Conferences are events where we set aside time for growth, relationship building, and (hopefully) some fun. Conferences usually have a profound impact on me. I can point to major decisions and revelations that have emerged in my life after attending a growth-focused event.

I just presented a new topic at the Sisterhood Leadership Conference, and I wanted to share some of the highlights. Even if you didn’t get to attend, I hope you gain a few insights here!

Before you begin reading, take three deep breaths. Close your eyes. Relax your body, draw your shoulders back. Work on breathing deeply while you read. . . and be prepared to do some movement along the way!

Mindful Movement

As a group exercise instructor, personal trainer, nutrition coach, author, and lover of Jesus, Mindful Movement seems to bring all of my passions together. What, exactly, is it you ask? Well, it’s hard to explain, but I’ll give it a try in hopes that you will try out some Mindful Movement with a friend or on your own.

The purpose of Mindful Movement is to:

1. Invite God into our health journey (have a two-way conversation)
2. Become more mindful (make connections: mind/body/spirit)
3. Start now, start small, but start NOW (pick up our mat)

Let’s begin with a short story that Jesus told about a guy who encountered Jesus:

Pick up your mat/A lesson about healing (John 5:1-13):

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

When we read this story, what do we see? A guy who needed healing. Jesus came along and asked him, “Do you want to get well?” PAUSE. This is a pivotal question. Do you want to get well? Do you want to get well? Getting well may mean that we no longer complain about our circumstances. Getting well may mean we have more responsibility. Getting well may mean we walk the talk, quite literally. So, before you ask for change in your life, ask yourself, “Do you want to get well?”

If the answer is a resounding YES, keep reading. If it’s a maybe, keep reading anyway, there’s more for you too.

The reason I share this story is that I believe that (a) we often play a very active role in our healing (get up and walk) and (b) Jesus desires us to be made whole at all costs (it was illegal to carry your mat on the Sabbath, yet he healed the man and told him to carry his mat, anyway).

Stretch!

Now, I encourage you to stand and do some stretching. While you stretch, pray, meditate on scripture, listen to worship music, or just stretch in silence while you breathe deeply. Find your own Mindful Movement, but here are a couple thoughts to consider as you embark on your journey:
Invite God into your journey. If you have not already done so, ask God to walk alongside you. Open your heart and your mind to him in ALL areas of your life—including your food choices, your attitude toward your body, and your stewardship of your body.

Recognize the truth that issues surrounding food, our body, and our self-esteem are spiritual issues! If something keeps us from experiencing our fullest relationship with God, it’s a spiritual issue.
Combine prayer, deep breathing, and stretching to create your own Mindful Movement.

Scriptures for Meditation

Here are some Scripture verses you may meditate on. This is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to use your own or do something different.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Ephesians 1:17

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

Transform your mind

We must think about our health journey differently. Making lasting change is not about your will or ability. As believers, we don’t need to strive for anything, except loving Christ. Give it to God; give it all to God. But cry out and then be ready to pick up your mat when he says so. This is not a passive journey; it’s an active, everyday walk with a father who loves you and wants the best for you.

If you feel him leading you and yet you say, “But I don’t want to”–ask God to give you the “I want to.” Your journey will bear fruit. You’ll begin to recognize that how you treat your body correlates with how you feel. Soda may give you migraines. Sugar may give you joint pain. The lack of exercise may give you back pain.

Ask God to guide you in areas where you have blinders on or where you are deliberately naughty. And if you’re just not ready, take heart–we serve a patient and gracious God. Tell him: “God, I’m not ready to give you (fill in the blank), but I want to. My heart is open, God. My hands are open. I won’t keep this struggle from you. I want freedom in this area of my life, but I’m just not ready to let go yet.” Oh friends, hold on. This is a journey of a lifetime. But it’s so worth it.

If you are ready to change when God directs you, go for it! Start practicing!

Tune In

Take note as you mindfully move and pray, ask God: “Is there anything I’m keeping you from, God?” (Food addiction, overeating, shame, self-esteem or body issues, pride, apathy)? Is there anything you run to before you bring your issues to God (wine, coffee, food)? Bring these things to God in prayer. Ask for revelation, healing, forgiveness, and guidance.

Living a healthy lifestyle requires you to change your thinking. Your choices are not inherently good or bad, and it’s not about sticking to a diet or trying hard enough. Every day is a practice. Every day is a new day. Ditch the guilt over past “failures.” They aren’t failures anyway. Use every sideways step as an opportunity to learn about yourself and God. Rather than try another diet, get an attitude of practice:

  • I’m not dieting, I’m practicing being a healthier person.
  • I’m learning how to steward my body, not out of some sense of duty or legalism, but out of joy and gratitude for the gift of my body.
  • I’m learning what exercise feels good on my joints and makes me joyful rather than drudging through another lame workout or skipping it all together.

Getting Started

When I chat with people about how to get started on their health and wellness journey, I usually get questions such as “How do I get my kids to eat healthy?” “How can I exercise with an injury?” “How do I eat well on such a strict budget?” These are all great questions, and often, they cause people to get stuck in their head or to quit before they even get started. Often when we think of change, we jump to the most difficult scenarios or roadblocks. The idea of tackling these areas seems overwhelming.

Yet my response to these seekers is often the same: Rather than tackle the tough stuff first, let’s start with baby steps. I ask them, “Is it in your ability to drink more water each day? Can you take the stairs instead of the elevator? Can you close the kitchen after dinner to avoid late-night snacking?” These are more simple starts with areas that we have control over. The goal for living a healthy lifestyle is to make small, consistent changes over time, not to become the dictator of the house or a rigid, legalistic person.

Our journey must be filled with grace and we would be wise to start with the EASIEST baby steps we can take. Build up small victories and you’ll gain momentum, encouragement, and motivation. You’ll quickly begin to feel the benefits of making healthier choices and addressing the more challenging areas of your health will be easier. Pick up your mat and walk before you begin running.

What is your baby step? (This is not a rhetorical question.)

Tune into your body and the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance. Revisit scriptural truths to remind yourself of your identity in Christ, your purpose as a child of God, and your value as a daughter or son of the one true King.

Write down your goal and action step and then write down the name of someone you’ll ask to walk alongside you. Once that goal becomes second nature or habit, then work on the next baby step. Pick up your mat. Mountains are climbed one step at a time. It’s time to start hiking.

Ashley Darkenwald

Author Ashley Darkenwald

Ashley Darkenwald is an inspirational speaker and the author of Living Wellness, the book encompassing her 10+ years as a fitness professional, club owner, and nutrition fanatic. Ashley enjoys homeschooling her two children, leading worship at the WHY church in Elk River, and playing sand volleyball in the summer. Ashley’s favorite speaking topic is FREEDOM through the practice of exceptional health.

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