As men we usually don’t think about nourishing our minds, bodies and souls. We are supposed to be tough and pull ourselves up by our boot straps and keep grinding day after day with little thought to our own physical, mental and spiritual well-being. We go hard non-stop with little thought to our health, fitness and vitality. After all we have a family to support, money to be made, the corporate ladder to be climbed. But at what cost? What are we modeling for our families, community and society as a whole?
As a personal trainer and Spiritual Warrior Coach specializing in working with men, I see many clients who have come to me who have neglected not only their physical health, but also their mental and spiritual health. They are ashamed because they are a shell of their former selves. I hear a lot about what great athletes they used to be and they are embarrassed to see how far they have gone from those glory days. Maybe that is even you.
It can be challenging in our day to day grind of life to take time out to take care of our own needs. But it will catch up to us eventually. I am seeing more and more of my clients come to me with type 2 diabetes. It’s one of the worst diseases out there, but is 100% reversible through diet and lifestyle changes. I think we really need a wake-up call as men to start to take care of ourselves in all aspects of our lives. After all, we are called to be leaders. Practicing extreme self-care from a place of radical love for ourselves and others is the approach we should be taking in our lives. Not from a place of selfishness, but from a place of compassion for ourselves, so we can be the leaders that God created us to be.
I will be the first to admit, in my younger years my self-care was completely out of balance. I was all about physical training. Since the age of fourteen I have been a passionate weight lifter. This has been a big part of my life for almost forty years now. I am also a cyclist who has done numerous centuries. I have always loved to challenge myself physically,
Up until about ten years ago, there was not even so much as a thought about any mental or spiritual training in my life. My life was completely out of balance. In fact, it was a very shallow existence. I didn’t nurture my soul. I didn’t nurture my mind. I was a pretty self-centered person. I didn’t belong to a church. I wasn’t serving my community. I loved being involved with my two kids’ life, but even that was focused around helping them excel at sports.
I have come to realize that to truly live a fulfilling and joy filled life I need to train physically, mentally and spiritually every single day. Without this balance in my life, I am not living the life that I was put on this earth for. All of the physical training I have done in the past has been great, but without the mental and spiritual component I am not being the man I want to be.
What it Means to be a Spiritual Warrior
I love the thought of being a Spiritual Warrior. In fact I believe in it so much that I have it tattooed on my left bicep. It is something that resonates deep into my soul. The Bible in 1 Chronicles 12 describes what a warrior looks like from a Biblical perspective.
Here are the four traits that the Bible describes as a warrior:
1. Practices long and hard to perfect their skills
2. Mentally tough and determined
3. Are physically in shape
4. Dedicated to serving God
What if we made this the focus of our lives? How would we be better fathers? How would we have more fulfilling careers? How would we serve our communities better and make a bigger impact in our world? It basically comes down to being the best versions of ourselves. We are mind, body and spirit and if we neglect any or all of those areas we will find ourselves floundering and searching for something outside of ourselves for fulfillment or an escape.
Become Our Best at What We are Passionate About
How great would it feel if we focused on our greatness and the amazing gifts God gave us? If we did whatever it took to become the best at what we are passionate about. I love to write, and I am committed to becoming the best writer I can be. I am going to write, because I love to write. If it impacts one person’s life, that is awesome. I truly hope at some point my writing gets good enough that it impacts millions of people’s lives. I look at the influence writers such as Rick Warren, Erwin McManus and John Eldredge have had on my life. That is the type of influence I want to have. Not for my glory, but for the glory of God.
Be Mentally Tough and Determined
How would it feel if we were mentally tough and determined? That no matter what was going on in our world we would have inner peace. That we were so mentally strong that nothing could shake us. Nothing could get us out of our emotional state of peace and joy. I have to admit, this is an area I really struggle with. This has been my battle for years. I struggle with inner peace. I struggle with finding joy no matter what in my life. But I am determined to keep trying. To keep working at it. To keep going to God as he is the ultimate source of peace.
How easy is it to forget that God is our source of peace when life comes at us hard? When we feel like everyone is piling on. Do you remember the days when we played pig pile and you were on the bottom and you felt like you couldn’t breathe? How many of us feel like that day after day after day? I have felt that way many days in my life. I am determined to become more mentally tough.
Make Fitness about Building Our Character
You have probably already heard these statistics, in fact we have heard them so many times we have almost become numb to them because being overweight has become normal. Three out of four Americans are either overweight or obese. What? How can that be true? I don’t say that to shame anyone. I say that because it saddens me. I would say the fitness industry is just as much to blame as anyone else. I can say that because I am in the fitness industry. We have made it all about appearance. We have made it all about the external.
