RA: Body Awareness Skills

Marianna Paulson Health Guide
  • The pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can run like hot lava throughout your body. It's the type of pain that seeps out of your joints, into your connective tissues and organs, and blankets your BD (before diagnosis) life with a thick layer of ash.


    Like a phoenix, imagine yourself rising up out of the ashes, moving a little freer, feeling a little less pain, and activating dormant muscle memory.


    When you live with a movement-restricting condition such as RA, it is important to develop body awareness skills that gradually shift the focus from what hurts to what helps preserve, or heal. 

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    "Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live," said entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn. Doesn't it make sense to do some "housework" to make the place you have to live - your body - as comfortable as possible?


    Your body speaks, but are you listening? Sometimes, it's a whisper, quietly calling for attention. Other times, your needs are expressed in surround sound. Sharpen your listening skills to answer the call of your body. What do you need? Is it sleep instead of snacks? Rest or revelry? Music or meditation? Nature or nurture? Learn to tune in and tone up; it's worth it for the long haul.


    Researchers from three universities in Canada and Germany have discovered that how you walk can affect your frame of mind, and vice versa. Participants were asked to read either positive or negative words, while being monitored by a gauge that registered their gait. Their experiments demonstrated that there was a correlation between body language and feelings.


    I use body awareness techniques as another method to help me shift into a better way of feeling and moving. 




    Get curious about your posture and positioning. How do you move, sit, stand? How has that changed over the years? Perhaps the compensations you made during a severe flare-up morphed into a habit, like one of mine did.


    Decades ago, a friend noticed that in order to drink, I would swing my elbow out to the side, then robotically raise the glass to my mouth. The pain in my upper arms and shoulders caused me to adapt my movements. I continued to do it long after the flare had been extinguished. Fortunately, I was able to use intention and attention to break that habit.


    Next time you're out, act like Sherlock Holmes and pay attention to the tiny clues in your environment. See what you can uncover about the posture and movements of the people around you. Are they hunched over when they walk? Do they sit favoring one side? Do you notice tension in the jaw? Are they using their diaphragm to breathe, or the muscles in the chest and neck? Now, apply this same scrutiny to yourself; get curious about how you move through your day.


    Minding your expectations


    One of my favorite books is The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Enzo, the family dog, takes you on a roller coaster of a story. He introduces you to his humans - a race car driver named Denny, and Eve and Zoe, Denny's wife and daughter. One of the bits of driving knowledge that Denny imparts to Enzo is that the car goes where the eyes go. I use this philosophy to improve my body literacy. Where are my senses, brain and heart taking me? What do I expect? What can I do to move better? How do I maintain the abilities I do have?


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    What assumptions have you made about your life with RA? Have you lost hope of ever regaining your abilities? Do you expect that your body will continue to fail you? Or do you become proactive and do what you can to manage your symptoms and maintain, or improve, your mobility?


    Do you need some help?


    There are a number of different practices available to help you to get more comfortable in and with your body. Before beginning, check with your healthcare provider to see if you have any restrictions.


    Here are some that I have sampled:


    1. Nia - This is a sensory-based movement practice done to really cool music that incorporates elements from three different arts: martial arts, dance and healing arts. The first class I attended sent shivers up my spine. The focus was on imagining that we were opening the joint spaces. There is no judgment; you do what you can, for however long you can. Wheelchair users can be accommodated.


    2. Trager® Approach - Trager incorporates both hands-on work from a qualified practitioner and movement exercises, which help to release habitual patterns of muscular tension.


    3. The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education® - Move from just functioning to reconnecting with your natural abilities to move, think and feel.


    4. Yogalign® - After sampling a few YouTube vidoes, I bought the book. I liked the approach: the focus is on good posture, not on good poses. I do the exercises I can, and I have noticed improvements.


    5. Tai Chi - Slow, steady movements encourage flow.


    6. Brain Gym® - Probably one of the first steps in body awareness came from taking Brain Gym 101. You learn to tune in to how it feels when you move in different directions by going through the program.


    7. Improvisational Acting - This one is way outside my comfort zone, but I'm doing it anyway! It's amazing what you learn about how you carry yourself, the judgments you make and the restrictions you place upon yourself.


    8. Active Floating - After I've finished my lengths, I take time to float, letting my body unwind as I go through several different maneuvers. No need to get into the vomit-inducing reduced gravity aircraft to experience the freedom of weightlessness. 


    Small, consistent changes can help you maintain or regain your mobility. It's your body - learn to use it better. You're worth it!


    Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you'll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Cafe and the award-winning, A Rheumful of Tips. She also publishes a mostly monthly newsletter - The Connective Issue. Sign up on her website to receive information, tips, and to learn about giveaways. 

Published On: October 31, 2014