Even when the mere idea of walking around the block makes you want to crawl back under the covers and never surface again, exercise is essential for people with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Working through stiffness and pain requires accepting responsibility to become your own healer and summoning the courage required to stay the course. When you have had an exercise program and abandoned it, starting over again is a shame-filled, fear-filled and painful challenge to overcome.
Fibromyalgia and Arthritis pain
Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and additional pain when pressure is applied to specific areas of the body, called tender points. Those with a rheumatic disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Fibromylagia fluctuates from day to day, so you never know in advance where and how intense the pain will be when you awake in what’s referred to as a “fibro-fog”.
Arthritis pain and stiffness comes from a lack of fluid in joints. It’s the effect of inactivity from sleeping or from inactivity like sitting at my desk in front of a computer monitor for too long. Pre-exercises “lubricate” the joints by pumping fresh synovial fluid back into them before exercise like walking, running, biking and swimming, which involve use a variety of synovial joints.
Inspiration for Overcoming Challenges
To make a long story short I’m coming back from a phase of inactivity and depression, following a year of grief. I’m working through physical pain from both arthritis and fibromylagia and emotional pain due to family entanglements.
Following my mother’s death after months of getting no straight answers we discovered the executor of her estate (a sibling) had stolen all of it before she died and chose not to own up to that act. No sooner than that was known than my friend who was fighting cancer died. Then the sibling who ripped us off chose to become very difficult ie. defiant and combative. Another sibling responded with righteous anger and I felt that same anger deep inside burning me like a hot coal. As I’m the eldest everyone appealed to me to provide a solution to the chaotic mess we were in. While reeling with shock from all of that, my brother, who I loved dearly, died an untimely death.
The best way to describe what happened to me is that I quietly came undone. I gradually fell away from taking proper care of myself as I sunk into a deep depression. Predictably, as my immune system was low and my mind was troubled, I manifested shingles and suffered two major fibromyalgia flare-ups. I needed inspiration to put myself back together again physically, emotionally and spiritually, and I didn’t have to search farther than my library to find it.
Picking up the pieces
How To Be Sick–A Buddhist’s Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Bernhard’s is an invitation to gently set aside the fear and the fight in order to truly live. It is based on principles of Buddhism, which she carefully applies to her own chronic disease. She learned ways to make “being sick” the heart of her spiritual practice—and through learning how to be sick, she learned how to live a life of equanimity, compassion, and joy, despite physical limitations. Her book has helped me how to get back to taking care of myself.
Pema Chodron‘s When Things Fall Apart and The Places That Scare You are books I have had for many years and have read often. It takes great courage to meet challenges associated with disappointment and loss and we continue to face those challenges until we die. Each of us has within us the power to overcome that which causes us fear and pain. Instead of asking ourselves: “‘How can I find peace and happiness?” we can ask ourselves : “Can I touch the center of my sorrow? Can I sit with pain – mine and yours – without trying to fix it?”
Pema Chödrön may have more good one-liners than a Groucho Marx retrospective, but this nun’s stingers go straight to the heart: “The essence of bravery is being without self-deception”; “When we practice generosity, we become intimate with our grasping”; “Difficult people are the greatest teachers.” These are the punctuations to specific teachings of fearlessness. In The Places That Scare You, Chödrön introduces a host of the compassionate warriors’ tools and concepts for transforming anxieties and negative emotions into positive living.
Pema Chodron explains meditation, mindfulness and practices such as Tonglen (taking in the pain and suffering of others while sending out happiness) can be key tools in ridding ourselves of negativity, anxiety and fear.
Tonglen is a gentle, step-by-step process of opening the heart. Tonglen is a practice wherein that which we usually resent and push away becomes the very means by which our heart and mind become open and free. By embracing, rather than rejecting, the unwanted and painful aspects of experience, we overcome fear and develop greater empathy for others.
In her books and videos Pema Chodron explains how we can use meditation, mindfulness and tonglen to overcome almost any obstacle or challenge.
Good Medicine – Tonglen: The Seeds of Spiritual Awakening by Pema Chodron by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Good Medicine Volume 2 – The Spirit and Practice of Tonglen by Pema Chodron by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
When it comes to exercising that amounts to working through pain, will power alone isn’t enough, as it doesn’t necessarily make you feel better right away, or in my case, better at all. Here is a Fibromyalgia Slideshow: Fibro-Friendly Exercises to give you readers an overview of the flexibility, aerobic and strength exercises I do.
Grief is not a linear process but by Thanksgiving I had moved from grief to gratitude. On December 1st I set three realistic goals expressed in a single phrase ie. the title of this article — Starting Over: Working Through Pain and Developing Inner Strength. I am restoring and re-energizing by focusing on my diet, my 5 days weekly exercise practice and my tonglen practice. Since then I have scheduled my exercise and meditation breaks for the same times every day and try to incorporate variety so I remain motivated.
Do you have an exercise program? (Why or why not?)
If so, who or what inspires you? And, do you have any tips for remaining motivated?
- It is worth it…RIGHT? (walkingthroughpain.com)
- Fibromyalgia. (gentlebynature.wordpress.com)
- How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (thehandiestone.typepad.com)
- Fibromyalgia: Going Drug-Free (cherryblossomzen.wordpress.com)