I am here to change that. What if we made it about building our character? What if we made it about our health and honoring God with this great vessel he gave us? The human body is amazing, but sadly we take it for granted.
One of my clients who came to me about two years ago was a former star athlete in high school. He was a runner and a wrestler. He basically had neglected his health for the past ten years. He got caught up in the busyness of life, like so many of us do.
Ten years and about forty pounds later he was embarrassed and ashamed how he had let his health and fitness slip away. Not only that, his self-worth was in the toilet. He remembered his years of being a great athlete, but that was so far removed from his current life, he felt ashamed and didn’t even know who he was any more. He had tried and failed many times on his own to regain his health and fitness, but he kept quitting.
My mantra for many of my clients is to “just keep showing up.” Don’t quit. We expect quick results. We live in a microwave society. We are promised six pack abs in 20 days. Unless you are a genetic freak that just doesn’t happen. It takes at least a year to get into great shape and it’s something we always have to work at . It’s really not even about changing our physique, that’s just a side bonus. It’s about who we are becoming on this journey.
I am happy to report that my client is back to running again. He has run a 10k, is training for a half marathon and will be doing a marathon next year. But what I have really loved to watch on his journey is to see his self-esteem come back. To step into his role as a leader with his family, community and his church. That’s why it’s important to get into the best shape of our lives.
What if we were dedicated to a purpose greater than ourselves? What if we lived each and every day dedicated to serving God? A selfish life is an unhappy life. For the first forty-two years of my life I didn’t want anything to do with God. It wasn’t a very happy life. Over the last ten years I have come to realize that having a personal relationship with God is the most important thing in my life.
Without God in my life, my life is meaningless. I want everything I do and say to honor and glorify God. Of course I fail at that every day. I am very much a work in progress as we all are. I am learning to give myself and others grace as we are all imperfect people but God loves us just the way we are. He loves us so much that he is helping to build our character to become more like Christ.
I have come to the point in my life that I realize that practicing extreme self-care physically, mentally and spiritually allows me to live my best life. A life of purpose, adventure and vitality. When I neglect one of those three areas, my life usually gets a little wheels off. My tendency is to slip into isolation when I am not firing on all cylinders. I don’t have it all figured out, but I have certainly found some things that work for me as far as how I practice extreme self-care. I want to share some of my self-care routine with you that I hope you can start to implement into your life so you can live the life of a spiritual warrior.
Practicing Extreme Self-Care Physically
I believe one of the most life giving things we can do for ourselves is to do some type of movement every day. Whether it’s through structured exercise, some type of play or sports or good old fashioned walking. We have become a sedentary society and it’s literally killing us.
I have had a tendency to over train in the past. I have struggled with exercise addiction. That isn’t healthy either. I am finally finding some balance in my life.
Here is what a typical exercise week looks like for me:
Monday: 45 minute total body strength training
Tuesday: 20–30 mile bike ride at an aerobic pace
Wednesday: walking with some type of mobility practice
Thursday: 45 minute total body strength training
Friday: 20–30 mile bike ride at an aerobic pace
Saturday: Some type of fun activity such as biking, hiking or golf
Sunday: walking with some type of mobility practice
I know everyone’s schedule and level of responsibility is different. My thought is if you don’t have 15–20 minutes every day to do some type of physical activity then you are too busy. You need to re-prioritize your life before it’s too late.
Here are my minimum recommendations for physical activity:
Monday: 15 minute body weight strength training routine
Tuesday: 20 minute walk
Wednesday: 10 minute high intensity interval training with 10 minutes of mobility work
Thursday: 15 minute body weight strength training routine
Friday: 20 minute walk
Saturday: Build in some type of play
Sunday: 20 minute walk
I would also encourage you to try to get outside every day, even if it’s for a little while. When I am out on my bike is when I feel most alive. That is when God speaks to me. I get these amazing downloads. There is something about being out in nature that soothes my soul. Find something you love to do and just do it.
I also believe strength training is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth. No matter what age we are, it is vital that we do some form of strength training. On average an adult loses twenty-five pounds of lean muscle mass between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five unless we do something about it. It’s vital we incorporate some form of strength training into our lives whether it’s a good old fashioned body weight workout or in a gym. Strength training is critical to our long-term health and quality of life.
Nutrition is also a significant part of our health. One of my favorite sayings is from Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Food has the power to heal us and it has the power to kill us. The choice is really up to you.
