A year ago, I had an un-explained fever for over a week, was struggling to stand up at all and wondering if I was going to die.
It was a confusing and heart-breaking time as I desperately tried to work out what was happening to me, before I lost everything to chronic illness.
And there are even more ‘anniversaries’ of things that I still struggle emotionally to remember coming up too. The first seizure I had in the night, the last time I struggled into work, my first trip to A&E, the last time I drove…
When I realised it had nearly been a year since I received the Sayana Press injection that kicked my bodies arse – I sat myself down and tried to think of a way I could honour the person that I used to be, without mourning the loss of the life I had.
I’ve spent a year, battling with chronic illness and many earlier years fighting with my body and my mental health. I’m trying not to do that anymore.
If I need to rest, I will rest. If I need to fall apart, I will.
I want to be my greatest ally. So for this anniversary of shit – I will be attempting to take hold of the wheel and steer my body back to at least where it was. Without beating myself up. I hope to build myself up.
In between the end of March (when I started my decent) and mid-July (when I was admitted to hospital) I lost a stone that I absolutely did not have to lose. I had nausea and vertigo constantly, as well as being sick and having an upset stomach every few days.
By the end of July I weighed less than 7 stone and had no good feelings left for my struggling body.
Now, 8 months later, I have put on nearly a stone and a half, and am a ‘healthy’ weight. This has been done by changing my diet and treating my symptoms alone, and not with any exercise.
I did want to exercise right from the off, believing that it would help me recover quickly, but was I crashing hard.
My oestopath then served me up some truth that proved invaluable:
“Everyday life is exercise enough”
(this is true of everyone with a chronic illness who is fighting to wash their hair, make a cup of tea or get out of bed)!
It seems obvious to me now, but I so desperately wanted to be healthy – I would have done anything if it ment getting better.
In the very beginning, building myself up ment trying to sit up for longer each day. This sounds very simple – but it was honestly the best advice I was given. If I had been laying down all day – I propped myself up, sat up or got up and walked a couple of steps.
It was uncomfortable and painfully slow, but I had experienced pushing myself and crashing for days or weeks… and it wasn’t helping my fitness!
I still struggle with physical activity now, especially standing and stairs, but I can do the bare minimum most days and would still love to improve my fitness further – which kind of goes with out saying!
So I am starting my exercise program – based on my experiences of Yoga, restorative Yoga, physiotherapy and what has worked so far. Friendly to my gang of syndromes (POTS, hEDS, and chronic fatigue) and completed laying down in my PJs in bed.
The routine doesn’t normally take longer than 10 minutes and isn’t regimented AT ALL. I am only doing what feels good. If I wake up in pain, I am not doing any of the ‘strengthen’ing postures – I am only doing the ‘relax’ing bits.
Find a comfortable starting point and have some water handy. In the colder weather, I get myself a cup of herbal tea and grab a light blanket too. Most of the postures can be done under the duvet, but some will be more difficult and awkward with the extra weight!
Relax and concentrate on you breath before you begin too. On mornings when I struggle with this, I place one hand on my abdomen and one on my chest. Evenly breathing into my chest, then into my stomach, before slowing breathing out of my stomach and then out of my chest.
Leg Lift – Strengthen
This posture should be felt in your lower abdominal muscles. If you experience any pain in your back: Please stop it! You could place a pillow in the arch of your back to help you relax it, as you shouldn’t be straining your back at all. The move should be done in a slow and controlled way. So no throwing your legs up and down either.
- Lie comfortably on your back, with your back straight.
- Place your hands, palms down, on the mattress next to you.
- Raise your right leg off the bed – exhaling as you go.
- Keep your knees locked throughout the exercise – or a little bit bent if you have hyper-mobility type EDS like me!
- Hold for up to 1 minute, or as long as you can, keeping your breathing even (when I was in bed, I could lift one leg at a time for around 2 seconds).
- Return to your starting position.
- Repeat steps 1 – 6 with your left leg.
Slowly lift both legs together and hold. After practicing using one leg at a time, I am now able to lift both legs together for around 5 seconds and am working at holding for longer.
Supported Spinal Twist: Supta Matsyendrasana – Relax
This posture will stretch your back muscles and massage your back and hips: helping to lengthen, relax and realign the spine – so it’s great for back pain! When I have pain in my legs too, I place a pillow in between my knees/thighs to relieve the ache there as well. The twist can also encourage the flow of blood to your digestive organs: increasing the function of your digestive tract. Making it one of my staple postures for bloating & back and shoulder pain.
- Bend your knees toward your chest, keeping your feet flat on the mattress.
- Extend your arms out to form a ‘T’.
- As you exhale, lower your knees to the bed on your right side – keeping both shoulders down and facing to the left.
