This first Pilates session was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done. I had to lay on a table that moved back and forth on springs, my body weight creating the resistance—sometimes moving the table by pushing off a board with my feet and other times using pulleys I operated with my arms and legs. It was all complicated and completely foreign and I know I had to look like an idiot. I remember saying over and over to my instructor “you want me to do what?!” I had developed such an entrenched mental habit of telling myself that I couldn’t do anything physical, that my body was weak and sick, that this habit became quite a barrier. CK would tell me over and over—and even have me say it out loud to her—that “I am strong” that “I can do anything I set my mind to.” It was completely outside of CK’s normal scope of treatment to recommend something like Pilates rehab, but also knew because of years of inactivity, I wouldn’t progress quickly to develop correct breathing without core strength. I trusted CK and her “outside the box” approach to my treatment. For the first time I had doctors and therapists telling me I could be healed…it was a miracle. So what if I looked like an idiot.
I did everything my Pilates instructor asked me to do, having promised myself I’d give it my all during these sessions and try to believe in my strength. It was hard and I was a little sore after this first session, but didn’t die . . . that would come later. My instructor told me I did great—she was nothing but positive and encouraging—but she told me that what I just did in this session would someday be my warm-up. That I had a good, strong body that will someday do really hard workouts. This was hard to imagine, but I tried to believe her. I shared this with CK and, of course, she agreed. [I’m so happy to report that these predictions all came true…and then some! Just like CK said they would :)]
I went home feeling much better about all of this Pilates stuff, but then about 2:00 a.m. life got real. I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a train! [Reference “death” comment above] My whole body ached so badly I could hardly move, let alone go back to sleep. I made my way into the bathroom and took a fist-full of Advil, then remembered that “blue ice-pack thing” I received in my welcome packet. I said a quick prayer of thanksgiving that I had put it in the freezer earlier. I went and got it and placed its wonderful blue iciness on my lower back…and thus began a special bond with my “blue ice-pack thing” that is still going strong. I don’t EVER want to be without it. If it ever “died” I would mourn its loss and give it a proper send-off just like a beloved pet. Speaking of animals, I was still keeping the whole “I have chickens and cows” thing under wraps. Although the Pilates people were incredibly nice, I was still a bit intimidated by their shiny, color-coordinated studio that played Michael Bublè while I worked out and, therefore, unsure as to how they would handle my little “farm.”
As a part of my Pilates rehab treatment, every other week I would have a session of Myotherapy at the studio. The best way to describe this would be an interactive and, at times, very painful massage which for me focused on the upper body and neck. I had never had anything like this and was quite nervous the first time, but the therapist was wonderful and told me exactly what to do. The goal was to loosen the muscles in my neck which were crazy-tight at first, but the therapist had these amazing hands that could turn shoe leather [my neck] into butter. She worked with me on breathing techniques to help me through the painful parts and I always left with a much looser and relaxed neck. Just a side note: any of you moms out there questioning whether to have another child, go and have some “roping” done [a super-de-duper painful part of this therapy] and you’ll quickly remember labor pains, which may guide your decision.
At the same time that I began Pilates Rehab, CK had me begin a weekly regiment of regular massages: I would go to Pilates Rehab twice a week and then schedule in two regular massages per week when they would bring the most relief. This was a huge time commitment but my husband and I worked it out. I need to mention that during this time we were taking care of Rick’s mother in our home. My mother and father-in-law have lived with us since we married and have been a wonderful blessing to our lives and the lives of our children. Rick’s father having passed several years ago, and Rick’s mother’s health declining, her care fell to us—and was quite a lot. Unfortunately, my husband’s health wasn’t good, either, so I somehow juggled the care of these two and was able to do all the necessary therapy. I had so much anxiety about this juggling act, not being one to put myself first. But I had a chance, finally, to become healthy, to not feel like I was suffocating all the time so I had to make it work. On one hand, it was difficult to finally feel a bit of good health, only to have it immediately demanded in the care of others. But on the other hand, I counted it a blessing to have the strength to take care for those I love. There wasn’t much time to celebrate my healing, though.
I found a darling massage therapist who could do these weekly massages at a reasonable rate. CK, always watchful of every aspect of my healing, told me what to tell her to work on. I was a bit timid with my first massage, but after a few Pilate’s sessions and nights with my blue ice pack, I was so desperate I flopped up on her table like a sore walrus and begged her to rub everything. Make the bad man go away! I will stay consistent with my exercise program for a lot of reason, a major one being that I NEVER want to go through this “starting from ground zero” thing ever again. Waking up muscles that have been hibernating for a few decades is some serious pain, but had to be done and is worth it. I just don’t want to do it again….ever.
My life took on a rhythm of Pilates and massage—work and relief—all coupled with this new way of breathing. As I would do the different Pilates exercises, my instructor—per CK’s instructions and her own thorough Pilates training—would have me breathe correctly while doing the exercise. Not only did this provide my body the necessary oxygen to perform the exercise, but would allow my body to learn—thanks to muscle memory—the correct method of breathing three times faster. This was fascinating to me…and also extremely frustrating, because if I didn’t breathe correctly I did the exercise over and over and over again until I got it right. This happened more than I like to admit, but I had my wonderful instructor who encouraged me in every moment.
After about a month with CK and a few weeks of Pilates, I needed to check back in with my pulmonologist and that meant facing…THE STEPS OF DOOM.
They were formidable, steep and, appropriately, gray cement—and I hated them. They loomed over me like a bully’s challenge. They belonged to my pulmonologist—her office complex, actually—and have waited for me at every appointment like a schoolyard threat. I had never tried them, knowing they would win the fight, their prize my precious breath. So it was the elevator for me every time. For the ride up one level to the second-floor office, I was usually accompanied by a fellow patient in possession of a portable oxygen tank, a rattling cough and a few more decades on this earth. That soft voice in my head would compassionately point out my future to me in hopes of preparing me for the inevitable. I always walked out of the elevator feeling doomed.
At this check-up, I wasn’t quite brave enough to take these steps and their challenge, but I did stand at their base and make myself a promise that someday, like all bullies when called out, their threats would fade to nothing as I flew up each ugly gray step and kept my breath to myself. I had hope now, so the elevator ride didn’t bother me at all.
My pulmonologist was delighted with my progress and CK’s thinking outside the box with my care. Having done her residency at MC, she knew the good people I would be working with and trusted them to not only teach me the necessary breathing/vocal tools I needed, but to also be a conduit of sorts—to steer me to those things, like Pilates, that would speed the process up and aid tremendously in my overall healing.
There were a lot of things going on simultaneously, but I understood the need for this as CK educated me on each aspect of my healing. As I would go through the cycle of building muscles and recovery, I felt strength come to my body. I began to see that as I removed mental habits that no longer served me and replaced them with a belief that I CAN do hard things, I felt a lightness and my breathing improved. With correct breathing, my body felt better and stronger…I could do more. As I did more, it was easier to believe in my strength and begin to see myself as a healthy person. This cycle didn’t always go as smoothly as I just described it, really more like fits and starts. And I had a great deal of anxiety to overcome, a big part of my breathing difficulties. But what it began to teach me—and what CK told me often—was that it was all connected: our mind, our spirit, our body were all connected and breath ran it all. They call it the breath of life for a reason and I was just beginning to learn the power of this statement and the tremendous blessing it was to have a thorough and comprehensive approach to my healing.
It would soon all be tested, though, in the form of public speaking, something I particularly dreaded. Anytime I had to do this – give a talk in church – I was left breathless, with blue lips and hyperventilating and as a result, not saying what I wanted to say….so this would be a chance to put all my hard work to the test.
To be continued...