Sometimes it seems that advice for better health sounds like we need to do more, be better, and just generally suck it up buttercup. I’m not impressed by stories of people saying, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.” It completely ignores the fact that the other person had a challenge and may not have been able to do it at a different phase of their life. It also may be something that they won’t be able to maintain for the rest of their lives. It basically ignores the individual circumstances of our own physical health, lifestyle and obligations. We all have different demands and limitations, and we should only compare ourselves to where we are now and where we want to be given our interests and preferences. That said, other people’s stories often inspire and motivate me to take the next step on something I’d like to accomplish.
After my MS diagnosis, I read the suggestions to swim and do yoga. I realized that I was very reluctant to do yoga, but I didn’t have a specific reason. I’d tried yoga videos, but they didn’t hook me. Later I realized that my reticence was likely because it seemed like it would be admitting that I was giving up on doing gymnastics. It seemed like accepting defeat. Once I went to a yoga class years later, I loved it so much I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to try it! To be fair, I was busy. I was active doing other things. Life was full and doing yoga seemed like another thing I “should” do instead of something that I would enjoy.
More recently I started swimming, and it took me a while between knowing it was a good idea and actually going to the pool. My reluctance to swim was more based on proximity, convenience and feeling slightly intimidated about all of the associated unknowns. While talking with a friend about swimming, I shared that I was starting to think about my exercise schedule as a two week or monthly schedule instead of weekly. With this approach, I could aim for doing certain activities once every two weeks or once a month. That goal made it suddenly desirable and motivating for both of us to go to the pool. By reducing the idea of success, it removed the barrier of over-committing or setting myself up for feeling like I’d failed if I didn’t continue. Once we got to the pool and swam a few laps, we were a bit giddy about how good we felt, what an excellent workout it was, and how well we each slept that night. Again, why did I wait so long to start swimming?
I’m not going to dwell on the past, but I do want to learn from these experiences. If something interests me, next time it might be good to think about the following:
1. Can I try it once without committing to a regular schedule? It’s not all or nothing, and it won’t be failure if I decide not to continue.
2. Do I know someone who does it and will give tips about what to expect? This can help reduce feelings of intimidation or nervousness about new surroundings, people or experiences.
3. Did I used to do it and enjoy it? If so, why wouldn’t I now?
4. Do I have a friend willing to go with me? This makes for great bonding and mutual encouragement for healthy habits.
5. Do I need special clothing or equipment? Try goodwill or other second hand shops for inexpensive gear so that I’m not out much money if I decide not to continue it.
MSAA advises people with MS to consider swimming and yoga for good reasons. They’re easily adaptable to different skill levels and physical abilities. They both are a bit meditative for me, and I’m relaxed even after intense workouts. They work lots of little muscles in my body in a gentle yet strengthening way. Plus, I always sleep better on days I’ve done them. I love when I incorporate good habits into maintaining my health even when it takes me a while. I hope to be able to keep yoga and swimming as part of my ongoing activities even if they’re only a few times a month. That’s still success.
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