Ever since I was in my teens, I have been drawn to eastern spiritual teachings. Over the years I have dabbled in yoga practice, but it has only been these last two years that I have become a “student” of yoga and yogi philosophy. And no, I do not go around chanting “om” or wearing white robes; but I do meditate daily – or try to! The benefits of yoga go far and beyond improving my flexibility. It’s a great way to regain my center.

That being said, I am not trying to plug yoga practice; it may not be for everyone. A dear friend, whom I’ve tried to cajole into joining me for a class makes no bones about her attitude:

“Ceil, I’ll think about it. Depends on how many ‘oms’ I have to chant!”

She is still thinking about it! For me, yoga practice is not about the “oms,” it’s a way for me to exercise my body and exorcise my demons. A two-fer!

Exercise! Some hate it, some do it begrudgingly, and for others like me, it’s been a lifelong discipline. And, bonus: I love it!  When I was in high school, I was  one of those weird gals who actually enjoyed gym period; smelly locker rooms, sweaty hair and  wearing that puke-worthy green gym suit didn’t faze me.

I played sports, swam and when I became a bona fide adult (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) my sons would awaken to the cheery voice of my personal trainer, Jack La Lanne. Wearing a jumpsuit and what looked like ballet slippers (not really jock attire) he would urge me to get moving. I was hooked on doing “trimastics” with him every morning. It was much better than a cup of coffee, although my kids would beg to differ with me.

I was gainfully employed as a healthcare professional for many years and witnessed first- hand the detrimental effects of being a couch potato. A sedentary lifestyle is likely to cause a loss of energy and weight gain. It may be precursor of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a host of other medical problems. On the other hand, exercising regularly nourishes the body and can dramatically improve one’s health.

Perhaps I have inherited the “love exercise” gene. My mom at age 90 (she looked 75) walked to the gym that was located in her community almost daily—and then worked out at said gym.  She had amazing vitality. I remember how angry she became when the manager of the gym inferred that working out at her age was a liability to the condo association. I don’t exactly know what transpired between them, but knowing Mom’s feisty spirit, she was given Carte Blanche to do as she pleased. She was never bothered again!

OK, I’ll admit that maybe I’m a tad addicted to exercise, because if I miss my workout, I feel like I didn’t brush my teeth or something equally as nasty. I walk the beach in all weather – yup, I’m the crazy gal in the hoodie! Although I definitely get a workout (shifting sand is a body toner) it’s a different discipline.   Walking the beach is a scared time that provides spiritual nourishment for my soul.

As I mentioned earlier, yoga practice or any form exercise, can help exorcise our demons. We all have them, you know. They usually attack around 3 a.m. after a particularly stressful day. They begin to rattle their chains and before you know it they are pulling on ours. They delight in wreaking havoc with our sleep patterns and consequently our lives.

I call my demons “scary monsters and super creeps.” They are tricky little (or big) buggers, don’t you think? Sometimes they are not easily recognized because they masquerade as self-righteous behaviors. We humans are tricky too: we can come up with a myriad of excuses as to why we are plagued with negative emotions.

We obsess over situations where we have no control. We are filled with feelings of fear, jealousy and anger, unforgiving and bitter. Some folks hold on to a relationship long past its “use by date.” I’m sure you have your own shopping list of “demons.” These emotions are akin to driving on a dark winding road without headlights.

Some folks try to bury their demons with unhealthy addictive behaviors:  alcohol, drug abuse, shop-till-you-drop mindset, gambling, promiscuity or overeating. Anything taken to excess can be addictive.   Sooner or later these adaptive behaviors will backfire.

Exercise not only keeps us energetic and youthful, numerous studies have shown that that exercise provides some serious mental benefits. It increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. In addition, exercise produces endorphins—those little chemicals that produce feelings of well-being. Physicians have long touted exercise as an adjunct in treating anxiety and depressive disorders. In other words, it can send our demons packing.

Exercising regularly increases blood flow to the brain which may result in more clarity of vision. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening our minds to new ways of looking at the same old thing. Most of us have hypnotic patterns that keep us doing the same thing over and over again—and here’s the kicker:  we expect different results!

When one is mentally and physically fit we feel more alive, more vibrant. When our demons start rattling their chains, we have the resilience to take them on before they take us down a dark highway going nowhere.

This is the dawning of a new year, a time when gym enrollments spike. Many folks have made resolutions to begin an exercise program—and good for them. Unfortunately, these good intentions may fall by the wayside. It’s tough to make a life-long commitment to anything, let alone exercise.

I agree with my personal trainer of long ago, Jack La Lanne. He said: “I do it as therapy. Something to keep me alive. We all need a little discipline. Exercise is my discipline.”

Folks, when we choke-out our life force with unhealthy habits or get into negative loop thinking, we are committing an unspeaking crime against ourselves. Think about it….

And if I haven’t convinced you yet, consider this:  Exercise can improve our sex lives!

Interested now?

Iannelli Celia 2014

Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.