How I Used Pilates To Help Me Recover from COVID
COVID 19 hit my body pretty much like a wrecking ball, I went from feeling fine if possibly a bit tired to not feeling like I could move. I have a complex neuropathic pain condition that on the whole is well managed but likes to keep me on my toes with a flare-up every now and then. During the next 24 hours I went from feeling exhausted to being in absolute agony with a sky-high temperature. I barely moved and was too tired to be particularly concerned. After a few weeks the cough started – the more I tried to move the more I coughed and the more breathless I felt. This went on for over a month and was eventually kicked in to touch after lots of antibiotics and steroids.
Covid 19 Recovery
And so to recovery – I was expecting post-flu-type symptoms, tired but gradually day by day increase in your strength until you are back to normal. Not so with COVID – it’s more a bounce – you bounce up feel vaguely normal get reckless and do something exciting like try to hoover one room and you crash in a big unattractive breathless heap FOR DAYS!!!! It began to really get to me that I couldn’t make any progress and was constantly facing setback after setback. I’m a practical person so after this had gone on a bit I sat back and worked out what I knew, what could I do that would help me. I turned back to my Pilates training and worked out what I could use that would help me:
It’s not the first principle of the Polestar method for nothing, however simply laying on a mat and breathing deeply wasn’t going to cut it for me, largely as it made me cough so much I sounded like an angry German Shepherd.
I started to use an over ball to breathe into and this started to help me use breathing exercises as a self-diagnostic tool – with some concentration and a relaxed breathing technique I could work out which areas of my chest were struggling when I breathed into them, which areas were ok and which areas I just couldn’t connect with at all.
I then started to combine this with gentle movement exercises to open up the chest, soften and allow the ribs to move and a real gentle focus on the technique of my breathing – breathing gently in through the nose and relaxing air at through the mouth. I quite simply had to retrain my body not to gasp for air and use my full lung capacity
My body over the two months of the acute phase of COVID has turned into a curled up tense, tight ball – think Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
My peripheral nervous system had gone into defense mode and was wound up so tightly, standing up straight was a bit of a joke. But I was too tired to move? And I couldn’t go to the gym and use the equipment to support me? Oh, how I longed for those springs. I remembered the principle of Freyettes Law– there’s got to be space to move – I was wound tightly in flexion and therefore trying to move in another direction before I’d sorted that out wasn’t going to end well.
So I started little and often. In fact in the beginning I’m not sure I moved much at all but what I did was rest in a good position – not in flexion. I was curling up and becoming tighter so by simply laying on a flat surface like the floor, knees bent feet hip-distance apart- over ball behind the neck and kind of tricked my body into not being quite as curled up. After a bit I started to add in Pelvic clocks, head nods bridging, baby looks, diamond press, and then when I got a little more movement still I slowly worked in more rotation too.
Staminia? I didn’t have any. I breathed like someone carrying an extra 4 stone with COPD as soon as I tried to exert any level of energy, I would sweat a lot and end up back comatose on the sofa. The coughing came back with a vengeance and I began to get massively frustrated. I sorted my breathing, I got my body moving again using the mat why couldn’t I just up the anti?
Because breathing on the mat is completely different from breathing whilst being active, I used the exercises to regain the mobility to breathe fully but my body had forgotten how to just do it in the everyday. Once off the mat, I was falling back into the dysfunctional breathing patterns which meant exercise stamina just didn’t exist.
Pilates is about teaching you how to use your body efficiently and effectively so that the strength and mobility you build up in classes filter into the every day – that’s when you really feel the benefits. The toll COVID has taken on my body means that baby steps in increasing stamina were also needed.
In pilates classes at Chapel Allerton Pilares we teach you this without you even recognising it – an exercise that’s more challenging because we’ve subtly reduced the feedback, support, distracted you be adding a bit more complexity – can often be moving the body in the same anatomical plane of movement – we’re teaching your body how to have that become the norm by subtly increasing the challenge. So I took the same approach and weaved it not just into my Pilates time but into life as much as I could. When I sat listening to meetings at work I focussed on how I was sat and breathing, adding in bits of rotation to get the feedback, when I walked up the stairs I made a conscious effort to breathe through my nose and out through my mouth gently and over time I increased the length of the walk – really slowly. Most of all I lived in the moment of the exercise – the walk, the climb, and eventually the class to check I was setting myself up to succeed.
The road to recovery from COVID has been a long one, which at times has been frustrating but I’m lucky – I got the chance to recover and my Pilates training gave me a great set of tools to help me on the way.
If you are interested in joining a class with Liz you can book her a class via your Mind Body account via desktop or the Mind Body app. You can learn more about Liz and her teaching style here.