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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.

 

 

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:

 

 

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.

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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