By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates And Yoga

January has come and gone.  According to just about every article on the subject, most New Year’s resolutions have now reached the graveyard of good intentions.  Fortunately, any time is appropriate to get back on that bandwagon and try again.  As we all know, every day is a new day and a new opportunity.  There are many tips for setting goals and maintaining resolve, but the one I’d like to focus on here is the value of community.  A group of like-minded and supportive practitioners can help keep you motivated, especially when barriers start appearing in your path.

The great Vietnamese philosopher Thich Nhat Hahn wrote “A good [community] is crucial for practice.” He continues “A good teacher is important, but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success.”  Of course, he may be referring to a different type of practice here, but I would venture that even he would not object to expanding the meaning more broadly to include many types of practice.  Especially those practices with the ultimate goal of self-improvement.

If one of your self-improvement goals is to add more movement to your life, a group can be a huge help to keep you on that path.  A recent article in the Washington Post  cites two new studies that demonstrate the value of even “light activity” as being “helpful for outcomes like daily functioning, mental well-being, good quality of life and so on.”  Improved methods are now being used to conduct such studies.  In the past they have mostly been based on self-reporting which is notoriously inaccurate.  But with new technology such as Fitbits and similar activity tracking devices, more objective data can be collected.  The result of these 2 studies show that the benefits of movement, even light movement, are far more impressive than previously thought.  In fact, these studies found that “the most active subjects had a 50 to 70 percent decline in mortality during a defined follow-up period compared with the least active, most sedentary participants. Previous self-report research had pegged this benefit at about 20 to 35 percent.” This is comparable to the health benefits gained by non-smokers vs. smokers.  So it is particularly significant.

Interestingly, these studies tracked individuals (male and female) in their late 60’s and 70’s.  The researchers believe that the results will correlate to younger people also.  But the results add further evidence to support the notion that it is never too late to start moving.  Furthermore, any movement beats being sedentary.  The studies show that “all physical activity counts toward improving health status. You don’t have to play basketball for an hour or run three miles to accrue benefits. You simply have to move . . .”

One great way to do that is to join a group.  That’s what exercise classes provide – a group that is working together to keep moving.  Classes also provide a specific time and place for this activity.  You can set that time aside in your schedule and like any other appointment.  Not only will this help you remember, but it can also help you keep other appointments from interfering.

The word “yoga” is translated as “union” from Sanskrit.  This can mean many things.  It can mean union of mind and body.  Or union of movement and breath.  For this purpose I would suggested that “union” can also refer to a group that practices together.  This is true not just of yoga, but of any group that practices movement together.

Recently one of the members of our Pilates group was sick.  We missed her while she was gone and worried about her sending healing energy for her quick return.  When she got better we were elated to have her back and welcomed her accordingly.  As part of a group your well-being becomes important to others as well as yourself.  Of course, your friends and family will also benefit from your good health, but wouldn’t it be great to have a supportive group to share your efforts with.  You can and should continue to move on your own, but a group can encourage that also.  The more you move, the better you will feel which will encourage more movement.  So if you’re still hoping to at least try to fulfill your pledge to yourself, let a group help you.  We all need each other.  Take advantage of the benefits of community.

Is The Death Penalty Un-Christian


File 20170427 15084 m8jrz
Kurt Morrow, CC BY-NC

Mathew Schmalz
College of the Holy Cross

Arkansas executed a fourth prisoner on death row last night. Three days prior to that, the state had done two back-to-back executions by lethal injections in Lincoln County, Arkansas. Four other executions have been blocked by court order. The Conversation

As a Catholic scholar who writes about religion, politics and policy, I understand how Christians struggle with the death penalty – there are those who cannot endure the idea and there are others who support its use. Some Christian theologians have also observed that capital punishment could lead to the conversion of criminals who might repent of their crimes when faced with the finality of death.

Is the death penalty anti-Christian?

