Exercise And Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

SirsasanaAfter a more than two-month absence, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy returned to the gym last week. While I had not worked out in the “traditional” sense, I do consider many of the days that I experienced during this past flare as some of the most difficult workouts of all.

When I say this, I am not being just metaphorical – I was surprised at how easily I was able to get back into the gym groove. I obviously had gotten exercise during the past two months, as I struggled to remain mobile. It was nice to realize this.

Right around the same time that I started exercising again, a couple of  fellow bloggers were also writing about their own returns to the gym. [Dual Sport Life’s Dos and Don’ts of a Successful Fitness Plan and RheumaBlog’s Apprehensive and Pep Talk.] This might sound silly, but I sort of felt like I was in a silent alliance with them…probably because I understand how difficult it is for those of us living with rheumatoid arthritis to maintain a regular exercise plan.

During the past few years I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with my exercise plan, which consists primarily of power yoga, pilates, and some basic weight training. Early on in my life with rheumatoid arthritis is was more on-again, but most recently it’s been more off-again. I have come to accept that this will always be a part of my routine. There will be times when I can work out, and there will be times when I cannot work out.

While my gym is a little more costly than others in town, I have always thought it was worth the price, as it has the best instructors that I have found to date and is the only full-service fitness center in town. (I love the dry sauna during winter time!) But as I continued to lose more and more days out of each month, I did start to worry about continuing to pay for a membership that I could not fully use.

So the first thing I did before I returned to the gym last week was schedule a meeting with the owner. As some of you may remember, I did email her back in May after having missed three weeks that month, and she graciously gave me an extension for my lost time. While we resolved this as a one-time occurrence, it only recently became obvious to me that periods of absence would more than likely continue to happen in the future. I had an entire speech prepared in my mind, in which I was going to ask that my lost days not be counted against my monthly membership.

To my surprise, I never even got to speak these words that I had so carefully prepared. Immediately, she welcomed me back and told me that in the future I would not be charged for any missed days. She informed the reception desk, and let them know that I was going to be keeping track of my missed days and that my monthly membership was to be extended accordingly.

I also asked if there were any services that were more restorative in nature. (I have been going there almost two years and had never asked!) I was surprised to find out that one of the personal trainers is actually a practicing physical therapist. She also told me that some pilates reformer machines will be arriving in the coming months…and while there will be a lot of demand for available slots, that I could be given one of the spots as this would allow me to continue to exercise while reducing the strain on my joints.

Last week I went to the gym twice: one yoga class and one pilates class. This week I went four times: two yoga classes and two pilates classes. New week I hope to build up to six visits. While I am obviously feeling much better than I have been in the past month, my biggest rule has been not to push myself too hard. I am modifying my routine as needed – just this past week I did an entire vinyasa routine without using my wrists, and the following day did an entire pilates routing without using my hands. I can do one-legged postures on my right foot, but cannot do them with my left foot.

In yoga class, we typically close our routine with an freestanding headstand. I told myself that I was not even going to try this posture…how could I possibly do so after not having done a headstand for months? I then changed my mind. I told myself that I was going to move into the entry position, and then I was going to listen to my body. My body, and not my mind, was going to tell me if I was ready to move into headstand. Before I even knew it, I was in the full pose.

My yoga companions started clapping, which surprised me. After all, they have seen me enter into this pose many times before. It then hit me… They weren’t clapping because I was doing a headstand. They were clapping because they know that I live with rheumatoid arthritis, and they know what it means when I am not in class – especially for extended periods of time. They were clapping because I was back. Deep down inside, this made me feel good.

So instead of being completely on or completely off, I am learning to explore and adapt to that gray zone in between these two extremes. Hopefully, in this manner, I can continue to balance my exercise needs with the reality of living with rheumatoid arthritis. And in the process, I can continue to get to know my body even better.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!