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Breathe, pray, squat: A morning routine

Looking for a way to spice up your morning routine? Try adding some squatting prayer.

TL;DR Guide:

  1. Why Do I Squat?
  2. Why Do I Pray?
  3. What Are The Benefits of Prayer?
  4. How Do I Do It?
  5. How Do I Stick To It?
  6. Variations
  7. Tools That Can Help

Squatting and Praying

It may seem like an unlikely pair. But every morning, after some hydration and meditation, I take my heels to the ground, and start some prayer action. It's one of best ways to start the day that I've found and today I'd like to share how and why I start my day this way.

Why do I do it? (Squat)

Squatting for 10 minutes every morning increases my functional mobility...and allows me to use any toilet in the world. Squatting is a fundamental human range of motion. Being able to sit on my heels for more than 3 minutes without my shins weeping makes me feel like a kid again. It also helps me maintain good form for barbell squats, so it indirectly increases strength. Finally, if I'm ever in Asia (or somewhere sans Western Style toilet) I can eliminate like a champ...and isn't that what we all desire at the end of the day?

Why do I do it? (Pray)

At this point you might be thinking: "Prayer? Does that really contribute to overall health and well being? Does this belong here?"

I personally find prayer to be a highly enriching and integral part of living a healthy joyful lifestyle. But if you have doubts, it's a point well taken. "Prayer" is a loaded word with many connotations both positive and negative. In order to unpack this word and explain what I mean when I use it, the first two points of this list are going to be somewhat philosophical/cosmological. If you'd rather just get to the nuts and bolts of benefits and dosage feel free to skip ahead.

But before you do, consider that in many Blue Zones (areas of the world which have a high percentage of centenarians) relational interactions and spiritual life are common factors that seem to correlate with longevity. But unlike fitness and nutrition, relationships are difficult to quantify. In relationships, simply understanding who you are interacting with is often the most important information to build upon. Which leads me to...

  1. Do I Pray to G-d? I remember having an awareness of an energy bigger than myself from a very young age. As a result of growing up in a Christian home and community, this was cultivated and explained to me as something/someone called G-d. As I grew older, this concept that the universe was created by an intentional non-human entity continued to make sense. It was reinforced by scientific knowledge such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics (order tends to disorder so something/someone must have instigated an initial order to result in the Big Bang. Obviously this is a simplified explanation but you can google it and make your own conclusions. Loschmidt's paradox is interesting). So, I pray to G-d.
  2. What G-d do I pray to? Based on my readings of the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Tae Te Ching, and the Quran (I'm about halfway through the Quran as of this post)...I pray to what would be described as Jesus Christ/the Judeo-Christian understanding of G-d. This may be way different than you're own traditions or your own feelings about a Divine Force; but I think it's important and fascinating to explore each other's systems and traditions for wisdom that can be found there.
Ok, now that we have all that figured out, let's dive in.

Benefits of prayer

  1. Prayer provides strength and peace. Acknowledging and communing with a force bigger than myself gives me strength and peace, knowing that I'm not alone.
  2. Prayer provides an outlet for suffering. If you exist, you suffer. It's the nature of reality. But one of the most effective ways to find joy in the midst of suffering is naming it and expressing it in prayer. Not only is it an outlet to simply place my cares before someone else, it also provides an opportunity to take my awareness and concern outside of myself. It's easy to fixate on my own worries and anxiety. But by praying for someone else's relief, many times my own worries and anxieties fade away.
  3. Prayer provides opportunity to sync up with reality. I sometimes fall into the trap of treating G-d like a vending machine. "I need to get better...I need to pay my bills this month...I need a new car...". Sometimes these prayers are answered. But this is only the most elementary form of prayer. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, true religion is not to pray that the rains will come, true religion is to pray that we are prepared for the will of the Divine whether the rains come or not.

How do you do it/why the dose?

  • Since I tend to pray immediately following my meditation practice, I like to stay outside on the deck in the sun whenever possible, but wherever you are is fine.
  • I get into a squat position. (< click here for Kelly Starrett's recommendations on how best to take a squat, the video quality is low but the content quality is high. If you don't follow Starrett for info on functional mobility, you should). Main thing is to keep your feet hip distance apart and with toes straight.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. I actually no longer set a timer but if you're working up to squatting for a full 10 minutes then you will most likely need to start small (maybe 3 minutes at most). Over time you'll loosen up and be able to squat with toes straight and a straight back in no time.

Intro: Acknowledge the existence and excellence of the Divine

Daily Bread: Thank G-d for everything I'm thankful for. Whatever comes to mind. (Indoor plumbing and clean water are mainstays).

Forgive: I ask for forgiveness for the injustices I've committed and pray for strength to forgive others for their injustices. This reinforces a sense of grace and an awareness that I'm a work in progress.

Temptation: Pretty straightforward request for deliverance from temptation.

Evil: Request for protection from evil whether that be physical , spiritual, or otherwise.

Wisdom and Discernment: This is pretty clearcut.

Compassion/Intercessory Prayer: Intercessory prayer is just a fancy name for praying for others. This shifts and changes depending on the day. Recently I've been praying for Syrian refugees and victims of Daesh, my friends in Haiti hit by a hurricane, and my neighbors (and everyone is my neighbor) who may be going through stuff.

An important thing to remember when praying for others is to also pray for compassion and willingness to act on behalf of those I pray for. Just because I pray for these people doesn't absolve me from the responsibility of helping them in the everyday. In fact this portion of prayer is another way to keep in mind those whose needs I should be aware of.

How do I stick to it?

Just like my previous post: I meditate and pray first thing in the morning (right after hydrating) and last thing every night just before bed. These are the most convenient times for me but your schedule may dictate something else. I find that doing it in the morning and evenings makes it less negotiable than at some point in the afternoon, but if you think 10 minutes in the middle of the day is more doable than by all means, do that!

Variations

The variations for squat are limited. The variations on prayer are not.

Tools That Can Help

  • Mobility Wod - A fantastic resource for increasing functional mobility. Kelly Starrett is a physical therapist and cross fitter who has some great videos on youtube and on his website MobilityWod.com. Check 'em out and stay supple!
  • Alarm Clock - I just use my iPhone timer but sometimes if I have my phone turned off I think it would be nice to have a specially designated alarm.
  • Yoself.

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