“Movement is life. It is how we were meant to function. The ways we heal, the ways we process are all tied into movement.”
I stumbled upon this quote the other night on the website of a local yoga studio. In this particular context and during times of arthritic pain, I would have murmured, “well, that’s easy for a pretzel bending yogi to say.” Healing through movement makes sense, of course. We all know that moving our bodies (exercise, playing, sex, dancing, etc.) can have extremely positive effects in healing and maintaining health in the body (and the mind). But, how do you get this healing power when it hurts to move? How do you convince yourself after an exhausting day of managing and hiding your pain in public that it’s actually better for you to keep moving rather than collapse on the couch? As someone who has probably spent half of the last decade on that couch, I’d say it’s pretty near impossible.
About five years ago, I tried yoga. Remarkably, I felt my pain reduce during sessions. It was extremely challenging, but in the moment, it focused me on something other than the pain and how shitty it/I felt. I registered for a 9-week session, but afterwards, I was sidelined by a new lupus symptom (costochodritis) and before I knew it, I was in the hospital. During my recovery, I signed up for yoga again, this time at a different studio that offered “restorative yoga,” a slower paced yoga that consists of relaxing and longer held poses (mostly lying down). I loved it. At the time, there was lingering inflammation in my chest which was preventing me from sleeping on my back, but at restorative yoga, I was able to lie down for the entire hour! After several months of doing that class, I pushed myself to move into the more active styles of yoga. Then, three years ago, when I had fully recovered and was independent and living on my own again, I watched my 60 year old father cross the finish line of his very first half-marathon (in front of my brother-in-law, who is half his age!). And in that moment, as I was cheering and nearly crying with awe in the bleachers, my dad inspired me to start running. I took a “Learn to Run” session with the Running Room. The entire experience was extremely motivating (my instructor was a cancer survivor) and exhilarating – I couldn’t believe that I was running with the same body that could hardly walk two steps without wincing from pain! For the first time in my life, I could actually feel my leg and back muscles getting stronger. My “Learn to Run” session ended in correspondence with the 5K CIBC Run for the Cure. I registered, aiming to finish in 45 minutes, but I surpassed my goal, crossing the finish line at 36 minutes. I was also doing yoga at the same time and I was feeling the best I had ever felt in my life. In the months that followed, my health steadily declined. The costochondritis came back as well as a level of arthritic pain I hadn’t felt since my initial diagnosis in 2001. I stopped running. I stopped yoga. The pain was so great that “movement,” other than what was absolutely necessary, was out of the question. Once again, I soon found myself in the hospital with Lupus Cerebritis on more drugs than I’d ever been on. Recovery was rough, but I walked almost everyday with my parents and gently started running again. More recently (and in mild weather), I have continued to walk (to work, to get groceries, etc.), but I would run only now and then. My body was soft and toxic from all the medications, but I was determined to take advantage of being pain-free. Along with my dance class, I also have a gym pass, which I hope will renew my love for running and will motivate me into being active during the cold Winter months. I’ve bought a yoga pass for use at a later date, but have, for the last week and a half, started every morning with five “sun salutations.” I’ve set a goal to increase the amount of salutations with time and commit to starting every morning with something active versus checking my emails.
I guess you could say that’s my “history of movement.” I know it will always be an on and off relationship with exercise when you have a chronic illness. Something will always threaten to derail you from keeping active or eating healthy or even caring about any of those things at all. I’m lucky that my family, friends, and co-workers are all health conscious, supportive, and inspirational individuals who motivate me to take care of myself. The toughest part is starting and being gentle with yourself, of understanding that even a little is an accomplishment.
And although the quote says that movement is “how we were meant to function,” for the chronically ill, the freedom of movement is not so much a given, but a rarity and a gift. Upon arrival at the gym earlier tonight, I started a gentle jog around the track with the intention of allowing my body to go as long as it felt it could. To my surprise, I ended up jogging in relative comfort for 11 laps in a row (about 25 minutes straight). There’s no greater gift than that.