fitness · health · motivation

On Ritual, or Moving Religiously

Today is Easter Sunday. For many Protestants and Catholics, that means attending religious services—on Saturday night, at sunrise on Sunday, but mostly on Sunday morning in churches jam-packed with folks who attend Christmas and Easter services but not other times of the year. There’s even a term for them: chreasters.

With attendance dropping and congregations aging, some churches will go to great lengths to attract and keep these twice-a-year attendees coming after the holidays are over. One pastor used a live lion and lamb in his Easter sermon (it’s true; check out the picture here).  But, according to many sources (like here and here), lots of self-identified Christians just don’t prioritize the ritual of regular church attendance. So today the pews will be packed with suited and hatted and patent-leather-shoed folks.


easter church


Next Sunday, those people will return to their newspapers, computers, kid soccer games, brunches, and other activities, while their churches will look more like this:


after easter


I don’t know what the “chreaster” equivalent is for exercise or physical activity. There are the “January people” at the gym, misusing the equipment and clogging up the locker room. And in cycling, there are the “Freds”—cyclists whose experience is far outstripped by their extremely expensive bikes and gear (although Freds tend to ride regularly). There are probably other derogatory and sports-specific terms floating around.

But that’s not my aim here. The arrival of Easter has me thinking about exercise ritual and committing oneself to it, moving religiously as a part of fabric of one’s life. And by “one”, I mean me.

I’m no “chreaster” (I really dislike that term—I won’t use it again, I promise) exerciser, but in the past couple of months, I haven’t made as much time in my life for movement as I would like, or as I need in order to feel good and strong and agile. Yes, I’ve been walking and doing yoga. But I have not been on my bike trainer much at all (why not? No idea). And strength training? Hasn’t happened. Yes, I’ve done some scuba training, some kayak training, but these aren’t regular, daily, extended physical activities that work on cardio, strength, endurance, mental toughness.  All of those things are what we get from making exercise a ritual—an ingrained habit that is deeply embedded in who we are and what we do, an activity we wouldn’t even think about skipping.

moving religiously

Renowned choreographer and dancer Twyla Tharp wrote a book, The Creative Habit in which she talks about the power of ritual:

I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.

This quote is from an interesting article on the power of ritual to help lay down and embed habits. How to establish and maintain habits is well-trodden territory in this blog and elsewhere, but I liked the idea that a ritual can be “the on-ramp” for behaviors.   So I’m now going to be shopping around for some rituals to help me re-establish more regular cycling habits. Readers, what are your favorite rituals for exercise? Do you put your helmet next to your bed? Do you have favorite running gear that you keep by the door? Do you go to the same coffee shop at the beginning/middle/end of your workout? I’d love to hear from you.

And Happy Easter!


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10 thoughts on “On Ritual, or Moving Religiously

  1. Nice post. Happy Easter! I had to think about this one, as my work schedule makes it tough to lay down other rituals in my life, yet I still have managed to drop some serious weight and develop a love for all things fitness. One ritual I can think of is precooking foods for the week Specifically my quinoa and prechopping all my veggies, storing them in adorable containers and stacking them neatly in my fridge. It makes me so satisfied and happy to see the different coloured lids and fresh food calling my name every time I open the door. Makes it REALLY easy to stay on track. .

  2. One of my rituals – when I was going regularly (the past couple months have not been awesome for fitness) – was packing and taking my gym bag in the morning. If I took it with me, then I would go to the gym, which was on my way home from work – no excuses!

  3. As long as we aren’t overly worshipping the temple of our body…dust to dust as we will become. 😀

    What is even better if the exercise that we choose and do often, helps release tensions of the day. And we not worry much about our “performance” that day.

  4. I can’t run daily, so running will never be in my daily regimen; however, I put my running clothes out the night before or I pack them in my workout bag if I’m going to work and will run later the following day.

    On the topic of Chreasters, a church near me (west Texas) was raffling off a Mercedes-Benz convertible, flat screen TVs, and other prizes to draw churchgoers on Easter. I’m not religious, but that seems to go against Christian values … 🙂

    1. Thanks for the post. Wow– they raffled off things on EASTER? I assume the church was not also a Walmart. Oof.

  5. For me what works is having and recording at least a rough idea of how much exercise/movement I want to get done in an upcoming week. Then, each day when I plan to do it, I have to get dressed for it and begin. Even if I don’t feel like it for whatever reason (obviously, truly unplannable events such as a friend in need can change all of this), I have to start, and give it at least 10 minutes. So far – and it has been almost 20 years since I began this system – I cannot think of a time when I didn’t finish what I had begun. It’s not exactly a ritual. It’s just giving my movement the same importance on my calendar as anything else worth writing down. For me, before I figured this out, I didn’t have to do it because no one else was (directly, anyway) affected. I mean, you don’t just not show up for the doctor’s appointment; you don’t leave your friend wondering what has become of you as she waits at the restaurant. But who else cares if you got that run in? So I gave it the importance I think it really has, and it worked. I am, at 67, stronger, faster, and more comfortable than I was at 30.

    1. I love this idea. I’m probably not going to do anything every single day, but looking at a week and planning it out seems doable.

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