On a blustery December Saturday, I found myself in the Ukrainian American Hall in Philadelphia, in something akin to the yoga warrior pose, praying the rosary (and praying I didn’t fall over). No, I hadn’t stumbled into an ashram run by a band of 60’s throwback nuns, I was practicing SoulCore, a beautiful combination of exercise and prayer. I met Renee, the teacher, at a Philadelphia Blessed is She brunch and I was intrigued by her description of the practice—she said SoulCore incorporated body and soul in a prayer and core-workout experience. They even had the Catechism to back them up:
The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit . . . We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2702)
We started by forming a circle with our exercise mats, candles and a rosary in the center. Renee explained what movements would go with each of the prayers, noting that she would vocalize the prayers, and, except for the Glory Be’s, we would pray in the silence of our hearts and minds. The movements with the Hail Mary’s vary as you move through the rosary, and, like any workout, they get gradually more intense, ending with warm-down and stretching. That third decade is a killer, let me tell you.
Each Our Father is prayed while doing push-ups. According to Renee, with the push-ups we are given an opportunity to grow closer to the Father by submitting physically and experiencing our weakness. They are a bow of surrender and confidence, strengthening our soul and our body. (Hmm, pushups were my nemesis in the middle school President’s Physical Fitness Test, might need some divine intervention here, for sure.)
Each Glory Be is a time of stretching in “surrender” pose (picture child’s pose) and the reflections on the mysteries are in rest pose, my favorite. You lie on your stomach, facing towards the center of the circle, resting your head on your hands in a pose that reminds me of kindergarten nap time, which is appropriate, as we are children of God, praying with a loving mother. Coming out of the reflection into the Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s, we rise though something like cobra pose, opening our hearts to each mystery.
It was only appropriate that the fruit of the first Joyful Mystery is humility, because my core quickly told me that the Bible passage is true—my spirit might have been willing, but my flesh was a mess. My pushups soon devolved into forearm planks, and I was fully experiencing my human weakness. I was pretty sure I was getting closer to God, but I thought it might be through death, not prayer. At one point (it was probably in that darn third decade), after a round of knee to elbow touches from plank position, I was holding a lunge, arms outstretched to the sides. Renee told us to let our heads and arms fall back, to open our hearts to Jesus, and picture our Lord on his cross. It was a powerful moment, the physical informing my heart and my soul strengthening my desire for physical surrender. (This meditation was aided by the fact that my under-exercised thighs were quivering in pain and I had already experienced the first, second and third fall.)
The session ended with a time of quiet reflection (thankfully done in a prone position) and I found the endorphins from the exercise lightened my heart and gave me a clarity of mind in prayer that was frustratingly missing to me sometimes when I pray the rosary. The physical exercise seem to take up the distractions of my everyday life and the prayerful meditations on the mysteries gave structure and purpose to my workout. (Trust me, not a feeling I usually get from my time on the treadmill.) SoulCore might have kicked my not-at-all-toned behind this time, but I’ll be back. Back to pray with my whole being.
Here’s a description and little taste of SoulCore: