If you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you’ve seen a lot of chatter lately about tai chi and yoga. I’ve mentioned that, with the right instructor, both activities have proven pain-relieving benefits. That’s why they’re well-suited for those of us with chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Lyme Disease, etc.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an article I wrote about tai chi for the National Fibromyalgia Association’s magazine, FM Aware: http://www.fmaware.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9733 (You can also get a glimpse of our lovely Instructor Melissa in my backyard….)
Additionally, please check out my book’s group page on Facebook and take a look at the current news and articles I’ve posted : http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/FibroWHYalgia/108311622540685 There’s a lot of information, so feel free to scroll down and click on the many articles geared toward health and healing.
When it comes to fitness and chronic illness, studies have indicated that both tai chi and yoga have healing properties. Because I’ve been an enthusiastic student of both disciplines, I thought I’d go into some detail here, as to WHY I believe they’re beneficial.
I mentioned that the right instructor makes all the difference. Have you ever taken a yoga class taught by someone who knows nothing about fibromyalgia? I have! Just one class of too many downward dog poses left my wrists feeling as if I’d played tennis all weekend. Any good, knowledgeable instructor should be able to help you with yoga pose modifications. Most moves in qigong and tai chi require no modification. Tai chi doesn’t put pressure on the joints or require any aerobic or technical skill. Each move is done to your own level of expertise.
The benefits of moving the body through tai chi and yoga fall into two basic categories – physical and mental.
The physical benefits of strengthening and toning your muscles are fairly obvious. Recent studies point to pain relief as one of the main results of participating in these activities. But the benefits don’t stop there! Less obvious results you might enjoy are improvements in: balance, breath control (oxygenation), blood pressure, circulation, range of motion, flexibility, digestion, stamina, stiffness, brain function, energy, and sleep – to name a few. I also believe the slow, methodical, twisting moves of tai chi help to keep the spine in alignment. I call it “Chiropractic without the pop!”
Now on to the mental benefits of tai chi and yoga. This is where research studies have difficulty “quantifying data” because the results are subjective in nature. We’re each different and experience different results. The most common emotional/mental improvements are in the areas of mood, anxiety (resolution or lessening of worries), and memory.
I, too, found improvements in each of those areas, but the stress-relieving aspects caught me by surprise.
I’m a B.B.N. person (Busy By Nature). I’m always multi-tasking. I crochet while standing in line at the airport luggage carousel. I write to-do lists while in line at the grocery store. You might also be a Busy By Nature, a.k.a. Type A Personality, person, too. Many fibrofolk are. If that’s you, I’ve got great news!
Both tai chi and yoga combat the impulse to multi-task head on. At first, I “phoned in” my tai chi experience, but after several weeks, I realized that I was beginning to enjoy the class. Watching people move in tandem (and taking part) has an almost a mesmerizing effect. No wonder it helps to regulate blood pressure.
I also realized that I left each class feeling energized and ready to tackle the rest of my day. It was no coincidence that I could count on a good night’s sleep that night, too. This happened consistently on days where I’d taken a tai chi or Restorative Yoga class.
At one point early in my tai chi experience, I was slowly moving my hands across the air in front of me (called “Moving Hands Like Clouds”) trying to follow Instructor Melissa’s form. I copied her moves carefully turning my wrist at just the right time to make sure my palm was facing the right way. I knew no one in class cared about my form (or lack of), but the movement intrigued me. I wanted to do it right. It felt like an accomplishment, albeit a small one. I realized after class that I hadn’t worried about the rest of my day. I hadn’t spent the class time re-organizing my life plans. That was an epiphany for me. I learned that my Busy By Nature personality type wasn’t nature at all. It was a learned behavior. It then stood to reason that I could “unlearn” that behavior. I could choose to unkink!
I found that when I let go of all the mental dithering, I had more room for real-time living. I began to feel “filled up” with energy, peace, contentedness. Now there’s a concept. When was the last time you felt peaceful and content?
I knew that tai chi and yoga classes left me feeling energized, but the stress-relieving aspects were a bonus. The body reacts and responds in accordance to these lessons. I can now simply listen to the CD I use for tai chi, and feel stress melt away. It’s an automatic response.
I’m lucky that I had the opportunity to learn about tai chi and yoga early on in my recovery process. Now, the intense media coverage of these subjects is “proof” to the rest of the world. Over and over again, studies show that moving the body is vital to healing. Even though it may hurt, we need to keep moving. It does get better over time. The stronger we become, the better we feel physically and emotionally.
In my book, FibroWHYalgia (www.RebuildingWellness.com ), I discuss what I call The Restoration Trio: Nutrition, Fitness, & Emotional Wellness. It’s not a pick or choose scenario. All three components must be addressed in order to heal. The body needs to be nourished, moved, and at peace.
When it comes to healing, why not combine two of the Restoration Trio components? I can promise you this, the physical and emotional benefits of tai chi and yoga go far beyond the classroom. Join a class today, and let me know how it goes!