Where are You Going in 2013?

Reprinted from the December issue of LIVING WELL with FIBROMYALGIA.  
Elissa TomasiniWritten by Elissa Tomasini, who also writes a blog about managing chronic pain with resources & support, and information about health coaching: http://chronicpainjournals.com/

I absolutely love making goals & creating plans.  It inspires me to dream & make positive changes to my life.  I can take time to reflect on what in my life is or isn’t working, & look at ways to move in the direction I want for my life.

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I find that making goals in life works best when it starts with listing out my own values.  This gives me a framework for deciding where to invest my time, & when it might be best to change a course.  Because my values are also about relationships, this helps me to include people in my goals, not just concrete goals around accomplishments.  I include values of self-improvement & character traits I aspire to.  Though these may not be as measurable, my personal integrity is more important than the accomplishments I make.

I have a list of seventeen top values that I have revamped over the years.  My overall mission statement is:  I will strive for growth, healing & deeper spirituality, where I can truly love others, giving joy, grace, & peace to those I meet.  Some of my values include building strong relationships with family, friends & neighbours.  Others are about personal traits such as saying I am sorry, being forgiving, having fun & living a life of integrity.  I also include fitness & health, making a difference, being financially secure & helping people in need.

goals 2Next I start with a free-write (brainstorm) of goals & hopes of what I would like to accomplish.  This might be short-term or long-term ideas, as well as self-improvement type of goals.  I try to avoid thinking too rationally when writing out my dreams, as this is something I will do later.  For some, this might be better done by writing in paragraph form visualizing the life they wish to have, others prefer lists.  It can sometimes help to look around at people you admire, & what are the traits & actions that draw you to them.

Once I have a list of goals & dreams, I begin to group them into categories & time lines for further evaluation.  I will group together health goals, relationship goals, spiritual, personal trait goals, finances, etc.   With each group I will think about what I can do in the next year to make progress in this area.  For relationship goals it might be scheduling dates with my husband, planning some vacations &/or having a game night. For health goals it could be losing weight, going to a new doctor, trying a new exercise &/or meditating self-compassion.

goals 3One thing to remember with goals is that it is about progress, not perfection.  In 2012, I had a list of about 40 goals & I accomplished about 60% of them.  Some of these goals were minor, such as putting pictures in frames & going through donations.  Other goals were more significant like starting my blog & going back to yoga class.  I never did finish doing touch-up painting around the house, but I am okay with putting this off another year.  Even though I didn’t finish everything on my list, I can see that the year 2012 was filled with some new adventures & progress in areas that matter to me.  The other goals I didn’t finish I can evaluate whether this is something I want to reconsider in the next year.  Fortunately, 2013 brings new opportunities.

I am excited for what 2013 can bring & my personal goal of implementing the 15M plan.  For 2013, I am going to focus more on making life style changes in increments.  The 15M plan allows me to make progress even in the more difficult health days, as I focus on spending 15 minutes on the desired activity each day.  Often when I am tired or feeling a great deal of pain, I lay on the couch a good part of the day & isolate.  If I can focus first on 15 minutes of some type of exercise, it is a goal I should be able to attain most days, resulting in less discouragement & better health.  When I am feeling good, I will most likely do more, but on a bad day this can help me shift gears.   I will add other areas that I want to progress in such as writing, family time, cooking & doing chores.

Like many of us, I have goals for improving my health in 2013.  I plan to do some experiments with the types of food I eat to see if they may be adding to my symptoms.  I also will be doing health coaching for other people who want to improve their health.  I hope to be able to make an impact on people struggling with chronic health problems & to give hope.  I want to strive for more consistency in my life, & learn to work around the tough days.

Making goals can be a simple process or something you spend weeks processing & planning.  The most important thing is to make some progress.  Taking 15 minutes to write down 10 goals is a great beginning.  For the artist among us, one can draw or clip out pictures from a magazine instead.  You can post the list on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Others may prefer to spend some time evaluating last year, writing out values, & creating a detailed plan for 2013 like I have done.  Finding a buddy to share it with might help keep you motivated & encourage a friend at the same time.

May 2013 bring you some great learning experiences & opportunities.  May you see an impact towards the values you hold dear & be an encouragement to those in your path.

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Wiggle It (Just a Little Bit)

Belly dancing was one of the first forms of exercise. Belly dance is found all over the Near East, including Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Greece, and Turkey.

