A Gem for My Axial Spondyloarthritis: Somatics!
Before my diagnosis, every week I was going to the gym, playing squash, and badminton. I would not get any "side effects" from high impact activities apart from achy muscles the next day. I guess having axial spondyloarthritis (AxSpA) has changed my approach to exercise and how to make me feel good in my body instead of in pain.
Mixing up yoga with integrated Somatics
My first taste of Somatics practice was a series of classes of somatic movement integrated with yoga. I was attracted by this new approach, revisiting some simple movement at a slower pace and consciousness to notice what really happens in the body when we move our limbs, shoulders, neck or the lower spine for example. I did a couple of series of these somatic yoga classes, one focusing on upper body and one on the lower body. We would work on that part of the body for 90 minutes each week over a period of 6 weeks. So, I had the time to explore the movements, find new range of movement, and notice what felt different over the course of the class and the benefit for my body and my mind.
The benefits from Somatics and listening to my body
The revelation of the power of Somatics happened for me this year! During the first lockdown, I got the opportunity to join an online class of Somatics run by someone who has AS. So the sessions are tailored made for people like me and the coach has this awareness about the condition which makes a difference when we practice together. It’s been a fabulous experience to practice Somatics weekly and work on my awareness of how my body functions. Particularly, how some old habits, ways of moving don’t serve us anymore and require more energy than necessary.
The approach aims to retrain the brain and the muscles (including the connections between the brain and muscles) to move at an optimal range without wasting energy. I realized the potential for a better range movement and a greater ease of movement in this practice by showing up regularly on the mat and spending time exploring and noticing. I have now practiced Somatics for the past nine months and I can feel the long-term benefit for my posture, my range of movement and a positive impact on the level of pain in my joints.
Recently, I felt pain in my hips, maybe due to too much sitting at home, working at the computer. I got worried. I contacted my Somatic coach and I described to him the symptoms. He was reassuring and told me we would do specific movement for the hips at the next Somatics class which could certainly help. I felt better after speaking to him, and I attended the following class. It was like magical, my hip pain almost disappeared straight after the class. It was probably some tightness due to static lifestyle we all have now. Even if I try to stay active and go for a walk every day, it’s hard for the hips all this siting time. This was a sign that I should look after my hips more closely.
My movement therapy has changed over the years
In the past few years, I have tried several body therapies. I went for a Rolfing session with a therapist which was interesting. The work is focusing on the facia or connective tissue of the body to heal and create more alignment in the body. I also attended few sessions of Felfenkrais practice which has similarities in the approach with Somatics. We work at slow pace and reconnect with the body and learn ways to move with greater efficiency. It seems this kind of approach and pace suits my new body. Still, Somatics is my favorite practice. It also makes me work on the connection body and mind which I think plays an important role in my wellbeing and ability to manage my AxSpa. Now I see myself, body and mind as whole and I look for holistic approach in the management of my symptoms.
If you want to find out more about Somatics, here are some links:
Does reading AxSpA patient stories help you in your journey?