Moving Meditation

Alarm had to wake me today –three times. Ankles and wrists feel like they’ve swollen to about 5 times their size (that’s another thing I hate – I feel swollen without any visible swollen-ness!) with really, really tight manacles holding me down on the bed.

But I had to get up as it was my first class of Tai Chi for Arthritis (beginners).  Tai Chi is an ancient practice proven to reduce pain and improve your mental and physical well-being. In 1997, Dr Paul Lam, a family physician and tai chi expert, worked with a team of tai chi and medical specialists to create the Tai Chi for Arthritis program. The special features of this unique program are that it is easy to learn, enjoyable, and provides many health benefits in a relatively short period of time.

So lesson one: Tai Chi for Arthritis is based on Sun style tai chi (pronounced “soon” as in– I will soon be learning tai chi!). This style was chosen because of its healing component, its unique Qigong (an exercise which improves relaxation and vital energy), and its ability to improve mobility and balance. The program contains a carefully constructed set of warming-up and cooling-down exercises, Qigong breathing exercises, a Basic Core six movements, an Advanced Extension six movements, and adaptations of the movements so you can use a chair for balance, or even sit on the chair for the entire class. Also incorporated into the program is a safe and effective teaching system.

Medical studies have shown that practicing this program reduces pain significantly, prevents falls for the elderly, and improves many aspects of health. For these reasons, Arthritis Foundations around the world have supported the program. And that’s why I’m at Arthritis Victoria today…they also provide the cheapest classes (and I received an added discount due to hardship!)

Supposedly, tai chi will help you:

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase balance and flexibility
  • Feel relaxed
  • Improve your overall mind, body and spirit

Tai Chi for Arthritis involves 12 movements or positions that are designed to be safe and beneficial for people with arthritis. Instructors of the program are trained to understand arthritis and ensure the movements are safe for participants. Tai Chi for Arthritis classes begins with warm-up exercises (lasting about 10 minutes) where you start at your head and move all the way down to your ankles. Each joint has two exercises, to reduce the chance of injury during the movements.

The leader then demonstrates and teaches one or two movements per lesson, encouraging us to learn the movements properly and slowly, working within your comfort limits. This week, we started with the Single Whip and Wave Hand in Cloud.

Single Whip

I start with my feet in a duck position (outward facing) and my hands by my side. Slowly lift your wrists, straight out and up, like two helium balloons are attached, up to shoulder height. the slowly lower them.  Then, while stepping forward with your right leg (heel first the toe), push your hands forward like you’re handing a ball to someone. Bring the ‘ball’ back (and your foot at the same time) to hold in front of you – then spread your arms by opening up your elbows. Allow your left hand to keep moving outwards (and slightly back) and watch it by twisting your head as far as you can go. Your right hand sort of just sits in mid-air waiting for something to do.

Ta Da! We’ve learnt our first form.

Wave Hand in the Cloud

From the position we left above, now move your left hand forward again, until it looks like you are trying to say stop. Your right hand moves beneath your left elbow – now you look like a traditional policeman trying to stop traffic. Take a step to the right, landing with your toe first followed by your heel – then wipe your right hand in front of your face, while your left hand moves to your right elbow. Remember Karate Kid? Wax on. Let your left leg move across to join your other leg (remember toe then heel) and wax off with your left hand. We do that 3 times, moving across the room. Then do it the opposite way. This is where we all get tangled up and obviously need to practice. My head doesn’t change direction that fast!

But hey! we’re doing tai chi! I think that was all the movements – at least, what I can remember from my first one hour session. It is all very slow, controlled and relaxing – just like in the movies – sort of like a moving meditation, as you’re concentrating so hard on breathing, moving hands and feet that you can’t think about anything stressful.

The lesson ends with cool-down exercises, lasting about three minutes.

I feel very calm and relaxed. But my wrists and ankles still hurt!

So, I went to Yoga…

This will be a two part post. The plan is to give you a balanced view of my yoga class, so part 1 will be written while still on my exercise high. The next part will be written tomorrow (in real time, but not blog time) so, if there are any FM repercussions, I can let you know.

Part 1

I introduced myself to the dude who was holding the class – have you ever noticed that all male yoga teachers have ponytails? – letting him know about my condition and that I have never attended a class before this.