Belly dance (also known as Middle Eastern dance, Danse Orientale, Raqs Sharki, Ciftetelli, Rakkase, Danse du Ventre) is a celebration of a woman’s body.  It is a unique style of world dance that intertwines improvisation originating from ancient folk and gypsy movements with trained professional choreography originating in the harems.

There is no definite origin of belly dance, but one can see traditional associations with many fertility rituals of the ancient world and the dances in the ancient Indian temples. The fertility rituals were meant to celebrate the reproductive aspects of life, both human and in nature. The movements developed into being used by female only groups for strengthening muscles and spirit for birthing. In this sense, the dance was seen as a private, sacred art. The undulating movements strengthen muscles and breathing techniques, making it easier to control your body.

The common people and travelling gypsy groups later performed belly dance movements on the street (the higher class did not dance in public). Eventually this moved into the harems, where beautiful slaves and dancing-girls learned to entertain their host. With harem girls began sophisticated dance and music training, incorporating choreography and “props”, and the dance was also taught to the higher-class female family members, who also lived and were educated in the harems.

So, it’s kinda weird that it was researchers in Brazil who found that, after beginning a belly dance program, FM sufferers reported reduced pain and improved functional capacity, quality of life and self-image.

Researchers studied 80 women with FM (the rest were doing the Samba! Lol!) who were randomly assigned to either a dance group or control group. The dance group participated in 1-hour belly dance classes twice a week for 16 weeks, with movements involving the upper limbs, scapular girdle, trunk and hips. A masked physiotherapist evaluated pain assessment, functional capacity, quality of life, depression, anxiety and self-image at the beginning, 16 weeks and 32 weeks.

The dancing FMers significantly improved from baseline to 32 weeks in pain, emotional aspects and mental health scales.

Health benefits of Belly Dancing (not just for FM sufferers)

  • Stress reduction

Belly dancing requires tremendous relaxation and concentration, as you must focus on isolating various parts of your body. The flowing movements of belly dance help to calm and soothe the mind. The repetitive movements of the dance and the concentration needed to do them can help a mind filled with daily stress to “let go” for a while and relax. It’s hard to worry about deadlines at work when you are thinking about getting that next drop just right, or while making sure that you are in time with the music.

One effect of stress is that our bodies tense up, causing contractions or spasms in muscle groups, such as those in the neck, shoulders, or back. Belly dance, on the other hand, gently stretches and uses these vulnerable muscle groups, and as they are utilized, blood flow increases and lactic acid is flushed away. Stressed muscles relax as they are gently exercised, relieving the “clenched” muscles often seen in FM sufferers. The body becomes supple and limber, and practitioners frequently report that pain diminishes in the back and neck areas.

  • Fitness and Muscle Building

Belly dancing is vigorous and will make you break a sweat. The fast movements of the hips and shoulders are enough to really get your heart pumping, offering tremendous cardiovascular benefits. When performed as exercise, belly dancing can be compared to any other aerobic workout.

Belly dancing is also a wonderful way to strengthen the major muscles of your body. When performed correctly, belly dancing can also stretch and release tension in the back. Because it is a low-impact form of exercise, belly dancing won’t jolt or jar your body.

  • Weight loss

Belly dancing can have a positive impact on your weight, improving your self-image. If performed regularly, belly dancing can actually encourage weight loss, as it burns calories as well as increases your metabolic rate. According to Dr. Carolle Jean-Murat, M.D., belly dance can burn up to 300 calories per hour. This estimate will vary, of course, depending on the intensity of your dancing.

Belly dancers come in a variety of body types and sizes. Belly dancing will make you more aware of your posture, grace, body language and facial expressions, all helping to improve your self-image. If you attend a belly dancing class, you will probably see several different sizes of bodies, all just as beautiful as the others.

  • An Internal Massage

Belly dancing can be very beneficial to the health of your internal organs. It is sometimes said that belly dancing was developed as a way to prepare the body for childbirth. Since belly dancing centres around controlling the muscles of the abdomen, it may make carrying and delivering a baby easier on your body. For women who desire natural childbirth, this form of exercise through dance, with its emphasis on muscle control not only facilitates natural childbirth, but also makes an excellent post-natal exercise that helps encourage abdominal tone.

Also, many women notice that belly dancing helps to relieve menstrual cramping.