I used to think changing our body composition was 70% nutrition and 30% exercise. I believe it is even greater than that. Through my twenty-five years in the health and fitness industry and my own personal experience I believe it’s closer to 90% nutrition and 10% exercise, stress management and proper sleep.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about nutrition other than to say to keep it simple. Eat real whole foods the vast majority of the time. Some simple guidelines I give to my clients who are trying to lose weight is to keep sugars below 35 grams, fiber above 35 grams and net carbs somewhere between 20 grams and 100 grams. Those are very general guidelines, but I have found this helpful for people who are trying to lose weight and ditch their type 2 diabetes once and for all. Great references are two books by Dr. Jason Fung called the Obesity Code and Diabetes Code for further reading.
I want to encourage and inspire you to get in the best shape of your life and stay there. It’s a lot easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape. Be patient with yourself. Work at it every day. Don’t give up. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and the others around you. Practice extreme self-care physically every day.
Practicing Extreme Self-Care Mentally
As I sit down to write this morning I just finished with twenty minutes of meditation. Meditation is something I have done on and off for the past ten years. I have this deep sense of peace when I meditate on a consistent basis, but yet it is a habit that easily slips away for me. When I get busy, meditation is usually one of the first things to go in my daily routine. I am learning, obviously very slowly, that meditation is one of the most important things we can do for our mental, physical and spiritual health.
When I start out my day with just ten to twenty minutes of meditation my mind set is completely different. During my meditation practice this morning I set the intention of having deep inner peace throughout the day. I then choose a scripture that I can focus on throughout the day. I chose John 14:27 that says, “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
When I recite scripture throughout the day, I can keep that feeling of inner peace with me. As Joe Dispenza talks about in his book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, “If you are not getting up different from your sitting meditation than it really isn’t doing us much good.” The purpose of meditation is to transform us. To renew our mind. To see ourselves the way God sees us. It’s not some woo woo thing. When we meditate on a regular basis it truly does change us. Scientific evidence shows that our brain actually changes when we meditate.
When I tell people that I meditate, I often hear I could never do that. They say they can’t sit still for that long and they have all of these swirling thoughts. Exactly! All the more reason to meditate. That happens to me all of the time. What I find though, is the more I do it and the longer I do it, those thoughts slow down. Now I crave my meditation time. It feels powerful to slow down and meditate. I believe it’s one of the most life changing things we can do.
Joshua 1:8 says, “Keep this book of the Law always on your lips, meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
It is so easy to think negative thoughts in this day and age. We are bombarded with negativity with access to the news and internet 24/7. We have to be so careful with what we put into our mind and what we think about. It is easy to fall into a dark place with social media always at our fingertips. The comparison trap is dangerous place to go. Taking time to meditate on a daily basis can be one of the most transformative things we can do for ourselves.
Here is my daily routine for meditation and reciting scripture throughout the day:
I am a morning person so I love to wake up early before the sun rises. This is such a peaceful time of the day. I get up between 4 and 5 in the morning. I love to read so I will read for about twenty to thirty minutes before I meditate.
My goal is to meditate for at least twenty minutes every morning and longer if time allows. I am also a big believer in using heart rate variability for feedback. Heart rate variability is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. It’s a measure of the interplay of the parasympathetic nervous system which is our rest and digest system and the sympathetic nervous system which is our fight and flight system.
Unfortunately, most of us in our modern world are living in fight and flight the majority of our day. I use the Inner Balance sensor and app from HeartMath. From their website HeartMath has discovered, “That our heart rhythm patterns are the best reflection of our inner state. By adding heart, you can shift in the moment into a state of balance and renewing feelings, such as appreciation, care, love and compassion.”
What I have discovered through this meditation process is if we don’t feel love, joy and peace deep into the core of our being and we just think it, we are not going to truly step into changing our inner state. The power of positive thinking doesn’t work without our body feeling all of those positive emotions.
After my twenty minutes of meditation, I choose a scripture for the day to meditate on. I am working on developing inner peace in my life right now so I am working on scriptures around that theme. We have to set an intention for the day and who we want to be. I want people to feel my inner peace, which quite honestly has been a big challenge for me in my life. My life certainly hasn’t been marked by inner peace.
The only way we can change our life is to change our thinking. Taking time to purposefully meditate on a consistent basis has been a game changer for me and I know it can be for you. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Simply find a quiet place, be still, focus on your breath and allow yourself to let your mind go. Don’t try to control it and see what happens. I guarantee you over time you will become a different person.
