Keep on moving – it should probably be a mantra for life but for anyone whose body is in chronic pain, the message is even more important and its (thankfully) one I received fairly early in the decade or so of severe back pain I experienced followed by ten years of fibromyalgia. You hear of so many people taking to their beds or their couches under these circumstances but this (very natural) tendency can be what makes the prognosis so poor. Finding the right kind of movement and then doing it, a little each day, is so important.
With the multiple tender points of fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome, conventional gym work isn’t usually the right kind of movement as it tears and rebuilds muscle bigger but, when the fascia is rock-solid and distorted over the top of that muscle, this hugely exacerbates the problem. Gym work also pushes the metabolism through some of the very processes it most struggles with in fibroylagia, which can short-circuit the whole system. What can often happen is that you feel you are getting somewhere, for weeks or even months, and then crash into far more chronic fatigue and pain than you started with. It was a strange learning curve to come to terms with for me; the twice a week gym circuit I was initially doing, at the start of my recovery plan, made me feel more energised and mobile and I certainly lost weight but then I started to notice two weeks of severe fatigue and pain occurring for every two good weeks and finally the relapse into some of the worse pain so far told me this wasn’t for me and I cancelled my gym membership for good.
Since which time walking has been my daily staple, with hardly a day that I don’t go out for at least forty minutes up to a couple of hours walk a day in all weather, depending on how I’m feeling. The great thing about walking is that it can be as fast, slow or energised as you want; don’t pick a hill on a challenged day but the steady, meditative, nature-appreciating kind of walk can be the greatest therapy on earth. I can’t tell you how many cold rainy days I’ve been grateful for the ‘duty’ of walking my dog, without which I would have remained a couch potato locked in muscle spasm – and it doesn’t matter how much you hurt, moving the body will always make you feel better than just sitting hunched up with muscles that are oxygen starved and in spasm, which only cascades into more pain. Its just one of those truisms of life; that the antidote to feeling like you are unable to move is to, well, move a little.
Its a truism that I’ve never appreciated more since starting yoga last year, which I do under the guidance of a personal coach who devises a routine that fits where I am in my body at the time. If this sounds an unrealistic option to you, I can reassure you that I see her every eight weeks (one of the favourite hours in my diary) and it costs less, over that time, than stopping off for a coffee once a week and is so much more beneficial to health. Since my last session (which I went to even though I was feeling extremely challenged and had so much muscle cramping going on that we spent most of the session working on my breathing) I now have two types of routine, one for the better days and another bag of tricks for the more challenging ones. I’m not going to pretend I do yoga every day but I aim for most days and the benefits have been astounding.
The latest soon-to-be addition to my routine is Nia, which is where yoga meets expressive dance (with really great music) and I really can’t wait to get started as I’ve been feeling like a kid in the run-up to Christmas since I came upon it. I just want to point out that I’ve signed up for this in a week when I’ve been experiencing more pain and limited movement than usual; in fact its been a tough week – but I intend to be ready for the first class in three weeks and to give it my best shot because its really fired my imagination and my sense of the potential for not only recovering to a new level but flooding a load of new joy (and people) into my life in the process and here’s why. I’d been noticing for some time that, on my best days, the urge to move, I mean REALLY move, has been bubbling up in me like a geezer and I’ve been known to crank up the music and do my funky thing around the sitting room when that happens, which is a therapy in itself. In my youth and right up to my early thirties, I loved to dance, would lose myself in it utterly and I seem to have hooked into this passion again, which is why I suspect Nia could be just right for me. The beauty of it is that it can be stepped up or down between three levels of intensity to suit how you are feeling (I’ve even seen videos where one or two participants have sat down for it), or you can really go for it, making it perfect for health recovery situations. There are classes springing up all over the place so, if you are interested, I recommend you start with their main website and do some research. And I’ll let you know how it goes!
There’s another way to get movement into your body, of course, without having to do anything yourself and this can be an option to get you started or (I recommend) to enhance any other activities you are following. I’m talking about massage – and as someone with a chronic health challenge I freely admit to owning the classic tendency of those in pain to always seek the hands-on therapy that will ‘solve the problem’ but not to seek massage for the sheer pleasure of the experience. I treated myself to a hot stone massage this week and realised, with some shock, that I hadn’t been for one of these for almost four and a half years! I’ve had plenty of therapies in that time but not the kind where you just surrender to delicious sensation as someone helps to get your blood and your body fluids and your fascia moving as they are meant to – and it was marvellous and my body has really benefitted so I just want to remind people not to overlook this kind of movement. In an ideal world, a once a month massage for everyone would be about right, in my opinion.
If there’s a thread running through all these activities, its the importance of hooking onto the ones that you really want to do, grabbing onto the coat-tails of enthusiasm (even if laced with fear and self-doubt) when they happen, not forcing yourself against the grain. Once passion and real excitement become engaged, the body becomes super human and can achieve incredible things and this becomes such an opportunity for healing. For instance, I tried pilates for about eight months but it just didn’t engage me so I got nowhere but yoga, and the whole philosophy behind it, has really enthused me so that is now taking me the distance. I’m not what they label a ‘sporty’ person and dance excites me where other exercise classes (for instance, I’m really not a swimmer) seriously don’t…so tune into what you get excited about rather than trying to engage with a ‘recommended’ type of exercise that fills you with dread or boredom. Whether that’s dancing with a duster or playing with the grandkids, just do it but, mainly, stop being afraid of it because you experience pain. Just have a go and listen to your body’s cues, allow that you need to take it slow to begin with and that there will be some come-back for a day or two afterwards as your body integrates its new state. If there is one single key to good health (whether you are in recovery from a health challenge or you think that you’re ‘fine’ – I’ve known so many people, who think that, whose idea of exercise is to walk to the car to drive to work) I would say it is to keep the body joyfully moving; stagnation simply isn’t a long term option for good health, for anyone. The body is its own natural healing system and movement is quite central to its bag of tricks; its also the key to ageing gracefully and one thing those of us with fibromyalgia learn to appreciate much earlier than most is that to stop moving is terribly ageing so, conversely, to start again is the very fountain of youth. Given this second chance at life, I intend to move my body as much as possible!
One last comment; this advisory has to mention the importance of moving often during the day, thinking about sitting posture (I swear by my kneeling chair), getting up to walk around every fifteen minutes, doing some stretches and self-massage, varying what you are doing and where you do it, thinking yourself fluid and seeking the joy of pleasurable movement, using traffic jams to stretch your fingers back, turn your neck to its limits, pull faces or roll your head, dancing to the music even if its a hand jive while you’re doing something else. Don’t just make movement something you do when other people are watching you – so many of us that spend time alone or go off deeply into our head forget to move, to change facial expression, to laugh outloud or to even care what posture we hold when we are on our own but what is so important to take on board here is this simply isn’t for anybody else, its all for YOU. You’re the one who gets to reap the health benefits of leading a fully animated life. The more that moving becomes an integrated way of life, something you do by default rather than having to try so hard, the less pain remains part of the fabric of that life – it just gets shimmied out, replaced by a whole lot of laughter and smiles – and I’m steadily becoming testament to that!