Belly dance seems like a fun, healthy way to exercise. As we are continually being told, exercise is important in the treatment of FM. The Brazilian researchers concluded, “Patient education regarding how to initiate and continue exercise is crucial to the success of treatment. … Belly dance leads to improvement in pain, sleep pattern, functional capacity and self-image in patients with fibromyalgia. [It is] a safe, effective therapeutic strategy for women with fibromyalgia.” It can be a creative outlet that conditions, tones, and allows a woman to tune into the natural movements of her body. It can refresh, relax, and/or exhilarate. So why wait?

Caution: Many doctors have suggested belly dancing classes as part of rehabilitation from injury; it is, however, important to check with your own medical provider before starting any new form of exercise.

 

Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

Last night I went to hydrotherapy. Holy cow! Major workout!

Technically, it was no different to all my other classes (in fact, we have a set routine) but my body really didn’t like moving. I’m guessing that it’s because it’s been about a week and a half since my last session (which was a self-help session), where I felt like I was moving through molasses!

I had given up my self-help session while I was attending rehab as I went to a hydro class there, but their hydro was very low impact and I had built up my session to be quite physical – so it seems that I had lost my momentum during all of this.

Mind you, I am finding it harder to walk the same distance that I do every day – but I am still doing it, at least!

Because it is (seemingly?) getting harder, it would be easy to just say that the exercising is not helping my FM – a very self-sabotaging mode of thought – BUT we know we should be exercising. All the research tells us so! But when it comes time to actually get out there and start moving, many of us have a long list of excuses not to exercise:

Excuse #1: I Don’t Have Time!

What is it that is sapping all your time?

If it’s your favourite TV shows, how about during your shows, you use resistance bands, or walk in place; or you could record your shows so you can skip the commercials and see a one-hour show in just 40 minutes – that’s a 20 minute walk right there!

If it’s work that’s sapping all your spare time, try exercising on the job. Close your office door and walk in place for 10 minutes. (It’s not a long time but it all counts!)

People who exercise regularly ‘make it a habit’ – they don’t have more time than anyone else; instead, they have prioritised their exercise time as something that needs to be done and is of great value.

Excuse #2: I’m Too Tired…(said in a whining voice)

It may sound counter-intuitive  but working out actually gives you more energy, says Marisa Brunett, spokeswoman for the National Athletic Trainers Association. Once you get moving, you’re getting the endorphins ( the feel-good hormones in your body) to release – in turn, this WILL make you feel better (in the long term).

Excuse #3: I Don’t Get a Break From the Kids.

This is the time to multi-task (says the woman without kids!) Take the kids with you – while they’re swinging, you can walk around the playground or the backyard. Walk the kids to school instead of driving them. During their soccer games or practices, walk around the field. Use your family time for active pursuit – go for a bike ride with your kids or just walk around the neighbourhood with your children. When the weather’s bad, you could try all those new exciting interactive video games like Dance Revolution, Wii Sport, and Wii Fit. (Do your kids want any of these as a Christmas present? They could be a gift for you, too!)

Excuse #4: Exercise Is Boring.

“Exercise should be like sex,” says sports physiologist Mike Bracko, EdD, FACSM, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary. “You should want it and feel good about it before you do it. And it should feel good while you’re doing it.”

So how do you get there? First, find an activity you love. Think outside the box: try dancing, walk to the post office or gardening. Or, if you love music, try ballroom dancing. There IS an exercise for everyone.

If it makes exercise more enjoyable for you, it’s okay to watch The Good Wife or read Fifty Shades while you’re on the exercise bike or treadmill — just don’t forget to pedal or walk.

Working out with a group also helps many people. I’m not talking bootcamps or running groups. Check out your local Arthritis Foundation office – that’s where I found my hydrotherapy classes.

And, every once in a while, try something totally new: for one term I joined a Tai Chi for Arthritis group (again through Arthritis Victoria). Mix it up so you don’t get bored!

Excuse # 5: I Just Don’t Like to Move.

There are people who really DO NOT like moving but how about walking in a mall? Window shopping counts as walking!

If it’s sweating you don’t like, you can get a good workout without perspiring excessively: you can work out indoors, where it’s air conditioned; you can swim so you won’t notice any perspiration; or, try a low-sweat activity like yoga.

If exercise hurts your joints, try starting by exercising in water (my favourite – hydrotherapy!) The stronger your muscles get, the more they can support your joints, and the less you’ll hurt.

If you don’t like to move because you feel too fat, start with an activity that’s less public, like using an exercise video at home. Walk with nonjudgmental friends in your neighbourhood while wearing clothes that provide enough coverage that you feel comfortable.

Excuse # 6: I Always End up Quitting.

