Fitness that Builds Spirituality
It’s a butt-kicking boot camp. It’s a doorway to God. It’s community. It’s caritas, the Christian virtue of charity. It’s ActivPrayer, a fitness program integrating mind, body and soul, pioneered by a fitness-loving believer in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“People have different ways to go about it, but people all over the world are looking for ways to have a more living faith, to integrate spirituality in their daily lives,” says Luke Burgis, founder of ActivPrayer and a member of the Catholic Church. “I was also looking to get more out of fitness, so I experimented with different ways to infuse my workouts with a spiritual element.”
After successfully training an entertainment executive turned priest, using his “soul fitness” concept, Burgis recruited participants from various area churches to try out his spiritual boot camps in parks and open gyms. They drew significant interest and in January 2010, ActivPrayer was officially launched.
Off and Running
ActivPrayer’s group exercise classes begin with a guided prayer that varies based on the belief system that orients a particular class. The opening prayer is followed by declaring intentions—a chance for individuals to dedicate their workouts to a loved one, a person in need or a spiritual goal.
Then, the class is literally off and running, with women and men of all ages doing pushups, sprints, shadowboxing or other high-intensity movements in minute-long bursts, followed by extended rests, for up to 18 cycles. The self-paced intervals, as opposed to a strictly choreographed routine, enable ActivPrayer’s diverse members to participate according to their own workout levels. The rest periods are more than a time for bodily recovery, however; instructors use them to refocus participants on the day’s intention and meditate on the topic of the day.
Every class concludes in prayer, with individuals offered as much time as they want to rest in prayer or meditation before returning to the hustle of daily life. “I go to church every week, but I have a hard time focusing on prayer; I need structure,” explains Jenn DiNenna, a Las Vegas high school teacher. “I know if I go to this class, I will do my prayer and think about the things that matter.”
While everyone is encouraged to set specific physical fitness goals, the greater results are often intangible: people changing attitudes, taking up a prayer life or, in some cases, contributing to community services for the first time. Community service is a key component of ActivPrayer, as participants collaborate on organized projects with local nonprofits at least once a week. Members earn one free workout for every five hours of service; in one recent month, 80 percent of ActivPrayer’s members participated in its service programs.
“Before coming to ActivPrayer, I wouldn’t have thought to volunteer, and some of the places we’ve gone I would have been scared to go on my own,” says DiNenna. She now regularly volunteers with the Special Olympics and says, “It’s all opened my eyes and helped me to grow as a person.”
Because charity begins at home, Burgis is putting the principles he preaches into practice in his own business. ActivPrayer is helping to create free wellness programs for churches, initially working with interested faith communities to pull together a local team of nurses, doctors, nutritionists and fitness instructors to run a wellness ministry for their congregations.
With backing from an angel investor, ActivPrayer is also on its way to establishing its own flagship club in Las Vegas, and hopes to have clubs in a few other major cities by the end of 2011. While Burgis eventually seeks to establish a class for every major religion, make ActivPrayer as ubiquitous as yoga and get its classes on the schedule at major fitness chains, he approaches the project with humility, anticipating that its development will evolve organically.
Much like his fitness goals, Burgis’ goals for ActivPrayer are not growth for growth’s sake—he promises investors he’ll never draw more than a modest salary—but to spread the good word about what adding soul to fitness can do for people.
“When you learn to see fitness not as a means to an end, but as a way to grow spiritually, you are adding a dimension to your life that can never be taken away, no matter what your physical condition,” he concludes.
April Thompson is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Connect at www.AprilWrites.com.
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