Exercise is such an important aspect of health. Our bodies are designed to move, and to do it regularly. Aside from the obvious fitness aspect of exercise, it has many other benefits. Exercise helps keep our muscles and joints strong, it assists digestion, heart and lung function, blood flow, lymphatic drainage, liver and kidney function and even mental health! Basically every part of the body benefits from moving our bodies.
But what happens when we have a chronic illness? One that zaps energy and causes increased pain? I can tell you. It makes exercise exceedingly hard to do.
Before I was diagnosed, before I had any idea what was wrong with me – that the FibroTroll was coming to stay – and long before I had any idea how long that visit would be (spoiler alert – probably forever), I thought I was just unfit.
I decided to fix this by playing indoor beach volleyball. I enjoyed playing volleyball – I won’t pretend that I’m particularly good at it, but I enjoyed it. I also took up indoor rock climbing. Both of these activities are a lot of fun – and a lot of hard work. Even just walking through sand is harder than walking on a flat surface, so playing a sport on it, is significantly harder.
This turned out to be a bad idea. Fibromyalgia is not the sort of disease that you can force to get better. Until you learn some level of pacing, it is very common to have a push-and-crash cycle. This would happen to me. I would keep pushing until I ended up bedridden. Then as soon as I was able to get out of bed, I would try and do all the chores that I felt guilty for leaving to the knight in tarnished armour, and then relapse.
This sort of cycle continued until I basically became too afraid to push at all. Every activity or function became a source of stress. I would pretty much always flare afterwards. This was a contributing factor for my battle with depression and anxiety.
About 18 months ago, I started seeing both my psychologist and my physiotherapist. With their help I have made small but significant improvements. I have continued working with my naturopath – with her help, and metabolic balance I am back to my ideal weight! I just need to develop some more muscle and still stay the same weight and to do that, I need more exercise.
I joined up to Healthy Moving‘s Coaching and Challenge program – which if you can afford it, I strongly recommend it. If not, just sign up for her free emails and you’ll get some helpful tips anyway.
But the pinnacle for me in terms of improvement in pretty much every aspect of my life- fatigue, pain, confidence, independence, mental health – is that this morning, I went back to Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is one form of exercise that has been actually been studied in randomised control studies and has shown to be beneficial in the treatment of Fibromyalgia. Here’s the link to one such study. I used to go when I was first diagnosed, but haven’t been for a couple of years. It is gentle, can be altered for restricted movement, or even done in a chair! It also focuses on mindful movement, and is sometimes referred to as moving meditation.
This morning, the long suffering knight rode his bicycle to work and left me the car. I was quite determined that I wanted to drive myself. It’s not a long way and I feel I need to get some of my independence back.
I got myself ready – I chose not to do a full yoga session this morning, and made sure to give myself plenty of time. I fed the chickens, breakfasted, showered and meditated, then drove our little manual car to the lesson. I was pleased to recognise one of the instructors cars in the car park when I arrived. Not having to explain myself to a new person was very welcome. I got up the stairs and walked into the room, not realising how much I had missed it until that exact moment.
I managed the entire lesson. I sat down for a lot of it, but I very quickly started to remember the moves. My balance isn’t what it was, but that will come with time. I felt welcomed and valued. I met new people and caught up with old friends. And while I am definitely tired, I don’t have that bone weary exhaustion that comes when the FibroTroll has had enough.
So if you are at a place where you want to try some gentle exercise, or struggle with meditation and need a form of movement mindfulness, then I strongly recommend Tai Chi. If you are in Australia, then try the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Australia. The Brisbane branch has a health recovery class and I can vouch that it is well worth the trip up the stairs!