In my Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-tees) class yesterday, it occurred to me: I have not yet written about Pilates! Pilates was started in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates in Germany. It is an exercise system that especially works to strengthen the core (abdominal) muscles in the body. When these muscles are strong, the rest of the body is more supported, and can function better. All movements are controlled and smooth, with emphasis on keeping the abdominal muscles pulled in the whole time. Breathing is done in proscribed patterns, exhaling on exertion, and for some exercises, multiple breaths in, then multiple breaths out. Though some of the exercises are difficult for me, I always feel looser and taller when class ends, and I have more energy.
In class yesterday, our instructor said, as she often does, "If it causes discomfort, don't do it." My first thought was "Everything causes me discomfort." I caught myself, because I am trying not to focus on negative thoughts. So I reinterpreted what she said to mean "If it causes excessive discomfort, don't do it." Even for a healthy body, some discomfort is acceptable, and muscles don't develop as much if you always keep them in their comfort zone.
For bodies like mine, which hurt no matter what, it is important to learn its signals. I know that with certain exercises I can push through the pain, and I will feel better afterward, others I need to back off. Some days I push more than others, depending on how I feel that day.
One of the things I really like about this instructor is that for many of the exercises, she will give a variety of options of difficulty. This allows each participant to do the exercise at a level appropriate to their own needs and abilities, and also gives us permission to back off if we need to. Not that we really need the instructor's permission, but many people think they do. I sometimes start an exercise at a higher difficulty level, then switch to a lower one part way through the series, as my body requests.
There are a number of things that can be gleaned from my experiences with my Pilates classes. First, it is important to know your body, what it can and can't do, when to push and when to back off. Listen to your body's signals, and stay alert to them, they change often. If something causes excessive discomfort, or you know you will have to pay too much for it later, don't do it.
Second, all of us need exercise, look for classes or other opportunities that are right for you. If you are lucky, you will find an instructor like mine, who gives options, and encourages everyone to work at their own level of comfort and ability. If not, learn to adapt the moves yourself. The basic rules for adapting something is: 1. Figure out what you are trying to do. 2. Identify why you can't do it the regular way (too fast, too intense, too long a time, etc.). 3. What can you change to eliminate or decrease the problem issue? (slow it down, less intense, shorter length of time, reposition so your body is more supported, etc.) 4. Decide which option to try, if that one doesn't work, try another). For more on this topic, read my post, 'Adaptation 101'
Third, give yourself permission to do what you need to do, no matter what others around you are doing. This goes for all areas of life, not just exercise. You don't need anyone else's permission to take care of yourself. You live in your body- You are the only one who knows how it feels, and the one who must look out for its needs.
I know there are many people with Fibromyalgia who go into a flair from the slightest extra exertion. For you, exercise is important, but go very slowly, and increase at very small increments over a long time (your doctor or occupational/physical therapist can guide you on this). I am lucky in that I don't have this problem.