Practicing Extreme Self-Care Spiritually
When I went through a life changing divorce about ten years ago, I knew that I could do all of the physical training in the world and be in the best shape of my life, but that wouldn’t get me through a gut wrenching divorce. That’s when I first developed my spiritual practice. The first thing I did was drop down on my knees and asked God to help me get through this heart breaking time. I didn’t have a personal relationship with God at the time, but I knew there was something much bigger in this world than me.
I started reading the Bible during my times of deep despair and loneliness. It gave me a sense of peace. The more I learned about God, the more I wanted to know. My ten minutes of reading the Bible, turned into twenty minutes and then a full hour. I have read through the Bible once cover to cover and I have read through the New Testament a few times. I just started reading the Bible cover to cover again.
There are a few things that set me on my spiritual path of growing in Christ. One of the most influential books I have ever read was Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. It was written in such a way that a new believer can completely understand what our time here on earth is all about. I have read this book at least five times over the past ten years. Each time I read it I pick up something different because I am a different person each time I go through it.
Another thing that really changed the course of my life was when I led a community group through my local church. It was another book and course by Pastor Rick Warren. It was called 40 Days in the Word. This established a habit in my life that I have been practicing for the last ten years and I don’t ever see it changing.
My early mornings are filled with reading the Bible and meditating on scripture. I would say this has been one of the biggest things that has transformed my heart and soul. It’s that consistency of being in the Word every day where God speaks to us. If you are struggling in your life and you are not reading the Bible every day, it’s time to dust it off and start to dig in. As little as ten minutes a day can make a huge difference in our lives.
The third thing that became a significant part of my spiritual transformation was becoming part of a church family. Investing in the local church. Going to church should be a transformative process for us, not a check the box experience. When I became a part of C3 Church in Orlando is when I started to become more spiritually mature. Of course we can learn a great deal on our own, but we are not meant to be on this journey alone. We are meant to surround ourselves with other believers. People that will be there with us through thick and thin.
I will never forget when I had hip surgery my pastor, Byron Bledsoe, drove two hours each way to be there with my right before my surgery. He prayed with me for fifteen minutes and then drove back to Orlando. I will never forget that. I was completely invested in the local church and they were completely invested in me. It was such a feeling of love and compassion it’s hard to describe. I never thought I would be part of a church that I loved. I would come back early from vacations because I didn’t want to miss church. For a kid who used to go to church reluctantly, what a huge shift. Not only is it important for us to find a church to attend, but find a church that we can invest in. Find a church you love. It will change your life.
Here is my daily routine for spiritual training:
I prefer to have at least an hour for my quiet time with the Lord, but that isn’t always possible, that is my goal though. I don’t like to rush in the morning, so sometimes that means getting up very early. To me it’s worth the very small sacrifice.
I start out reading a spiritual book for about twenty minutes. Some of my favorite authors are Erwin McManus, Rick Warren, John Eldredge. A.W. Tozer, David Platt and Steven Furtick.
After reading a book, I will dig into the Bible for about twenty to thirty minutes. Sometimes I follow a reading plan and other times I will just dig into a particular book of the Bible or a general theme such as leadership, courage or fear. It depends on what is on my heart at that time.
After reading the Bible I will journal for about five to ten minutes on what I learned or how God spoke to my heart. I have been journaling for about seven years now. It’s fun to look back at those early days of journaling and see how far I have come on my spiritual journey. It’s easy to think why am I not further along on this journey, but when I look back I realize how far I have come.
The final part of my quiet time is to sit still and pray, meditate and listen to what God has to say. I usually spend about five to ten minutes in prayer.
I am not perfect in doing this every day, but I certainly try to. If you feel far from God or are struggling in life, I want to encourage you to start to establish some type of morning routine. Over time you will crave more and more of it. More and more of God. It’s hard to explain, you just have to experience it for yourself. If you want life transformation this is by far the best place to start.
When we train physically, mentally and spiritually every day it will propel us towards living our best life. Of course it’s not always easy to carve out time for practicing extreme self-care, but it is worth every second we invest in ourselves. It not only changes us but the people around us. It’s not selfish it’s selfless when we take time out for ourselves.
I hope and pray you take some of the pieces of information you have just read and put it into action. Just do something. It doesn’t have to be huge changes, but you have to start somewhere. Maybe it’s as simple as doing a few set of push-ups in the morning, followed by five minutes of meditation and ten minutes of reading the Bible. You will be shocked how when we intentionally build self-care practices in our lives how we can be transformed from the inside out.
A spiritual warrior trains physically, mentally and spiritually every day. I know you are a warrior. Let’s step up men and change ourselves so we can change the world.
Troy Ismir, MS
Author, Podcaster, Speaker and Spiritual Warrior Coach