In my late 30s I put together a program that helped me lose weight and, more importantly, develop the strength and stamina to do whatever I wanted to do - it granted me the physical freedom to act as I wished without regard to what I could do because I could do whatever I wished, and that was tremendously freeing.
I did it with a few select pieces of equipment in my garage and a deck of ordinary playing cards.
I wish I could cite this idea, because it’s so brilliant and worked so well for me, but in truth it’s an old idea and I got it from a half-dozen or so sources online. You take an ordinary deck of playing cards, the kind you may already have in your drawer, and on them you write exercises. I suppose you could do it with any kinds of exercise, but the example I followed was old-school bodyweight calisthenic exercises. Every major muscle group is represented, upper body, lower body, abs, flexibility, strength, etc. You set a clock or timer (I use music playlists on my phone), shuffle, and pull cards. Shuffling randomizes the exercises and your goal is to beat the clock and do as many cards as possible in the allotted time. The beauty of this is that you mix up your exercises and also it makes it a game of sorts; you’re constantly trying to get more cards, go faster and do more. And you don’t have to think about it, because everything that needs to be worked out is represented on the cards.
As I face the business end of 50, I find myself once again overweight and out of shape. Not coincidentally, I also find myself searching for personal direction and meaning, embarking on a spiritual journey to find myself again. But between work and family, working out and trying to “find myself” spiritually again, I found myself feeling torn between the pull of meditative internal practice and external workout practice within the context of a limited amount of time each day.
Enter the Soul Trees Oracle deck. I have one of the original decks, and use it for meditation and guidance on all matters, whether mundane everyday things or big decisions about major life changes. I love this deck, and didn’t want to mark it up by writing exercises on them. That seemed somehow blasphemous … so I bought a second deck. J I used a Sharpie to write the exercises on each card, and I tried to think about matching the energy of the exercise to the energy represented by the card. An exercise like Kettlebell snatches, which combine a grounding energy with an expansive, reaching energy, seemed like a natural for cards like “Be Open” or “Renewal” because of both the openness of the movement and its representing (requiring) a renewal of strength. Pictured below is “Break Free” with the instruction to do a kettlebell clean and jerk. This is a two-step exercise that does feel somewhat like the weight is “breaking free” of the earth, and involves a two-step motion that kind-of/sort-of resembles the dance the tree on the card is doing, so it seemed a natural fit. Some cards fit better than others; some almost demanded a certain exercise, and others seemed oblivious to what I might assign them. So it goes.
The Soul Trees deck is 74 cards, which provides more opportunities for exercise combinations than a standard 52 card deck would. But the real benefit of working with this deck is the inspirational artwork and the messages on each card, which encourage me to meditate on different elements of spirit as I engage my corporeal being. Thus I combine the spirit and the flesh in a more holistic practice and elevate my workout to a very active meditation - at least on my good days. ;-)
If you’re interested in trying this out in your own active meditation, you can get your own deck at soul-trees.com.