's post, we'll look at number one: the point that there is such a thing as spiritual fitness; it can be measured; and training can improve it.

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This is part 2 of 7 of "Spiritual Practice."

Next: Part 3: "Defining Spiritual Fitness"
Previous: Part 1: "Primary and Secondary Spiritual Practice"