It all started very nicely. He turned on the relaxing music, lit the incense and we all sat on our mats with our legs crossed and our hands together (like we were praying) in front of us. Inhale…exhale. Concentrate on your breath. Then he told us to put our hands on our knees, palms up. Inhale…exhale. Concentrate on your breath. Next, put your dominant hand on your belly button and your other hand on your heart. Breathe in and feel your belly button go out. Exhale and feel your belly button move towards your spine. Breathe in and feel the breath move to your heart. Let your heart grow. Inhale…exhale. Concentrate on your breath. Hey! I can do this! Next we stood up straight; breathe in, lift your arms above your head and join your hands above your head. Then bring your hands down in front of you, back to that prayer position. Prepare yourself then let go of everything, letting your arms fall to the floor as you exhale. Still cool. Place your hands on the mat, take your left foot, then your foot backwards, moving into the downward dog position. My legs don’t move that way, dude! Then roll yourself down into the plank position. What? How? Now move your forehead and chin to the mat then push yourself up into a cobra. What the hell are you talking about? Then down again; then back into the downward dog.

Now this wasn’t as easy as it sounded (?) but I will admit that at the end of an hour, I appeared to be able to do this basic series of positions much more smoothly. The series is known as the Sun Salutation, and is meant to be practiced at the beginning of every yoga session. It is a way to warm up your body and focus your mind for the session. I was sweating profusely by this stage.

From the above series we moved into a forward lunge (supposedly by just moving my leg forward and NOT falling over!) then leaning to the side and rising (yes, at the same time) and moving into a half-moon pose then twist back, do the full series again and the lunge and moon thing on the other side. (Or don’t! and have to stop and rest in the child’s position while the rest of the class continues)

The really good thing about this is that you get to see how the rest of the class is doing. Other people are losing their balance, or resting, or looking on questioningly. This is really good to know – you don’t feel like quite a (politically incorrect) SPAZ!

There’s a ton of other positions: warrior 1, warrior 2, warrior 3, fish, Lord of the Dance pose, etc – but the best one I saw, that totally spun me out was the shoulder press:

This amazed me. And I think that I would have been able to do this except that my bum weighs SO much that I can’t lift it. Otherwise, I would have been a shoe-in! Instead Yoga Dude set me (the only real beginner) up against the wall so I could lie flat with my legs spread up in the air, against the wall. Imagine being at the gynaecologists – now, you’ve got it! Mind you, after a while, it was quite comfortable.

My favourite position was right at the end, called the corpse.

I went to the class alone and had to giggle all by myself (although everyone was very nice – they were also very serious about yoga). This would be great to do with a friend (especially the first few times) – who else will be able to tell embarrassing stories to all your family and friends?

Somehow, after all of this, I came away energised and refreshed (just in time for pizza for dinner – you really can’t expect me to cook after all of this!). I’m feeling light and buoyant and absolutely nothing hurts (knock on wood!) I don’t want to go to bed tonight because I don’t want to lose this feeling…you may just need to remind me about it in the morning!

Part 2

I have been awake for 2 hours now – waiting…is something going to hurt (more than normal)?

And guess what? No real pain; nothing very different from the normal FM wake up – other than I still feel energised (despite only having 5 hours sleep compared to yesterday’s astounding 10!)

So, I think it’s safe to report (and I’ll let you know if anything changes) that my yoga experience was pretty good. Note to all: I’ve been told that every yoga class is different (sound familiar?) so, for those just trying it like me, attempt to find a gentle or beginner’s class; introduce yourself to the instructor (he can then keep an eye on you); and have a giggle!

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Started One Place…Finished Elsewhere

And back from Pilates

…having first asked them to display some Awareness:

But this post isn’t about the Awareness Campaign, it’s about my lousy night’s sleep last night…you know that sleep where you feel that you’re only ‘drowsing’ (is that a real word?) in and out, where anything can and does wake you, where you open your eyes and you’re still too tired to move or get up but you can’t fall back to sleep properly, where it feels like hours but it’s only been 4 minutes since you looked at the clock, where you never feel refreshed; and where you still have highly vivid dreams.

I am assuming that all of this is because I didn’t take my zolpidem last night and went with the melatonin – but I fell asleep well enough, I just couldn’t stay asleep……And I’m so tired but, at least, I know why.

I have been involved in some very carefully plotted murders, ending up by me running into a court and interrupting, holding a milk carton, and telling them to wait in a very dramatic turn of events.Think black and white movie a la 12 Angry Men, but with loads of action scenes a la NCIS and Criminal Minds; then add strobe.

