With depression, my muscles ache and it’s hard to move. With mania, my body gets dragged along for the ride as my mind takes over. Finding the right exercise program was a trial-and-error process, until I found the missing piece.
The Physical Impact of Bipolar
Being depressed feels like being trapped under a heavy wool blanket. The immense weight of the world feels unbearably oppressive. My muscles and bones ache, and I feel stiff and immobilized. I often can’t move my Body enough to get myself off the sofa or out of the house. When I’m manic, blindingly bright electrical impulses fire rapidly through my head. Ideas dart around in my frenetic mind so rapidly that I can’t enjoy life. I can’t even sit still. In both scenarios, my body gets lost in the whirlwind created by my bipolar mind. It’s like I become my mind, and nothing else.
My medications are key, but unless I manage my physical well-being, they can only do so much. I need a solid foundation for my treatment plan to work. When I’m in the middle of a manic or depressive episode, simple things like sleep, food, and Exercise go out the window. Yet those are crucial building blocks for those of us with bipolar. Trying to find the right exercise program has been a long journey for me.
My Exercise Journey
I tried cardio kickboxing three years ago. The 50-minute workouts were intense and grueling. The environment was extremely competitive. I don’t know if it’s a bipolar thing or a “me” thing, but I go too far beyond my limits when I sense competition. I looked at the twenty-somethings, fists flying, ponytails slapping the air, and I pushed myself to keep up. I didn’t listen to my body when something started to hurt; I sustained a lower back injury, and I had to quit.
I joined a gym two years ago so I could get cardio and strength training from the treadmill and weights. The problem was, I was in charge of managing myself. I alone devised my exercise regime. Even if I’m not having a full-blown episode, I still operate in extremes. I’d go months without putting on a pair of trainers, then I’d get a burst of energy and exercise overzealously for two hours at a time. I injured myself repeatedly, and I had to cancel my gym membership.
It’s competitive drive that inspires athletes to achieve great things. Many forms of exercise encourage you to push through pain to achieve results. That seems to work well for lots of people. But I have bipolar. I’m not “most people.” I often set unrealistic goals for myself, and I ignore my body when my brain is on overdrive. I take things like exercise too far.
So, what’s the solution? Take smaller kickboxing classes? Get a personal trainer? Sure, but there’s still a missing connection between my mind and my body.
Connecting Mind and Body
That’s why I love Yoga. Yoga helps me feel calm and centered by forcing me to slow down and focus on my breath, while paying attention to how I feel physically and emotionally. Yoga moves slowly enough for me to build muscle safely, because I’m not throwing myself every which way and that at breakneck speed. Getting into poses and holding them gives me satisfying stretches, and time to reflect on how I feel—both inside and out—while I’m in the pose. Because yoga involves movement, I’m not in any one position for too long, so I don’t have time to ruminate on negative thoughts.
Yoga has helped me build core strength better than any other exercise has. Strengthening my core has strengthened my core, if you get my drift. I feel more balanced internally when I sit up straight and hold my body with purpose, even when I’m at rest. Yoga is all about balance, so every pose has a variety of counter poses that prevent injury and preserve symmetry. Balancing my body helps me achieve equilibrium in my mind.
I do yoga at a studio with small classes, so I can get individual attention from the instructor. If I’m doing something wrong, the teacher helps me correct it. The hour I dedicate to my yoga classes is a welcome respite from the stress and triggers in my life. I leave feeling peaceful, strong, and centered. I’ve found it to be the perfect intersection between exercise and meditation. It was the missing puzzle piece in my treatment plan.
I encourage you to find what form of healthy exercise works best for your needs. It took years for me to realize I needed to bridge the gap between my mind and my body in order to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Just like finding the right medications, it may take trial and error before you figure out what works best. Once you find a form of exercise that gives you a sense of inner strength and peace, stick with it, you won’t be disappointed.
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