Enneagram and Faith: How Exercise Could be the Key to Your Spiritual Growth

the enneagram and faith

In this post, I’m going to attempt to connect ancient Hebrew, the enneagram, and the importance of running as one of my spiritual practices. What?!? Hang on for the ride; here it comes…

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How would you define the word soul?

In many people’s minds, the words soul and spirit have become synonyms. We think of our souls as a sort of ethereal “otherness” that resides within our bodies, to be released upon the day of our death.

Though our souls are different from our bodies, they are also different from our spirits, at least in the Hebrew understanding. Both words are used in 1 Samuel 1:15, "But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.”

The word translated soul in 1 Samuel 1:15 is nephesh. Nephesh is the word used in Genesis 2:7, "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (nephesh).”

Our souls are the whole of who we are. Our souls are what knit our minds, bodies, emotions, and spirits into unique creatures. 

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We tend to think the only important “spiritual” practices are the ones done in quietness and solitude. Though I fully affirm the importance of practices like prayer and study, I am also realizing anew the importance of exercise. Not only for our physical health, but for our soul health.

Exercise holds an interesting tension: it is a physical stress that reduces mental stress. I wonder if enneagram can provide one perspective about why that is the case.

In the concept of the enneagram, all personality types are connected by lines to two other types. Those are the types we move to in stressful states and secure states. Though our first response is to think stress = bad, my enneagram instructor pointed out that sometimes stress can bring out good things in us. In stress, we have access to another way of being in and viewing the world. 

Could exercise be a healthy way to access another type, and therefore, another piece of ourselves?

the enneagram symbol

I am a type 2 (the loving person), which means in stress, I connect to the 8 (the powerful person). The 8 can be a bossy and controlling type, and I apologize to those who have experienced this side of me come out in periods of unhealthy stress. However, the 8 also carries a confidence and strength I don’t often have access to when I am stuck in my normal way of thinking. 

Both type 2 and type 8 are connected within my soul. Learning to access 8 in a healthy way puts me in touch with a part of myself that too often lies dormant. Accessing the 8 within me puts me on a path towards better integration and wholeness of the nephesh God made me to be.

I have recently realized how running affects me differently than other exercise. There is something about the independence of heading out by myself, pushing through tiredness, and forging my own path that awakens something important in me. I connect to my power and my body in a different way, and suddenly find great clarity of thought and peace of mind. It’s amazing how often I have epiphanies when I am out on a run. 

As I learn to trust the strength of my body, I learn to trust the strength of myself, and in an interesting tension of truth, I then learn to trust even more in the strength of the God who made me.

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What kind of exercise might provide you with healthy stress and awaken you to a different part of yourself? 

For a type 6 (the loyal person), who connects to type 3 (the effective person), it might be taking the risk and challenge of joining a competition, like a road race or a triathalon. For a type 5 (the wise person), who connects to type 7 (the joyful person), it might be finding a fun adventure sport like rock-climbing or waterskiing… The potential and the possibilities are great.

Whatever your type and whatever your activity, exercise can be an opportunity to integrate your body, spirit, emotion, and mind on a deeper level. As those pieces of you integrate, you step into a fuller picture of the beautiful soul God created you to be. 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. - Psalm 139:14