The two sides

In its early centuries, Christianity was seen with suspicion by authorities. Writing in defense of Christians who were unfairly charged with crimes in second-century Rome, philosopher Anthenagoras of Athens condemned the death penalty when he wrote that Christians “cannot endure even to see a man put to death, though justly.”

But as Christianity became more connected with state power, European Christian monarchs and governments regularly carried out the death penalty until its abolition in the 1950s through the European Convention on Human Rights. In the Western world, today, only the United States and Belarus retain capital punishment for crimes not committed during wartime.

Support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, CC BY-SA

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey, support for the death penalty is falling worldwide. However, in the United States a majority of white Protestants and Catholics are in favor of it.

In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 21:12 states that “whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, however, rejects the notion of retribution when he says “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

While it is true that the Hebrew Bible prescribes capital punishment for a variety of offenses, it is also true that later Jewish jurists set out rigorous standards for the death penalty so that it could be used only in rare circumstances.

Support for death penalty

At issue in Christian considerations of the death penalty is whether the government or the state has the obligation to punish criminals and defend its citizens.

Saint Paul, an early Christian evangelist, wrote in his letter to the Romans that a ruler acts as “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” The Middle Ages in Europe saw thousands of murderers, witches and heretics put to death. While church courts of this period generally did not apply capital punishment, the church did turn criminals over to secular authorities for execution.

Thirteenth-century Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the death penalty could be justified for the greater welfare of society. Later Protestant reformers also supported the right of the state to impose capital punishment. John Calvin, a Protestant theologian and reformer, for example, argued that Christian forgiveness did not mean overturning established laws.

The case against

The deterrence value of capital punishment remains an issue of debate. In the United States, there are also strong arguments that capital punishment is unfairly applied, especially to African-Americans.

Among Christian leaders, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of arguing against the death penalty. Saint John Paul II also maintained that capital punishment should be reserved only for “absolute necessity.”

Pope Francis observes that the death penalty is no longer relevant because modern prisons prevent criminals from doing further harm.

Pope Francis speaks of a larger ethic of forgiveness. He emphasizes social justice for all citizens as well as the opportunity for those who harm society to make amends through acts that affirm life, not death.

Jesus’ message was of forgiveness. Brandon, CC BY-SA

Jesus’ admonition to forgive one’s enemies is often thought to do away with the “law of the talion,” or an “eye for an eye” retribution – a standard that goes as far back as the prebiblical Code of Hammurabi – a law code of ancient Mesopotamia.

For many, the debate is about the relationship between Christ’s call for forgiveness and the legitimate powers of the state.

Those Christians who support capital punishment argue that Jesus was talking about heavenly realities, not the earthly matters that governments have to deal with. Christians who oppose the death penalty say that being Christian means bringing heavenly realities to the here and now.

This debate is not just about capital punishment, but about what it means to be a Christian.

Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The Importance of Support Systems


Crazy Horse aid station, Lean Horse Ultra Marathon, August 28, 2016. Photo:Peg Ryan/Mile High Pilates and Yoga

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

Custer, SD – This weekend I was a volunteer at an aid station for an ultramarathon that started and finished near my house.  For the uninitiated an ultramarathon is a running race that features a distance which is greater than the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  In this particular race there were several distances that runners could choose including 50K (approximately 31 miles), 50 miles or 100 miles.  No – that is not a misprint – there are people who actually choose to run 100 miles.

As a former participant in these types of races I can appreciate the effort it takes to make that choice, complete the often daunting process of preparing and training and then finally actually executing the plan.  In a race as long as 100 miles one needs to plan for being on the course for many hours.  During that period of time anything can happen, including changing weather, trail/road conditions, bugs, wild life, stomach problems, chafing, blisters and numerous other potential hazards.  Hundred-milers also have to think about staying on course in the dark since most runners will still be at it long after the sun goes down.  So the training process includes not only logging many miles of running but also trying different clothing, food and any other equipment or aids that will be needed to cover the distance and complete the race. People would often ask me questions like “Can you stop during the race?” Answer: you can if you want, and some people even take naps, but you’re on the clock and will need to make up the time.  Most races have time limits and if you’ve made all that effort to be at the starting line, you will certainly want an official finishing time within those limits.