Set small, attainable goals – then you’re more likely to feel like a success, not a failure! If you exercise for five minutes a day for a week, you’ll feel good (maybe not immediately, but soon enough. I promise!)

Don’t try to increase your exercise by too great an amount each time. My rehab physio reminded me that Olympians try to increase their best by 5 per cent – so why work harder than an Olympian? If you do 5 minutes one day, try 6 minutes (okay, it’s actually 5.25 minutes, but really?) the next. I started at 10 minutes of walking and am now up to an hour by doing it this way – I only increased my times 4 times a week; the other 3 days, I walked for the same period of time as I had the day before.

It also helps to keep a log (especially as fibro fog can have us forgetting where we are up to). A log may help you see if you’re starting to fall off the wagon (or the treadmill).

Having an exercise buddy keeps you accountable as well – when you back out of a scheduled workout, you’re letting down your buddy as well as yourself.

And look toward the future. It’s harder to start than it is to stick with it once you’ve got your momentum going!

Any more excuses, people?

Other exercises you might like to try:

Fibro Friendly Exercises slideshow

Pilates Pleasure

Yesterday, I downloaded my FREE 14 day pass to the local gym (which is very local – it’s about 500 metres down the street!) and went to have a chat to a lovely lady about my condition and what her gym could do for me. We talked about the yoga and Pilates sessions; and we talked about what would happen after the 14 days was up. (I had to explain that I was absolutely broke and had to be very careful about where I chose to invest my limited funds.) Firstly, she gave me an extra week on my pass. Then she said that, if I find the classes are working for me, she could work out a special price so I could attend just those classes and not have to pay for the use of the entire gym. WOW! Nice lady!

To today:

Getting out of bed early, so my body will be functioning (not necessarily well), for a 9.20am Pilates class is not easy, but I’m motivated and I promised you guys a report…

So, I just got out of the shower (yes! I had a shower) after cooling down from the session. And I gotta say: Whoo Eee! (that’s a shout of glee!)Am I feeling energised! Already my muscles ache – but it’s a different sensation than the FM pain. It’s the pleasurable awareness that all my muscles are there and have been stretched and manipulated. (For those who don’t have sex very often, it’s sort of like the day after feeling…yeah, you feel tired and achy but hey! It was worth it and let’s do it again!)

Now I didn’t do that kind of stuff!

We did Mat-based Pilates (not so easy to get up off the floor at the end, though) – this is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and your own body weight to provide the resistance. The central aim is to condition the deeper, supporting muscles of the body to improve posture, balance and coordination. By focusing on your core strength, you (supposedly) enhance the little muscles in the body so you’re better able to support the larger ligaments, tendons and joints. Pilates is a very intense stretching class that incorporates workouts for your abdominal, leg, arm and back muscles – I found the stretching remarkable (it was like my poor, exhausted muscles could finally open up and take a breath of fresh air) and it’s nice to know that I still have some flexibility. Strength-wise? I have none! Anything that involved holding up my own body – even standing on my tippy-toes – was challenging. But it’s only the beginning of my learning curve…

Pilates encourages you to think about how you perform everyday movements. It heightens your body awareness; it helps you ensure your body is working at its optimal level all the time. Pilates will give you more of a holistic result than most other exercises regimes. It will make you focus on your breathing which is great for improving circulation and relieving stress. It is alleged to be a fantastic way to balance out your health and wellbeing.

Pilates is actually great for people with injuries, weak muscles and particularly bad posture because it encourages you to strengthen your problem areas in a relaxed and low impact way. (NB: It is advisable that anyone with serious injuries consults their doctor or physio though. Pregnant women should also get the okay from their doctor before proceeding.)

Now, tomorrow (or maybe even later on today) I know I’m going to hurt – I’m hoping it is the spent muscle type of hurt and not the FM hurt (but I may be kidding myself – I’ll let you know then).

Joseph Pilate

But I’ll know exactly who to blame: Joseph Pilates developed the yoga-like moves to rehabilitate Second World War soldiers. He then modified the style for injured dancers and so the modern-day method was born.

I’m looking after the beautiful Z tomorrow too, so I had better not hurt too much – playing with Z involves at least one walk to the park and a lot of kicking (then chasing) a ball around. I then have hydrotherapy so the warm water will soothe my tired, spent, exhausted, weary, drained, fatigued, wiped out body.

From just sitting on the couch last week, I‘ve suddenly got a REALLY busy schedule!