As the body changes, what is left is soul.
by Sage Bennet
I awake on Tuesday at 7:00 a.m., a day I will not be going to the gym. Morning light streams through the window. It’s another beautiful, southern California day. My meds have kicked in. Dopamine flows through my brain. I head toward the treadmill that is against the wall in my home office. A large print of sailboats with white sails, sandy beach, and palm trees hangs within view. I have a desire to mount this steed and ride like the wind. The promise of reducing my symptoms and slowing the progression of Parkinson’s is within reach if only I can get on the grey, steely machine and start stepping, one foot in front of the other, alternating long strides. I’ll feel better, less stiff, more mentally alert. Get on the treadmill. Instead, I’m pulled backwards in the opposite direction, into the inertia vortex of bradykinesia, slow movement, a common Parkinson’s symptom. How am I going to breakthrough to high intensity aerobic, exercise, 5-7 times a week, 60-80% of heart capacity, for 30 minutes or more, when I feel like I’m walking uphill through molasses?
Granted, it is hard to go from minus ten to 60, from bradykinesia to fast movement. Even if I have self-compassion instead blame for not breaking through to high intensity exercise, yet, I still need a solution. I need help. A prayer.
I sit at my desk writing this blog. I have repeated these Tuesday mornings all month. Even though I’ve gotten my heart rate up through circuit training and boxing, I don’t feel like I’ve broken through. I start to sink into discouragement. Then. From out of nowhere, I hear the lyrics by Andra Day:
“And I’ll rise up. I’ll rise like the day. I’ll rise up. I’ll rise unafraid. I’ll rise up. And I’ll do it a thousand times again.”
I find a youtube and blast the song over and over until I am walking fast on my treadmill, past the cramps in my legs, the tightness in my chest, one long stride after another, carried by the soul behind the words. “I’ll rise up. High like the waves. I’ll rise up In spite of the ache. I’ll rise up. And I’ll do it a thousand times again.”
(Note to self: Make a playlist.)
“Sometimes people break through and don’t even know it,” my PT guru, Claire McLean at Rogue, said. This surprised me. She recounted working with a client on the treadmill consistently over a period of time. One day he was walking at a higher mph speed than he’d ever done before. The breakthrough was unintentional and unplanned. Something similar happened to me that very day. I was warming up on the treadmill and the machine jumped to a higher intensity than I had intended. My friend, Ann, was on the treadmill next to me, jogging lightly and easily. My body followed suit and I started to jog. It was only for a few minutes but, undeniably, I was running. When I got off the treadmill I exclaimed: “One day I hope to be able to jog.” Friends at the gym reminded me: “You already did it.” My mind still had trouble grasping it. I hadn’t considered that breaking through pertains to beliefs about what is possible.
Another surprise I discovered was the positive power of anger. Not one, but two men I work out with, who have Parkinson’s, said: “Get angry –at being stuck, having Parkinson’s, the heat, or whatever. Just channel the anger into the propulsion to move forward.” I’ll try it.
Asking for help opened me to community. Each and every person I spoke to said it was hard to exercise at high intensity, and they still did it anyway, reaping great benefits. I am inspired by my fellows. Glad we journey together. “All we need, all we need is hope, and for that we have each other, for that for we have each other. And we will rise, we will rise, we’ll rise, oh, oh, we’ll rise….”
Sage Bennet, Ph.D lives in Laguna Woods with her wife, Sandy, and their two dogs, Chloe and Freddy. She teaches philosophy and world religions online and is the author of Wisdom Walk: Nine Practices for Creating Peace and Balance from the World’s Spiritual Traditions.