Watching the runners this weekend I remembered how important it is to have support when you are attempting to accomplish something challenging.  During my hours at the aid station there were groups of family and friends who would show up and hang out waiting for their runner to appear.  They cheered for all the participants and then would help their runner get what he or she needed whether it was an extra shirt, pair of socks or that special drink that this runner had trained with.  My husband used to be my crew and he was always a welcome sight.  Even when I was thoroughly miserable and questioning my sanity, just seeing him would help me to feel better and renew my resolve to finish what I started.  He would remind me of things I might have forgotten, as in “Do you need your headlamp?” or “How about long pants?”  Just knowing he would be at the next aid station was an incentive for me to get there.  It was a comfort to know that someone was there who was not going to judge me for doing something so outrageous as running 100 miles on trails in the rain and the dark.

Then there were all of the long hours I spent training for these races.  At the time I belonged to a running club and we would plan group runs to help all of us get through those long distances.  We learned a lot about each other’s lives and all became fast friends.  Even those who were not interested in running ultramarathons would support those of us who did.  We would travel to races together and even if we didn’t actually run together, we knew we were there for each other.  Just knowing that our friends were on the course with us was a motivator.

Although I no longer run those races, I still try to keep moving to the best of my ability today.  The need for support and encouragement is just as important as ever.  Support systems come in many forms.  This is one of the reasons why I am such a strong proponent of group classes.   Not only do they help make exercise into a social event but each participant supports the others in multiple ways.  For one thing, we all learn from each other.  Those of you who read this blog know that I am an advocate for adapting and modifying moves to suit each individual body.  Often one person in a class will have discovered a modification that also helps someone else.  Sometimes it is simply a comfort to know that you are not alone.  For those who struggle to maintain a consistent practice it can be helpful to remember that the rest of the group is doing it, too.  If they can do it so can you!

We all experience times when we resist practicing.  Some days just getting out of bed can feel like an effort.  The thought of bringing yourself to a class can be a wall that seems insurmountable.  At times like these it can help to remember that you have support.  Maybe it’s the instructor or another participant who will provide the encouragement you need.  If you’ve made a commitment to your practice you can be your own support system.  Remind yourself how much better you’ll feel if you honor your commitment.

Ultramarathoners have lots of expressions that help keep them motivated when the going gets tough.  One that I’ve always liked is “It never always gets worse”.  You might have to reread that a couple of times before it make sense but the gist is, just when you think you’ve had enough things will change.  Suddenly things don’t get worse and, in fact, they might even start to get better.  If you quit you’ll never know if things might have improved.  During an ultra, when you’ve been running in the dark all night there is nothing like seeing the light start to change as the sun rises.  It is an instant mood-changer.  No matter what you are trying to accomplish this transformation can happen at any time and you never know what might trigger it until it happens.

All of this demonstrates that achieving any goal we set for ourselves is as much of a mental game as a physical one.  Try letting curiosity be a motivator.  You never know when things are going to change.  Some changes are beyond your control, but one of the changes you can control is your attitude.  Instead of thinking “I can’t do this” how about trying “Maybe I’ll take a break and try again after I catch my breath” or “Maybe I’ll sit this move out and join in with the next move” or even “I’ll try one more time and then I’ll back off for now and take a break”. Attitude is half the battle.  Positive self-talk goes a long way to getting you back in gear. Focus on all the things you can do and remind yourself that every move you make contributes to better health and well-being.  You deserve to be the best that you can be.

When I was training for races I would sometimes have to drag myself out the door, especially in the winter.  On days like that I would tell myself “Today I’m just going to go slow and only do a little.  Then if I still feel lousy I’ll come home.”  Most days once I got out there instead of being sorry I’d be glad I did whatever could do.  This will be true for you, too.  Cheer yourself on!  Be your own support group!  No one can do it better than you.