Move your Body – Exercise for Chronic Illness
Over the years of dealing with arthritis and fatigue, I have naturally struggled to summon the energy to do exercise. However, I have also noticed that I can be a bit lazy when it comes to making an effort to get moving and that goes hand in hand with my tendency to get stuck in the house. Once I do make the effort to exercise, even gently, I feel so much better. It is vital to incorporate gentle exercise for chronic illness so that our bodies retain (or gain) flexibility and stagnant energy gets released.
Having a routine is helpful to me as a motivational tool. I am more likely to stick to the plan if it is written down in my bullet journal.
I have been doing the Miracle Morning Routine over the last year and it has really helped me get more focused, and to meditate and write daily. One of the five elements of the Miracle Morning Routine is exercise, however, and my tracking in my Bullet journal shows that it’s the one that gets dropped the most often.
So I am focusing in this post on fun and easy ways to move your body – for my benefit as well as yours!
Fun ways to exercise for chronic Illness
My husband and I never feel like going swimming, but we do go and we take the kids. When we come out we feel pretty pleased with ourselves – and also feel much better. Swimming is an excellent type of non-impact exercise, yet it’s aerobic and excellent for the spine when done correctly. According to the NHS, regular swimming can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. It can also boost your mood and keep your weight under control. It improves joint mobility, and tones muscles and has psychological benefits too, according to the Swimming Teachers’ Association (STA). The very nature of water massages the body, releasing endorphins that give the swimmer a sense of wellbeing.
Check out this video that shows all the muscle groups that are used when a person swims:
For those of us with Rheumatoid or other types of arthritis, swimming is the perfect exercise. So put it in the diary, make a pact with a friend to go every week or sign up for that swimming lesson to improve your stroke and make it more enjoyable. If you are a competent swimmer, wild swimming in the sea or lakes and rivers gives a whole new range of benefits from being out in nature. I find swimming in the sea so energising and healing as the salt water cleanses my energy and leaves me feeling fresh and revived.
2) Qi Gong
Qi Gong is more than a type of exercise; it is a movement medicine. It integrates components of movement, breathing and intention. I have been practising for nearly 10 years and I have found Qi Gong to be amazing for improving my joint mobility, my muscle tone and my mood. At times my practice slacks off, but I always come back to it as the benefits are immense. The uplifting of my mood after practising is always noticeable. This isn’t surprising, as the practice is massaging all the internal organs, clearing the meridians and allowing qi (chi/prana or life force energy) to flow around the body much more freely.
I learned the Shibashi form but there are many other forms to be explored. I enjoy the Shibashi form as its sequence of 18 gentle movements are relaxing yet rejuvenating. It is beneficial for all health issues and a perfect exercise for those with chronic conditions. It only takes a few classes to be able to carry out all 18 movements. However, as I have come to learn from my fantastic teacher over the years, there is more to learn every time we practice. We can uncover deeper and deeper layers of awareness and technique, so it never gets boring.
3) Energy Routine
This is energy medicine and only takes ten minutes. It is a fantastic way to get the body moving and the energies flowing in a beneficial way. This routine was developed by the radiant and inspirational Donna Eden. I can say from experience, that it is so transformational. I sometimes do it before picking up the kids from school, as I know I will be at my lowest ebb around 3 pm and they will be tired and hungry too. It really helps boost energy, improve focus and concentration and lift brain fog.
Give it a go by following along with this video my friend Lianne Campbell made of the routine.
If you want to learn more, do browse Donna Eden’s website Energy Medicine.
There are a wealth of techniques in her books to help people with chronic and acute illnesses.
4) Mindful Walking
Walking in itself is a mindful activity. The very act of putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly is a calming rhythmic act. If you add natural surroundings and an intention, you have a powerfully relaxing activity. Sometimes I set out on a walk with an intention. An intention to think through a problem, perhaps to find a solution or even to gain inspiration. The combination of the fresh air, the healing energy of the countryside, and the steady rhythm and peacefulness of walking combine to uplift and relax me. If you are in an inner city area, find a green space to walk if you can. Being near trees is so beneficial to us: breathe in that extra oxygen!
You can also try out the Buddhist practice of walking meditation. You walk slowly, placing one foot down with great awareness and then the next, paying attention to all sensations in your feet and feeling the grounding energies of the earth.
After some time with full awareness on the sensations of placing and lifting the feet, bring your attention to the feelings in your ankles, calves and shins. Let go of any tension when you find it. Then gradually as you walk, work up through the body, becoming aware of each part in turn until finally, you bring awareness to the face and head. You can also bring awareness to feelings and emotions arising. Just notice with no judgement. It is a very peaceful way of meditating and good for those who find it hard to do a sitting meditation.
If you find walking boring, another option is to walk with headphones and listen to an inspirational podcast or energising music so that you are engaged with the walking and the listening.
My absolute favourite way to exercise is by dancing! I have enjoyed 5Rhythms, Ecstatic Dance, NIA and of course dancing at parties and nightclubs when I was younger. These days I can’t stay up past the start of a nightclub night, never mind the end! Thankfully there are plenty of daytime options in my area. Recently I did an outdoor 5Rhythms workshop on Brighton Beach and it was fantastic.
Some of the class was in a dance studio and we were wearing headphones so we could hear the music and the guidance as we stepped out onto the beach. The experience of dancing on the pebbles under the starlight with the waves lapping the shore and the sea breeze making everyone’s hair fly around was so moving. We got some funny looks from passers by but that is nothing new for me!
I love ecstatic dance and 5 Rhythms as there is such freedom in the choice of movement and how much you interact with anyone else in the group is entirely your own decision. Also, the music is generally wonderful but will vary from teacher to teacher so find one whose taste in music is so good that you can’t help but move to it. I have to say I have had some profound experiences when dancing at these type of classes and have released a lot of tension and emotions in the process.
Do remember, though, there is nothing to stop you getting your favourite tunes on and dancing around the kitchen. If you are around children, they love to do this too.
6) Restorative Yoga
Restorative and Yin yoga have been my favourite yoga classes over the last few years. They are at the right level of difficulty for my stiff body, and the poses are adaptable to various limitations. They both involve holding the poses for longer times and use the breath to allow the body to come deeper into the pose. I find these sessions simultaneously energising and relaxing. Why not find a class near you? Check out this webpage for poses yogajournal or download an app to help you practice at home.