Exploring the potential of Tai Chi and qigong exercises to aid the genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS).
Instructor Nicola lives with hypermobility EDS, you can read her journey in health here. Living with a different health base-line from the norm comes with plenty of challenges, from physical to emotional and psychological. Nicola's real life experience of life with EDS alongside her study of Tai Chi, Qigong and meditation have given her a unique insight into self-care and self-management of chronic and degenerative health.
"Without my personal practice of Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga and meditation, I would not be able to function in any capacity. I use movement and stillness to help ease the symptoms of EDS, especially chronic pain, chronic muscular and soft tissue contraction and chronic fatigue. Well aligned frequent exercise is the most important part of my health management plan. I have used my own body as a guinea pig for the last decade, searching for natural alternatives to extend my quality of 'physical' life. So far, across all therapies available, my own movement has the most value in my progress. By progress I mean slowing the degeneration as I age. When I stop my healthy movement practices my physical body rapidly declines, which affects every aspect of my life. Although my life base line is quite delicate to balance even with the emphasis on the mind and body arts, I am sure that I would be in a very difficult stage without them. My heart goes out to you all. As one of my students once said; travel with hope."
Classifications - Types of EDS
There are 13 types in total. Visit the following webpage for more details.
Important aspects of Tai Chi & Qigong exercises for hypermobile EDS
- Joint stability.
- Posture correction.
- Fascia and soft tissue release through deep spiralling movements.
- Lengthening of the (tight un-elastic) connective tissue.
- No-impact movements.
- Chronic and acute pain management.
- Gentle yet powerful movements that help the muscles to relax, releasing of physical tension.
- Learning to understand pain and work with it in a healthy way.
- Postural awareness / proprioception (knowing where you body is in space or knowing how your limbs are oriented to your body).
- Reduction in the risk of injury, subluxation and dislocation.
- Speedier recovery from injury.
- Slow and controlled movements to calm the central nervous system.
- Moving the body in a shorter range of motion.
- Learning to understand pain and work with it in a healthy way.
- Strengthen the muscles around the joints.
- Lubricate the joints through expansion and compression movements.
- Management of pain-insomnia and chronic fatigue.
- Increase the function of all body systems; lymph, circulatory, hormone, organ health, immune system etc.
- Learn methods to help cope with life changes, resistance, stress, frustration, anxiety and depression.
- Learn to be compassionate to yourself.
- Learn how and why to move the body in alignment.
- Detox the body through movement.
- Slow and deep breathing for improved physiological function, easing mental stresses and releasing physical tension.
- Allowances for ebb and flow in life.
- Accessible to everyone, no matter mobility or age (seated, standing, lying down).
Challenges to expect when starting a Tai Chi practice
With an experienced instructor, you can be guided through the challenges that will crop up as a beginner Tai Chi and Qigong student (living with EDS). The body will react to a new exercise programme and will respond typically with chronic/acute pain and fatigue. Previously injured or weak areas in the physical body may flare up. This is normal and is often called the body's 'healing response'. Beginners will go through an adjustment period over the first few months as the body learns and adapts to new movements.
It is not uncommon for beginner Tai Chi and Qigong students to give up in the first few weeks complaining of pain in their posture. When you are learning to correct your posture through Tai Chi and Qigong practice, initially some areas of the body will be unhappy with your movements as you are making habitual postural errors. An example is the knees and the lower back. With the correct alignment the pressure is off the knees and away from the lower back. If they cause you pain in your Tai Chi and Qigong training then you know you are doing something incorrectly. Your instructor will teach you how to align the body in a safe way, they will teach you the difference between good and bad pain, why we should align the body in a particular way and what to expect in the learning process. With this knowledge you then can listen and observe the body during your practice, making corrections through trial and error as the body gives you feedback. In this way the instructor gives you the tools that you then learn how to use by yourself. It takes time to adjust, please allow yourself the time and patience to explore Tai Chi and Qigong fully, working through the challenges with a positive mindset.
Your instructor will also guide you with the 70% rule, not pushing your body past it's capacity. This is especially relevant when living with EDS, as your resources are limited. Learning to pace your exercises and work with the ebb and flow of health is important. We do not encourage the body to be pushed to the limit. Instead we warm the body up slowly over time at a pace that is tailored to the individual. In this way you make Tai Chi and Qigong your own and will have much more longevity and enjoyment from the journey. It is not about watching and following your instructor at all costs, it's about learning what is a healthy movement for your body.
When living with EDS it is important to seek guidance from a professional Tai Chi and Qigong instructor as you embark on a new exercise and fitness programme. It is not recommended to follow DVDs. Tai Chi and Qigong movements are sophisticated and efficient as they offer a different way of training the body on a much deeper level than gym exercises. Once you have learned the basic foundations of an aligned posture and how to move correctly in a slow and deliberate way, you will start to experience the benefits in both the mind and body.
Tai Chi and EDS Resources
My personal natural recommendations/experience of what helps life with hypermobile EDS (and the myriad of symptoms)*
- Daily flexibility, mobility and strengthening exercises (non-impact, Tai Chi, Qigong, adapted yoga and swimming).
- Regular hands on physical therapy: deep tissue massage, Swedish massage and physiotherapy.
- Using straps, soft and hard braces as little as possible, to avoid atrophy of the muscles.
- Infra-red heat treatment, sauna and steam rooms.
- Professional homeopathy consultation and treatment.
- Professional acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
- Rest and sleep.
- Awareness and correction of posture in your daily life, sitting down, lying down, standing, walking, driving, watching TV etc.
- Meditation, breathing and stillness practices.
- Zechstein magnesium flakes for the bath to release tense muscles, and/or spray for local application on the skin.
- MSM organic sulphur powder to transport oxygen more efficiently in the body, to increase cellular health and to promote healing and reduction of scar tissue.
- MSM sulphur also helps with extreme hay fever as it helps to block the membrane in the nasal passage. This comes from the 'thin skin' associated with EDS and intolerances that arise such as intolerance to light, sound, caffeine, pharmaceuticals and anaesthesia etc.
- Combine MSM sulphur with Vitamin C powder to rejuvenate collagen (taken separately).
- Diatomaceous earth powder for the digestive system, detoxing, control internal parasites and improve bone health.
- Good nutrition, organic food, good levels of protein with fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Drinking and cooking water filter to remove heavy metals, nitrates, chlorine, antibiotics and hormones.
- Self expression through art and creativity.
- Being self responsible in the management of your health baseline.
- Acceptance, kindness and grace.
* Please seek medical advice from a professional before introducing supplements or changes into your routine. These are my personal recommendations only, I am not a doctor and do not give medical advice.