It’s very difficult to watch and it hurts my head and my eyes, but I can’t really do anything about it as it’s playing on the huge screen in my head.

I always wake up before I know what happens next – no matter how much I fight to get back to that place in the movie. I don’t know if I actually wake up or if I was dreaming in my dream of me dreaming and waking up. All I know is that when I finally wake up (properly), I feel like I have done some big time running and thinking!

It is with that background that I attended Pilates today. On my walk to the gym, my stomach muscles began protesting – how did they know where I was going? It’s been a week since the previous class, so I had thought that any left-over delayed onset muscle soreness would have disappeared – WRONG! the minute I tried to do anything from the table top position (hee! hee! aren’t I the expert?), my transversus abdominus and internal oblique muscles began to scream. I would have thought that I would have been able to do more (as compared the previous class) this week – WRONG again! Not only did everything hurt more but I seemed to be much more uncoordinated. My entire balance was off, way off! And the room was spinning before my eyes after every new movement.

Think this will turn me off it? Not yet, I’m going back Thursday evening – the stretching still felt amazing (at the time, anyway)!

Flagrant, Blatant, Brazen and Shameless Self–Promotion

STOP reading now if you’re against flagrant, blatant, brazen, shameless self–promotion because that’s what this post is all about…

I’ve designed a number of Fibromyalgia Awareness t.shirts, buttons, stickers, etc, which are available at FIBROMODEM.

Fibromyalgia awareness is almost non-existent in Australia, so I have chosen to donate profits to ME/CFS Australia (under which it appears that FM falls) in hope that I, in my own way, can promote awareness here.

So, if you’re going to stretch those muscles at the gym, you’ll need to carry your Fibro proudly…

 

 

 

 

And don’t want to lose anything to the FIBRO FOG? You’ll need this fabulous reminder journal:

 

 

 

Or feeling the cold? And want to warn people about your mood? This blanket wrap is a dream come true & a must have for all FM sufferers. This blanket wrap has sleeves & pockets so you can hide your hands (as well as the remote control!)

 

 

Want to show your support in a less obvious fashion – try a button!

Lots and lots of other stuff, too – some especially for Fibromyalgia Awareness Day! These are just some of my favourites. Please take a look.

…This message was brought to you by…

Good Pain to You All!

Yippee! I have a day off! Yes, I realise that I’m not working but I’ve been filling my days with Pilates, acupuncture, doctors’ visits, warm water classes, babysitting, etc. So, today is all mine!

I just woke up and spent two hours trying to work out how to get of bed. I couldn’t sit myself up. Damn Joseph Pilates! The muscles deep, deep (under all and any fat) inside my tummy have said ‘No More!’ The pains are right where my appendix scar is (on the right side – and before they did it laproscopically) and the mirror image on my left side.  I need one of those metal thingys that they have above hospital beds for patients to lift themselves up.

When you exercise, your abdominal muscles contract and expand over and over again. Repeating an activity several times causes the tissue fibres in your muscles to tear at the microscopic level. This is how you build muscle and bulk up. But it can also be (slightly?) painful – I can’t cough without feeling excruciating pain tearing at my insides; and I can’t sit upright (I can sit hunched over or I can lean back against the couch).

Pain is your body’s way of telling you that there is something wrong, but not all pain is bad. Many people seek out exercise that gives them the ‘good pain factor’ (WHAT-THE-?) as they like to feel that they have worked themselves hard.  So how are we supposed to distinguish good pain from bad pain?

Good pain feels like a moderate to strong discomfort (sometimes burning as in lactic acid build up sensation) in the muscles you are working and should go away after discontinuing the movement.  Any delayed onset muscle soreness, as a result of the exercises session, should disappear within a day or two after exercise. Ummm, oops, I may have overdone it (again?)

So between attempts at getting out of bed and dozing, I finally worked out that I can bend my legs (no lifting them) and roll onto my side, then I have to unfold my legs and angle them over the side of the bed, and push myself up using my elbows – long process but I’m up!

And now it’s my day off – so I have time (and maybe the energy) to hang out my washing, do another load, pick up the clean clothes that I had thrown on my bed so I would put them away before bed (two nights ago) but, instead just shoved them onto the floor. I want to attempt to put my FM Awareness nail decals on. Oh, yeah, Passover starts tonight so early dinner at my Dad’s; and I have to remember to pick up the flowers for Dad’s partner, Yvonne.

