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What My Version of 'Fit' Looks Like as Someone With Chronic Illness

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I’ve never been a particularly athletic person. Group sports always made me nervous, and I spent most of gym class in elementary and high school running away from whatever ball was flying my way.

I found that even though I didn’t like sports, I still liked certain types of exercise. I fell in love with multiple types of yoga and dance. I was lucky because my college gym offered many different free exercise classes, and I was able to try Zumba, hip-hop, belly dancing and power yoga. In my senior year, I even joined the pole dance club (yes, it exists and it is awesome) and discovered how flexible I am.

I loved my routine, and my various fitness classes also offered an outlet for me to relieve stress and anxiety. The problem was that even though I had found which forms of exercise suited me, I wasn’t always able to go to the classes. I was also battling chronic illness, and during college I seemed to always be in between surgeries or preparing for a procedure or on a new medical diet.

This was definitely not conducive for developing a healthy fitness routine. I always felt compelled to go to class, even if I was dizzy or really not feeling up to it. I was pretty hard on myself, and would genuinely be upset if I had to miss a class, especially dance, because of my health.

Once I graduated and moved to New York for my job, I no longer had the convenience of a free, unlimited gym membership. I now had to decide if I had the money, time and health to join a new gym or studio.

I was also heading towards surgery, so I decided I couldn’t commit to a membership yet. I also wasn’t ready for any strenuous activity. I discovered Yoga to the People, a fantastic group of yoga studios that offer completely affordable and lovely yoga classes.

Since there is no membership involved, I am able to keep a set of yoga-friendly clothes at work and go to class when I am feeling up to it. If that means once a week, or less, I have learned to accept my limits.

Once I was cleared by my surgeon to start exercising again after my surgery, I joined the dance studio I had been eyeing for months. They offer all kinds of aerial fitness classes, from pole to hoop to fabrics. I joined for just one month, which I just finished.

I used my limited number of classes to continue learning pole, and to try something completely new. If you aren’t familiar with aerial fabrics, also known as silks, it is more of a form of acrobatics than dance. I had never attempted to climb fabrics before, and had no idea if my post-surgery body would like being flipped upside down.

woman performing fabrics pose during dance class
Executing my fabrics pose and proud of it!

I think that dealing with chronic illness has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, since illness itself is uncomfortable. I was nervous to try fabrics, but it wasn’t as scary as an operating room. I wasn’t able to do every single trick, of course, but I began making progress.

One of the instructors spoke with me after my second class, since I had been hard on myself during class when I was unable to execute a certain climbing move. The other students had been able to do it, but I couldn’t get my body up so high on the fabrics yet.

He made sure I acknowledged what I had been able to accomplish during class. My form had improved significantly, and I was actually really proud of myself. So what if my body couldn’t quite do everything yet? I began accepting what I could do instead of focusing on what I could not.

As I continue healing, my ability to attend dance classes and excel in them will increase. For now, I’m accepting that there are good days and bad days, and that being healthy does not mean working out all the time. It means knowing my limits, and only pushing them when I am feeling up to it. That acceptance has helped change my entire attitude towards working out, and that feels pretty good.

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Originally published: December 2, 2016
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