My Fitness Program
Fitness is not an absence of illness. Fitness in residential care is not “pumping iron” to your maximum performance (no pain; no gain). Fitness in residential care is gain without pain.
Fitness, I have learned over a year of attending weight training, stretching, better balance, yoga, tai chi, and meditation classes, requires an awareness of self and of well being. This involves mind memory and muscle memory.
There is no single fixed standard of performance for everyone. Each person follows the instructor to complete an exercise as presented, or limits the range of motion, or drops out at the first sign of pain. As a consequence the classes are for everyone.
If in a weight training class, ask for a lighter weight, or just continue without a weight. All other activities can be performed at a slower pace or with a reduced range of motion when doing them for the first times.
Our yoga instructor was bitten by a little brown recluse spider. Her substitute complemented the class on our ability to perform as she was directing. New class members remind us of how we performed at first. All the instructors spend some time putting them at ease; there is no need to be embarrassed. “What happens in fitness class stays in fitness class.”
In time we have been lead through approaching 100 exercises plus homework; that I remember no more than the exercises. The rapidly changing exercises each blot out the previous one. Some make a profound difference in how my back feels.
These I ask about at the end of class. I get checked to see that I am doing them correctly. They are exercises I am building my fitness program on.
Often the instructor will ask if there are any issues that need attention at the start of a class. Exercises that address these issues are then included in the class. This is the second source of exercises for my own fitness program.
[Two weeks have past since I started this post. After a week of feeling better each day, that prompted me to start writing, I had this feeling once again that the basic problem was creeping in again. Others also noticed the change in my posture.
My time was easily used up working on weed control on a mound with 45-degree sides. Here we will plant milkweeds this fall that are in containers this summer. I am also designing a caterpillar nursery for the residents. These distractions take my mind off back pain. Sudoku also makes a good distraction while I wait for the spasms to go away.]
My first source of exercises for my own fitness program is a collection of “exercises you can do in bed” before you get up in the morning. I collected these several years before moving to residential care. BUT I did them with “no pain/no gain”. Now I have the awareness of self so I can respond correctly to instruction AND to freelancing effectively. Sitting up straight is automatic with the start of class. I walk differently. These all help with the back pain.
I walked almost normally to breakfast and the rest of the day. I also arrived at a new level of exercise before getting out of bed. Repetition of the exact same sequence of exercises seems to become ineffective in solving the back pain problem.
PAIN. There is “stop in your tracks” pain. There is it hurts from 1 to 10. There is an awareness of pain and a dread of it coming back. There is “it just feels good”. And something new to me: a gentle tingling awareness in THE SPOT. A sharp jab hurts. Don’t do that. Follow the “painting” instructions below.
Up to now I was planning to describe the set of exercises I have been doing. You can find dozens of good sets on the Internet: back pain exercises. It is how you do them that is important and if they are of any help. Also when a stretching exercise becomes very easy to do and seems ineffective, it is time to switch in another one.
For example: After doing some basic stretching exercises that just feel good. I then return to exploring a spot on my right lower back. The same exercise that has no pain on my left side, does have pain on my right side. At this point my back does not hurt at all.
For me, drawing a circle with my right knee HITS the SPOT. So back off. SLOWLY repeat in a SMALL circle no more that three times. Do another exercise on another part of the body or a few of them. Now return to the SPOT. Slowly paint out the pain. No more that three times.
[To do this effectively, you must concentrate on that ONE SPOT. We have been taught to concentrate on the one muscle or set of muscles at a time in class.]
BUT, that helped, but did not get rid of the back pain when walking. I then worked with a number of stretches of my own design to find the next SPOT. Using my leg muscles to lift my hips as high as possible. Breath. Lower down at the shoulder blades, the waist, and then the hips until my feet rise from the bed. This sends a ripple from the shoulder blades to the tailbone. It should feel good.
Now I can also sense the beginning of pain or the tingling at new SPOTS in my back away from the backbone. This morning I moved my back in a curricular rolling motion with my heals near my bottom.
On a sleep number bed, a classy air mattress, this produces a fair back massage. I then stretched, twisted, and turned, slowly, until I painted out the most prominent SPOT (visualized moving a pressure point slowly around the SPOT until it numbed or failed to be recognized).
I am now looking forward to painting out a number of SPOTS. Our fitness classes are good for general fitness. Working on new SPOTS maintains fitness and hopefully gets to the real cause of my back pain (beyond caregiver stress, etc.).
I still have a concern about what is taking place. I do not want this to be another case of self-hypnosis that prevents a true diagnosis and healing.
In general, I am feeling good. I can keep up with the city conservationist working on the Provision Living at Columbia Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary on 45-degree slopes. And the sleep number bed is rating my sleep quality at or near 90%.
What I cannot do is get in a hurry when walking or spend too much time getting my wife out the door of our apartment without a back muscle spasm. The spasms do affect my legs, unsteadiness, but are now more of an ache than a pain. A few minutes of sitting down, Sudoku, or conversation are easy distracters and “cures”.
[3:00. “Mr. Richard, we need your help. Margaret is loose in the hall.” She had resisted having her second sock removed by the toe nurse in assisted living. I walked her back to the office and had no problem getting things set for doing the second foot.]
My back did not bother as I jogged about a city block. It did not bother while attending her needs during work on the last foot (I did sit in a chair most of the time). My back is not bothering now.
During the last week, I explored the sleep number bed settings. Lowering the pressure made things worse. Returning to normal and lowering my head made things better.
The question remains: bed, posture, stress, exercise or a bit of each in a never to be found one fixed setting for each. We are dealing with a dynamic system (what hurts one day may not on another and visa versa):
1. Learn enough exercises to populate a 20 to 30 minute wake up program.
2. Learn to recognize pain indicators and tingles (before things hurt).
3. Cruse the Internet or invent your own stretches to search for SPOTS.
4. Direct full attention to painting out one SPOT at a time.
5. Inter mix stretches and painting as time permits.
6. Maintain the classroom tradition: “Have fun. Feel good.”