Sweating as a spiritual practice

by Kristin on July 6, 2012

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by mesaba

I hate to sweat, which is to say that I’ve really hated these past 10-days of 95-105-degree heat and high humidity.

Sure, it’s a common feeling to have about sweat, but I suspect my feelings on the matter are stronger than the average person’s. It’s a perfect storm of personal misery colliding with social self-consciousness under an umbrella of claustrophobia.

When I’m feeling extra sweaty (like today, with a forecasted high of 104), I try reminding myself that everyone sweats, but it doesn’t make me feel less slimy and gross.

Then I try telling myself that it’s good for me, which is true—sweating cools your body down while releasing toxins and increasing metabolism. The pores on your skin open, allowing dirt and impurities to exit. And some believe sweating helps your body generate more white blood cells, which in turn bolsters your immune system.* So sweat away!

But still, I would really rather not.

As I was walking verrry slooowly to the cafe this morning, sticking to the shadiest side of the street, I focused on all those toxins and impurities exiting my body. And it occurred to me that most true, deep, cleansing processes involve some discomfort. We’d love to think that simply taking a daily shower washes away all of the toxins, but the truth is, the pleasant, easy shower only cleanses the surface. We might feel temporarily clean and fresh, but the junk is still trapped below, causing trouble we can’t necessarily see.

So, what if the discomfort of sweating is like a spiritual practice—a not-very-pretty-but-necessary process? It’s the confessing, the forgiving, the recognition of the junk inside that is slowly but surely wrecking havoc in our lives. The toxins that leave our systems are bitterness, resentment, jealousy, disappointment, and all the hurts we harbor against God and people.

Does that deep cleansing have an impact on our spiritual metabolism and immune system—the overall health of our relationship with God and others? I think so.

And one of the handy things about sweating is that once you give yourself over to it—as soon as you decide it’s hopeless to get through that bike ride or yard work or barbeque without sweating—it’s extremely freeing. An acceptance of the misery has a way of defeating the misery altogether. It makes me wonder why I ever even bother struggling against all the junk that just needs to find a way out.


*There’s all kinds of information on line about the health benefits of sweating—I got my information from this article.

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  • http://www.jenwritesstuff.com Jen

    Sweating IS gross! And yet… I always feel a little bit better afterward. It could be the cleansing, but perhaps it’s also because I associate it with something healthy, like exercise or satsifying hard work.

    I still don’t like it though. =)

  • http://arleenspenceley.blogspot.com Arleen

    This is fabulous. And makes me feel a lot better about how sweaty I am right now, as I type this from my hot and humid backyard here in Florida.

    Re: “And it occurred to me that most true, deep, cleansing processes involve some discomfort.” — AMEN.

  • Brit

    Sweating IS spiritual – an amazing native american practice that is healing and purifying – this is where I and many other women have encountered spiritual sweating

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Jen, I think if I were you, I’d associate sweating with simply living in a place like Florida! You’d sort of *have* to give into the grossness, pretty regularly.

    Arleen, two Floridians in a row—sweating experts! :) I hope you’re finding opportunities to also do some spiritual sweating.

    Brit, that’s really powerful. Thanks for sharing a whole different side of this idea.

  • http://StudentsofJesus.com Ray Hollenbach

    Really now: who would want to keep all that in? Except we do, precisely because we are afraid that others will see it. Forgetting, of course, that everyone has toxins within–we just think we’re the only ones!

    I seem to remember something about cleaning the inside of the dish first, and the outside will be clean.

  • http://www.troyduanesmith.com Troy D. Smith

    For all the reasons you mention, and many others, I used to- when I had my own wooded property -keep a traditional American Indian style sweat lodge in a secluded place. Just stepping out into the crisp air after one of those is both an intense physical and an intense spiritual experience. Note: don’t let any of those faux Lake Wannabe Tribe hucksters charge you money to cram 50 people into one -you’re looking for perspiration and inspiration, not aspyxiation and expiration.

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  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Ditto what Ray said. None of us want to appear “messy and sweaty,” but gosh, things get dicey when we hold the hard things in.