- Adjust until properly comfortable.
- Hold the pose for up to 5 minutes.
- Repeat on your opposite side.
Cross Body Crunch – Strengthen
This posture can be felt in your core and abdominals. Again, if you experience any pain: Stop it! The move should be done in a slow and controlled way. Absolutely no pulling on your neck! If you can not get your elbows and knees together, simply gesture in the right direction, in the correct posture, to build up strength.
- Lie comfortably on your back.
- Place your hands behind your head – I find this easier with my head propped on a pillow.
- Bend your knees towards your chest, keeping you feet flat on the mattress at a hip distance apart.
- Bring your right elbow towards your left knee – gently!
- Return back into your relaxed posture, with your hands behind your head and both feet on the bed.
- Alternate – bringing you left elbow towards you right knee
- Continue to alternate sides for as many reps as you can, breathing in and out evenly with each repetition.
When you are finding this easy (I’m still not finding it easy at all and do around 10 reps. I started with 2!) – add leg lifts (as detailed above) into your crunches by lifting your foot, extending your leg and holding for a second, before bringing your knee elbow together. Leg lift, cross body crunch, relax, leg lift, into cross body crunch, relax…
Happy Baby Pose: Ananda Balasana – Relax
This posture is a relaxing stretch, so you shouldn’t be pushing your body or working too hard. The pose will gently stretch your inner groin and back, whilst calming your mind – perfect to relieve tension, stress and fatigue. I love this pose for lifting brain fog first thing in the morning!
- Lie on your back.
- Exhaling, bend your knees into your belly.
- Inhale, holding the outsides of your feet with your hands.
- Open your knees slightly wider than your chest, then bring them up towards your armpits.
- Position each ankle directly over the knee, so your shins are pointing straight up, away from the mattress.
- And flex through the heels. Gently pushing your feet up into your hands, as you pull your hands down, to create a tiny amount of resistance.
Bridge Pose: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Strengthen
This posture can be used to calm the mind and is great for your breathing – as the pose opens the chest, and increases lung capacity. Bridge Pose also stimulates the abdominal organs, improving digestion, builds strength in your legs and stretches your shoulders. I have found it to be very refreshing as someone who lies in bed or on the sofa most of the time!
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the mattress.
- Extend your arms along the mattress beside you, palms facing down.
- Press your feet and arms firmly into the mattress, exhale and lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Draw your tailbone toward your pubic bone, to tuck your bum in. Don’t squeeze or flex it though.
- Roll your shoulders back underneath your body.
- Reach your fingers toward your heels and hold for up to five minutes, or as long as is comfortable.
- To release, exhale and slowly roll your spine along the bed, vertebra by vertebra. Allowing your knees to drop together.
One-Legged Bridge Pose (Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)! Do this by coming into the full version of the pose. Then, as you exhale, draw your right knee in toward your chest. And, as you inhale, straighten your leg – extending your heel up toward the ceiling – with your thighs in line. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then lower your foot to the floor with an exhalation, and release the pose, before repeating on the opposite side.
Knees-to-Chest: Apanasana – Relax
This posture provides me with much needed relief from the bloat! And relieves lower back pain caused by my health complaints. It is often used as a soothing counter-pose to backbends and spinal twists. Because your body is drawn in, your thoughts are more easily brought inward too, which can be mega useful for calming the mind and rebalancing your energy at the beginning or end of your day.
- Lie on your back, with your legs and arms extended.
- As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest. Clasping your hands around them – if it is possible. Wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand and give yourself a hug.
- Keep your back flat on the mattress. Relaxing your shoulder blades down toward your waist and lengthening your spine.
- If it will make you more comfortable, you can softly rock backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle massage on your achy bits.
- Tuck your chin down slightly and don’t look up.
- Hold for a minute or two, keeping you breath slow and even.
- With an exhalation, release and lay both legs back along the bed and rest again.
Extended Locust Pose: Shalabhasana – Strengthen
This posture teaches the two sides of the body how to work independently of one another. Brilliant as many back problems are due to imbalances in the muscle system on either side of the spine. You can see this whenever you stand – most people (especially us woman), lean on one hip and carry a bag one side. You can feel it when you sit comfortably, and then try and relax the other way too. Anyway: Locust II helps bring your back into symmetry again, improves coordination and back strength, whilst stretching out your abdominals.
- Lie on your tummy with your legs at hip width, the tops of your feet flat on the mattress and your head and neck relaxed.
- Extend your arms forward (above our head), with your palms resting on the bed.
- As you inhale, slowly raise your chest, head, right arm, and left leg up and away from the bed as high is as is comfortable for you. Try to keep the upper right arm and ear in alignment, by raising your right hand and left foot to the same height.
