Friday, September 17, 2010

My Fluid Body Yearns For A Stronger Container

I like to think of the body as a fluctuating, fluid event, rather than a fixed object.  However, this crazy cancer is challenging my ability to stay connected to my fluid identity. I have devoted the past 15 years of my life to Continuum practice and the frame of reference that accompanies this has enriched my experience of life, kept me sane and feeling whole when nature-gone-awry has caused me to (temporarily) feel somewhat deranged and coagulated.

There always needs to be a balance of freedom and stability. Putting water (freedom) in a glass (stability) makes it far more useful. The same is true for the living human body. There is a balance of freedom and creativity that needs to be held within a meaningful structure. We all have different needs at different times, and the balance point between the 2 modes of being is not always in the middle. Some people tend to be energetically diffuse and chaotic. These people thrive with a little more structure. I, on the other hand, have no problem being grounded and linear, so I thrive in a more unstructured environment. Everyone needs some of both. 

In my never-ending quest to understand embodiment, especially my own, I have embarked on a new “exercise” regimen. I put the word “exercise” in quotes because the activities I do that might be called “exercise” are usually somewhat unconventional. I rebel against excessive form. Whether it is yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, or Zumba, I can't stand having someone in front of me telling me what to do. I'm just not a good follower. But due to my extreme circumstances I have had to branch out, receive help, and add some physical exercise that's a bit more "mainstream" to my Continuum practice. I need to summarize a bit of history, so that you understand my context and condition.

I spent most of November, 2009 through February, 2010 lying down. My only form of physical activity during that time after I stopped working was quite subtle. I spent a great deal of time in bed doing meditative, creative imagination/imagery-based Continuum dives. I was in too much pain to move very much, and I was unable to rest in any position other than flat on my back. I would bring my attention to my breath, and attempt subtle wave motions throughout my body. But mere breathing was excruciatingly painful. I couldn’t focus on spinal motion, because it disturbed my tumor-ridden sternum, ribs, and clavicle. My hide-in-a-cave-and-don’t-move survival mechanism immobilized me. To top it all off I was petrified (literally hardened and immobile) of fracturing something. My doctors had warned me to not cough or sneeze or roll over in bed because I could easily fracture one of my diseased bones.

As I began to respond to all my various forms of treatment (removing my ovaries, taking an aromatase inhibitor to inhibit estrogen production, acupuncture, various supplements, hands-on work, meditation, etc.) I began to be able to do simple things, like taking a walk. By the time late January rolled around I began to panic at my degree of deconditioning, but I still couldn't do much about it. Walking and subtle Continuum weren't enough. I didn't yet realize that I hadn't hit the bottom of my atrophic decline.

It really wasn't until about a month ago that I fully got how much physical ability I had lost. Part of the 25 pounds I have lost is muscle. By April I realized that in addition to being immobilized by pain, I had developed pain from weakness and lack of support. I didn't have the strength to lift my arms over my head. My knee pain and difficulty getting out of a simple chair was in part due to my wasted quadriceps muscles. To make matters worse, joint pain is the most common side effect of Arimidex, and I have a whopping case of it: neck, back, shoulders, hands, hips, knees. Thank goodness my feet and elbows have been spared, but that's about all. With all my medical knowledge and understanding of how the body works, I couldn't believe this was happening to me.

I'm not sure why, or if understanding even matters, but it took until mid-August for me to really get what I needed to do. Perhaps it wasn't until then that I was able to do what I needed to begin the climb out of my predicament. Even if I had understood what was happening a few months earlier, I'm not sure I could have done much about it.

What I realized last month was that I was suffering from massive atrophy and deconditioning. Since it happened in a very specific way for a very specific reason, I needed to address it in a focused and specific way. I am normally not a reductionistic fan of isolating muscles, but I have come to understand that this is exactly (part of) what I need. I have begun doing what I used to think was dreaded, linear, and repetitive; I am riding a stationary bike, using a stair-stepper, and an elliptical trainer. At first, I could only go about 3 minutes. It was painful and exhausting, but I realized the only way to get over feeling this way was to do it and move through it. I committed to riding 3 minutes, 5 times a day, and by the end of a mere week, I was able to go 6-8 minutes at a time. It has taken a month, but now I can go 20-30 minutes at one stretch. My entire body, particularly my knees are feeling considerably better.

During this past month I sought out the help of a physical therapist who helped me hone in on my rehab needs. I began strapping on wrist and ankle weights and doing some mainstream  strengthening exercises. I got a pole (a broom stick with the broom detached) and at first had to use my decent arm to help lift my useless arm. After a few weeks with the pole to guide my arm up, I was lifted to the next level of new-found abilities, even if my hands were buzzing from holding on to the pole. I do love good exercise toys, so I've enjoyed playing in the PT gym.

Since I can't handle too much structure, as soon as I was able, I began making up my own exercises, doing "made-up Chi Gung," and turning all my exercises into a Continuum Jungle Gym Dive. (If you don't know what this is, get my book and read Chapter 7 and go find a class.) Isn't this what it's really all about anyway? Isn't this (part of) what Continuum is - following inherent movement and allowing it to guide you? I follow my own Chi and allow it to move my body, which unlike a mere month ago is now a bit more able to move where the Chi wants to go. I used to think this "made-up Chi Gung" was a goofy rebellious activity that I invented, and then I met a master of Ba Gua (a Chinese martial art) who said that this was the ultimate practice of this art.

I think part of what helped me during the past year was my ability to lie there on my back and imagine myself, like in Avatar, moving painlessly and gracefully. I would fade in and out of my pain-ridden, half-sleeping state imagining myself running through a forest, swinging through trees, swooping down a mountain on skis, ice skating on deep edges, or swimming like a dolphin under water. The power of our creative imagination can keep the body going when we are unable to go there in the literal physical sense. This is one aspect of the bridge that Continuum creates that allows people to access to healing.

I have devoted the past 15 years of my life to a very unstructured Continuum practice and now I need to integrate a bit more focused, structured rehabilitation into my self-care. I can't do one without the other. My fluid yearns for a stronger container.