For someone who has had to learn to listen to her body, I think in some ways I'm quite out of touch with how it feels. It makes sense, when my pain levels were so high that pain killers stopped working, when I was hurting so badly I thought I might be sick, then the only way I found to cope was to distance myself from the pain and the aching, to separate myself from the body that contained and trapped me.
The problem is it means I spend most of my life in my head, thinking, thinking, thinking; but very little time actually feeling my body, being aware of my limbs, especially my legs, where I end and the world begins.
Today for the first time in a very long time I actually tuned in to my body, as it is now, without the fear of the pain or aches and I did this during a Nia class that my friend, Anne Francis, invited me to.
Nia stands for neuromuscular integrative action and that was about all I knew when Mum and I went along today to Anne's Seated and Adapted class. I wasn't sure what to expect; but I guessed it would be some sort of yoga, stretching type class. I was both right and wrong.
I guessed things were going to be a bit different when Anne wheeled in a big speaker, plugged her phone in and started blasting
out a funky song with a catchy, fast beat - not relaxation music at all, no wailing whales or chanting monks in site! I find that when I listen to music I begin to move naturally anyway - not dance, let me be clear I don't think I can dance, it's more of a getting caught up in the feeling and flow, not something I would ever want anyone else to see; but it feels good to me. I guessed that the class was going to be fun and I was disappointed!
We sat in a circle, on chairs - no creaking and groaning trying to get on and off the floor for us! Shoes off, bare feet on the ground, Mum and I sat glancing at each other wondering what would come next. We didn't have to wait long, Anne began to lead the class and we followed her instructions which were so simple and easy to copy a child could do it - actually a child might be a little more coordinated than we were; but it wasn't difficult and as Anne says "You can't do it wrong, every person is unique and the way we do Nia is too, so celebrate the uniqueness." I think the best move was picking fruit behind you, a simple spinal twist; but it was elegant and graceful, no stretching, pushing or over-extending. It just felt easy and effortless.
Once you relaxed, forgetting about other people or what you looked like and let go it was fun, I know that I was smiling a lot and laughing when I didn't do quite what I thought I was meant to. The pace picked up and I could feel my body working; but I soon realised I could slow it down and adapt it to my own abilities. I loved the part when I was closing my eyes and just letting my body move to the music, gradually working everything from one ankle upwards and then back down again. I suddenly was tuning in to parts of me I take for granted on a daily basis, sensing the tension, the stiffness, the release. It wasn't frightening or painful, it was like an awakening.
There were areas that ached or felt tender and for those I changed what I was doing, reduced the movement or stopped altogether; but that was the joy of Nia over other exercises, where you feel you have to do exactly what everyone else does to keep up. For this you could do your own thing and enjoy it.
My absolute favourite bit was the relaxation at the end, relaxing into my body, feeling my breath - an extension of the meditation I do daily; but it was lovely and I came out feeling incredibly chilled, my body all floppy and zen-ed out! So relaxed in fact I came home and slept for three hours, which was bliss and I still feel very calm and chilled now.
I had a great time and I'm looking forward to going back.
To read more about Nia go here...
To find out more about Anne's classes in Norfolk go here...
To find out a bit more about me and what I do go here...
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.