Umm, did anyone say day off?

Happy Easter and Passover to you all!

Diet of Desperation

I always have fish and chips on a Monday, except I don’t eat fish so it’s either a hamburger or souvlaki. Sometime during the week, I have a pepperoni pizza; and another day, it’s a cheese pizza. Chinese take-out is on Thursday. In there, as well, is a hell of a lot of Cadbury’s, and maybe some ice-cream.

Yes, my diet sucks. But I’m too scared to change it!

I suffer from depression and I take 100mg of sertraline (anti-depressant) daily. It took 3 years of experimentation and dark, scary days to reach a place where, despite everything, I’m pretty good. Antidepressants are also called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, preventing the supply of serotonin in the brain from going down. However, antidepressants are not the only way to elevate serotonin levels. Many ordinary people self-medicate when they are feeling depressed by eating lots of carbohydrates.

R.I.P Davy Jones

I don’t question this theory – in fact, I am a total believer.

Here is how ingesting sugar – or some carbohydrate that is broken down into sugar after digestion – can alter our mood for the better. When we digest carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels rise, and then insulin is secreted, lowering the blood levels of most amino acids with the exception of tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. When there is more tryptophan than other amino acids, it enters the brain at a higher rate,[1] potentially alleviating a functional deficiency in brain serotonin and thus serving as self-medication.[2]  The brain then produces more serotonin. Studies focused on this link appear to back this up: high carbohydrate meals raise serotonin,[3] while fatty or protein rich meals tend to lower it. The type of carbohydrate chosen seems to be based upon its glycemic index, or how high it causes blood sugar levels to peak. The higher glycemic index carbohydrates like sugar have a greater effect on serotonin than starchy, lower glycemic index foods like potatoes.[4]

And it’s not just sugar that we crave: certain alkaloids have been isolated in chocolate that may raise brain serotonin levels.[5] Scientists now speculate that chocolate addiction may actually have a real biological basis with a serotonin deficiency being one factor.[6] Another basis that has been proposed for why chocolate has such a powerful influence on mood is that chocolate has ‘drug-like’ ingredients including anandamines, caffeine, and phenylethylamine.[7]

Expert tips to avoid the cravings include:

  • Be honest with yourself about how deep your problems with food go – I figure I can’t really be more honest than this!
  • Distract yourself by doing something else – oh yeah! because that works for the 61.5% of the Australian adult population considered overweight or obese! (Sorry – couldn’t find up to date figures on ALL the other countries!)
  • Exercise! Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals called endorphins and improves your mood. But it’s awfully hard to exercise when you can’t get yourself out of bed…
  • Drink a glass of water. Really? (need I say more?)
  • Be mindful of what you are consuming rather than grazing all day. A food journal can be very helpful – if you want to keep track of what you will need from the supermarket!

So, when doctors, websites, other bloggers, family and friends tell me that perhaps I need to alter my diet to help with my FM, all I can think of is the return of the Big Black Dog.

 

P.S. I love footnotes!


[1] Gendall & Joyce, 2000; Sayegh et al., 1995; Velasquez-Mieyer et al., 2003; Wurtman & Wurtman, 1995

[2] Pijl et al, 1993; Spring, Chiodo & Bowen, 1987; Wurtman, 1990; Wurtman & Wurtman, 1995

[3] Rouch C, Nicolaidis S, Orosco M. ‘Determination Using Microdialysis, of Hypothalamic Serotonin Variations in Response to Different Macronutrients’ Physiological Behaviour 1999 Jan 1-15;65(4-5):653-7.

[4] Lyons PM, Truswell AS. ‘Serotonin Precursor Influenced by Type of Carbohydrate Meal in Healthy Adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1988 Mar;47(3):433-9.

[5] Herraiz T. ‘Tetrahydro-beta-carbolines, Potential Neuroactive Alkaloids, in Chocolate and Cocoa’ Journal of  Agriculture, Food and Chemicals 2000 Oct;48(10):4900-4

[6] Bruinsma K, Taren DL. ‘Chocolate: Food or Drug?’ Journal of American Diet Association 1999 Oct;99(10):1249-56

[7] Benton D, Donohoe RT. ‘The Effects of Nutrients on Mood’ Public Health Nutrition 1999 Sep;2(3A):403-9