- Hold for a few seconds, to a couple of minutes – or as long as is comfortable.
- As you exhale, lower your right arm, chest, head, and left leg slowly to the floor at the same time. Keeping your movements controlled.
- Repeat steps 3 – 5 with your left arm and right leg.
This pose can be progressed into the full posture – also known as ‘Superman’ – by lifting both your legs and arms at the same time. It’s the most strenuous back bend (because extending your arms and legs puts quite a load on your entire back). So only use this pose only after you’re comfortable with locust II and do not continue if you feel any pinching. It’s not hot.
Cat-Cow: Marjaryasana–Bitilasana – Relax
This pair of postures help to stretch the body and prepare it for other activities, as well as bringing flexibility to the spine and stretching your back, stomach and neck. Focusing on my breath in this posture helps to slow and control my breathing, increasing feelings of calm and helps my back pains MASSIVELY, when I do the poses first and last thing (after a massage if I’m lucky)!
- Move onto your hands and knees – with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mattress and centre your head in a comfortable neutral position.
- Begin in Cow Pose: Inhale as you drop your belly towards the bed. Lift your chin and chest, and look up towards where the wall meets the ceiling.
- Broaden across your shoulder blades by draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- Next, move into Cat Pose: Exhale as you draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. The pose should look like a cat arching it’s back to stretch.
- Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
- Inhale, coming back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
- Repeat 5-20 times, breathing slowly.
Forearm Plank – Strengthen
- Begin on your hands and knees at the end of your last posture.
- Lower your elbows onto the bed directly beneath your shoulders. Keeping your forearms facing forwards.
- Rest your palms on the mattress flatly.
- Step back with your feet, onto your tippy toes, bringing your body and head into one straight line and aligning your heels over your toes.
- Keep your head in a line with your spine and down look between your hands.
- Firm your shoulder blades into your back and keep your entire body in a straight line.
- Hold the pose while breathing smoothly for a couple breaths. I started with a couple of breaths and can now hold for around 30 seconds.
- To release the pose, SLOWLY lower onto your knees.
There are a lot of plank progressions. Personally, I like the elbow/forearm plank as it takes the weight off my skinny and all too flexible wrists. But you can elevate the posture, resting your weight on your hands and toes instead. This progession will engage your arms more too. Watch those wrists though (I’m still not doing this one)!
Personally, I am working towards the ‘single-arm plank’. Once I have build up my strength, I will be testing my balance by slowly lifting one arm out in front of me, resisting the urge to tilt! The single-arm plank should look as though you have mastered the plank and are reaching for something you really really want.
Child Pose: Balasana – Relax
Child pose is an excellent stretch for the lower back, shoulders, hips, thighs, knees AND ankles. It’s such a soothing and calming pose that you can use every time you feel stressed or overwhelmed (as long as you have the time and space, or don’t give a stuff what anyone thinks). As this pose also allows my spine to lengthen, and shoulders and neck to relax – giving relief to all of the areas where I hold most of my stress – it does wonders for my tension too! I cuddle up in Child Pose every single day.
- Begin on your hands and knees, having relaxed from plank. Center your breath, and slow your thoughts.
- Spread your knees, just wider than your chest, whilst keeping your big toes touching.
- Rest your buttocks on your heels.
- Sit up straight and lengthen your spine up through to the crown of your head.
- On an exhalation, bow forward from the hips, draping your torso between your thighs. Your stomach and chest should rest between or on top of your thighs. Allowing your forehead to come to the floor.
- Keep your arms long and extended, palms facing down in front. Keeping your buttocks in contact with your heels: lengthen from your hips to your armpits, extending even further through your fingertips.
- Let your upper back broaden. Soften and relax your lower back. Allow all tension in your shoulders, arms, and neck to drain away, into the mattress.
- Keep your head relaxed with your eyes closed.
- Hold for up to a minute or longer, breathing evenly.
- To release the pose, gently use your hands to walk your torso upright to sit back on your heels.
The routine above has worked for me as a pretty seamless flow – from laying on my back after first waking, to laying on my front and finally sitting up ready to start the day.
The program works your entire body is designed to be GRADUAL, to discourage jumping in at the deep end and doing yourself a disservice: Each of the strength postures can be held for a few seconds, or a few minutes – depending on where you are at in your journey. And each of the relaxing postures can be held for as long as you like!
I will be sharing my adaptive exercises as time goes on too and am planning to share another ‘getting out of bed’ progression set, as well as some sofa and floor excerises when I am up to it in the future.
P.S. This program is my personal practice. I am in no way qualified, further than my own experiences, and can not be considered responsible for anyone else right now! Please seek guidance from your own doctor or physio when it comes to exercise wherever necessary & be careful with yourselves. You are very precious.