Saturday, August 2, 2008

Things to do while on the disabled list

I've spent a lot of time in the hospital being treated for leukemia and then recuperating at home with low energy, and along the way I discovered ways to maintain some type of fitness.

If you're confined to a hospital room or if you can't move around much at home, you can always do a little gentle yoga. A hospital nurse showed me how to do some easy poses in the bed, and I also remembered some chair yoga from a Rodney Yee video on back care. You can just sit in the chair and gently twist from side to side, or do a similar twist lying down or sitting up in the bed. Also good in a chair is simply keeping one foot on the floor and then placing the opposite heel, flexed, over the knee for a good stretch, doing the same on the other side. Also in the chair, you can bend over and let your arms and head dangle.

Back in the bed, you can lie on one side, then the other, and do some leg lifts. You could also use a pair of pajama pants or whatever else is lying around to make a strap. Then lie on your back, raise one leg at a time, and place the "strap" in the arch of your foot while anchoring the strap in you hands. You can also do both legs, raised, at a time. This provides a good stretch. Ankle rotations are also helpful.

Sit-ups in the bed, as many or as few as you're comfortable with, help maintain your core strength.

You can keep some arm strength by doing wall push-ups. Shoulder rolls are a good relaxer, and stretching always helps. Some days I threw in a few wall squats, putting my back against the wall and then doing the motion of sitting down in a chair and staying there for as long as I could.

When I was in the hospital, sometimes for weeks at a time, I tried to walk every day, and sometimes I rode a stationery bike. When I couldn't leave the pod, I walked back repeating healing and calming words in my mind. The nurses usually had an idea of how many lengths constituted a mile; on one larger pod it was 44; on a smaller pod it was 54. Walking while counting helped me to take a break from worrying.

When my blood counts fell, my "yoga" nurse, a muscular, friendly man named Julio (sorry, never knew last name), suggested I send love to my white blood cells. So I did it while I walked.

Mary Jane Ott, a nurse practitioner whom I first met while she worked in the pain and palliative care division, was now working more with children. But she had become a big support and always seemed to find me in the hospital. She's so serene that just being around her, you begin to relax. She brought me a multi-colored sign reading BREATHE. We put it up on the wall as a reminder to do what we sometimes forget. Well, we don't actually forget, but when you pause to be aware of your breath, or count each inhale and exhale to 10 or more and back, you calm down. She also showed me some bed yoga, and one time while I was all clenched up and shivering from a fever, she sat by me and talked me through a relaxation technique until I unclenched.

Sometimes I practiced my tennis swing, without a racquet of course. I went through the forehand and backhand motion, visualizing the path of the ball. I knew I looked pretty silly, so I tried to do it when nobody was looking.

If you look for some of the positives in not being able to do much at home or being in the hospital, they include having the time to meditate and NOT having the distractions that make you jump up and do something else. The better I feel and the more activities I do, the least likely I am to sit quietly. I think about making dinner, walking the dog, doing the wash or whatever, and before I know it I've jumped up. (I know, gotta work on that.)

The internet and bookstores are filled with books and CDs about meditation. I found the most success with the shorter mindfulness CDs made by Jon Kabbat-Zinn, the well-known author on the topic of mindfulness. His Series 1, a set of 45-minute CDs, is good for more advanced practitioners, but if you're an antsy person like I am, you'll have better luck with Series 2, which offers a choice of shorter meditations. They are definitely helpful for calming down. I learned about another helpful site,, that has a wide range of CDs and videos on health and healing, by practitioners including Kabbat-Zinn, Bernie Siegel, Emmett Miller and Belleruth Naparstek. Many include guided imagery and meditation. I even has one on bone marrow and stem cell transplantation! I ordered it but haven't tried it yet. The description: "This imagery uses powerful metaphors of rescue, rebirth and resurrection, cushioning the rigors of chemo with evocative images of love, protection and support, and instilling hope, energy, comfort and patience during the recovery period." Sounds good to me.


pj said...

Good tips, Ronni. Like you, I regularly exercised and stretched within the confines of my hospital room. It really helps fight against muscle atrophy, and I think it's good for your appetite and your mental state.

mandy pants, nyc said...

Your strength and ingenuity are really impressive. I've always admired you for your lovely grace and charm, and you write really well to boot! Love ya, Manda

Stretchyogacenter said...

I am so impressed by your strength and focus on staying well through the hard times, Ronni.
I know that we chatted over the phone, and I hope that I was helpful in talking to you about how important breathing practices are for stress and positive energy.
For those that don't know me, I am own Stretch Yoga Center in Granby. I am certified and trained to teach adaptive yoga to people with life threatening illnesses. I was trained at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in Paradise Island, Bahamas, by Nicschala Joy Devi (Yoga of the Heart). She developed the yoga program for Dean Ornish M.D. who has been recognized as reversing heart disease.
I recommend checking into Nischala Joy Devi. She has workshops all over the world as has been to Kripalu in Lenox MA. She was a huge inspiration to me, and has a heart of gold. She almost reminded me of a Mother Theresa.
Recommended reading- The Healing Path of Yoga.
She also has a set of CD's that help to relax, use imagery and meditate.