11 Jun 2018 EDS and exercise: not the opposites you think
For someone dealing with chronic pain, exercise feels like that last thing that should be on the agenda. With a body that’s easily exhausted, aches, and often acts frustratingly beyond your control, it might seem crazy to choose to physically exert yourself more. But I’ve found exercise to be a fundamental part of managing chronic pain conditions and for those living with forms of hypermobility.
Exercise is often associated in the media with pushing yourself to extremes – it doesn’t count unless you’re in pain, sweat pouring down your face, fighting your body. But this is not at all what it’s about. Exercise means simply allowing your body a freedom of movement it doesn’t experience through everyday tasks, and working to strengthen it in the process. I’m not saying exercise can replace pharmaceutical help and you must always listen to your doctor’s advice as everybody is different. But I’ve found that for myself and many others, integrating exercise into your lifestyle can be an amazing way to help manage the symptoms of EDS and chronic pain.
I began teaching Pilates in 2008 and it played a fundamental role in helping me manage my chronic pain and I know help others discover ways in which it can help them. Learning how to breathe, stand, walk; these are all fundamentals that we can discover when we allow ourselves to connect with our bodies and start to listen to them. So often, people living with conditions such as EDS feel at war with their bodies. Movement can help build back the connection you may have lost. I do believe exercise and movement can be incredibly beneficial to many, many people – whether that’s helping reduce pain or just feeling more centred and in control, increasing your quality of life.
There are many different ways you can use exercise to help manage chronic pain symptoms and it’s worth taking the time to find one that works for you. There are some overarching principles, however, that apply to all. I’ve written some tips below on how to approach exercise as a sufferer and help you progress on your personal health journey.
The foundation of all movement is the breath and it’s where I start with all my clients. Breathing with focus and intent allows for release of tension held in the body and so enables greater fluidity of movement. Slowing your breathing helps prevent the panic and stress that can rise up for pain sufferers, and helps you work with, not against, your body. It may seem small but taking control of your breath is the first step in taking control of your body’s movement.
Movement and the mind go hand in hand. As with the breath, the mind is responsible for holding on to a lot of stress we may not realise. Think about your lifestyle. Are you rushing around, trying to outrun your symptoms and yourself? Your body will be registering that. Making time for yourself to exercise gives you the mental space and physical freedom to dispel some of that stress.
Also think about your approach to exercise and to your body. Are you locked in a battle with it and is that holding your movement back? This part can be a long and non-linear journey but seeing your body not as your enemy but your friend is what will allow you to work with it make physical improvements which are sustainable.
Setting yourself movement goals can be a great way to keep focused and track your progress. But be honest with yourself about what you want to achieve, and be realistic. And don’t set time limits in which to achieve them as this can stop you listening to your body – which is the greatest of all movement advice that I can give you.
It’s also good idea to consult with your doctor or a medical professional to help you set the goals which are right for you. And remember small steps, big progress.