From Taoist teacher Deng Ming-Dao:


We’re all exhorted to exercise. Pragmatically, doctors say, “do any exercise you like,” but really, they’re just trying to get us to burn off calories. Physical therapists prescribe exercises so we can get well, but they’re not concerned if we do them once we recover. In other cases, when we think of exercise, it is linked to recreation, sports, having fun, and playing.

Understandably, martial arts and qigong are promoted as exercise. So it’s not hard to see why people have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward it and quit as soon as it stops “being fun.” After all, that’s the way exercise has been defined all their lives. It was the school quarterback, the homecoming game, the thrill of championships, the dives off the high board, the running “because I never got tired,” the game of hoops with the guys, the elegance of tennis games, the excitement of horseback riding. Exercise was defined in what was, after all, the terms of the ephemeral: youth, admiration, cheers, prowess, power, ability, stamina, and joy.

Martial arts, qigong, and spiritual arts shouldn’t be approached as exercise. They’re practices, done for one’s whole life. Where exercise reverberates with the crowd, practice is silent. Where exercise revels in being good, practice only aims at being better. Where exercise loves being fun, practice spends its time probing for deep truths. Where exercise celebrates getting the championship, practice celebrates the journey.

We just don’t have much of a precedent for practice in contemporary terms, and if we do, it has tinges of eccentricity and obsession. We might think of hobbies—someone who’s an avid reader, or stamp collector, or woodworker, or loves to raise animals. But those are activities that aren’t necessarily calibrated for health, longevity, and spirituality.

Practice is important. It does aim at health, longevity, and spirituality. And we don’t have any contemporary parallel for it. Embrace practice. I urge you to. But that embracing will be far easier if you don’t think of practice as exercise and you aim straight at its core.”