In the 2+ years since getting diagnosed with RA, I have tried a ton of different things to help me adjust and accept RA as a permanent part of my life - both physically and mentally. I've been through a lengthy process of trial and error to find the right meds to keep my disease physically under control. I've spent a lot of time reading blogs and learning from others dealing with RA. I've invested in tools to help make particular tasks easier. I've experimented with nutrition and even tried being gluten-free for six months.
I took a seminar on methods of Mindfulness Stress Reduction. I tried seeing a therapist. I tried seeing a psychiatrist. I tried joining an autoimmune support group. I experimented with physical therapy and acupuncture and massage therapy. I've tried gentle swimming and slow hiking and riding a stationary bike. And no matter what I'm trying, I always try to remember to keep laughing.
But, after 2+ years of experimentation, if someone asked me to pick the one thing that most helps me deal with my RA - both physically and mentally - I would say, without any hesitation: pilates.
While I think any type of pilates could potentially benefit someone with RA, more specifically I would recommend one-on-one pilates with the same instructor who can then learn how to work within the specific limitations of your body. Private pilates lessons can be a real splurge, but in my experience it has been 110% worth it!
About nine months ago, I took a deep breath, walked into Boulder Bodyworks, and blurted out that I had RA and needed help staying active within the confines of my achy joints. Even though taking that first step was extremely difficult, I couldn't be happier that I did. I have been going to pilates once or twice a week ever since!!
Physically, pilates has really helped me build strength. My instructor helps me do slow and precise movements, with the help of a lot of springs and straps and bars, which make the exercises as low impact as possible on my achy joints. Once or twice I have felt a little bit extra achy afterwards, but when that happens I just talk to my instructor so she can can figure out where to draw the line of what is too much for me. For the most part, pilates makes me feel energized and much stronger. And when my muscles are stronger my joints hurt less!
While I expected pilates to have the potential to help me physically, I had no idea how much it could help me mentally. For one thing, even though most of the exercises are slow and done laying down and with lots of support, I've lost a lot of weight since I started. Believe it or not, my prednisone weight is gone!! So it has made me feel a lot better about the way my body looks.
But even though pilates has given me strength and better body image, I think the most important thing it has done is to restore some trust in my body. My pilates instructor has helped me learn that, though my body may be limited in certain places, there are lots of things that I still can do. Some days I go in there and I feel like a rubik's cube - I have to tell my instructor that my right hand and left foot hurts and my neck is sore - and I wonder what on earth she will come up with that I will actually be able to do. But you know what? She always comes up with something I can do. No matter how sore and painful and complicated I am, she has taught me that there is still always something I can do to improve my situation. She's helped me discover and strengthen muscles I didn't even know I had. And even on days when we can only do very small movements, I always leave pilates feeling like I have accomplished something positive with my body - and I honestly can't remember the last time I felt so positive about the things my body can do.
I can't thank my pilates instructor enough. And I can't wait to see her again next week!