How to Get Past Exercise Challenges With Adaptive Tools and Pep Talks

When yoga poses get challenging, a columnist keeps looking for improvement

Lisa Weber avatar

by Lisa Weber |

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My feet were planted firmly on my turquoise yoga mat, and I felt strong as I held the Warrior 1 pose. My front foot was lunging forward as my arms were stretched up high above my head. Soft, spalike instrumentals swirled around me as the instructor’s voice guided me to place my hands on the ground and bring myself to a forward bend. I glanced at the TV to get a visual of these instructions, calling for hands and feet on the floor to make a bridge with my body.

The past gymnast inside me thinks, “This will be easy!”

In my head, I’m still agile and flexible, as I was before scleroderma started its war on my body. Without much thought, I sprang right into that pose. Only I didn’t look like the graceful, bendy yoga instructor. My hands didn’t open fully to support my weight, and my legs wouldn’t stretch straight enough to form the V-shape I was hoping to achieve.

I was grateful to be in my own home and not in a studio surrounded by strangers. It didn’t look like I was doing yoga. Instead, I looked like a crab with jointed extremities, and I couldn’t hold the pose long enough to feel a stretch. My wrists weren’t bending the way I needed them to. The pressure felt like something inside was going to snap.

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Never quit trying

Having limitations means I regularly have to make a choice: quit because it’s too difficult or find accommodations and keep going. I’m proud to say that I didn’t give up. I just had to find a way to support my body while doing stretches on my hands.

Determined to complete the 30-day yoga challenge I set for myself, I purchased two plastic handles that are normally used for pushups. Using these tools, I’m able to keep my wrists straight and shift the weight onto my hands instead. Yoga gurus would likely scold me for deviating from the proper technique, but I figure any stretch is better than no stretch!

adaptive tools | Scleroderma News | photo of two tools on a blue background. Each has a middle bar with two handles, lower, on each side.

Lisa uses pushup handles for her hands to help her hold yoga poses. (Photo by Lisa Weber)

Exercise positive thoughts

Now, my ego is a bit harder to accommodate. I want so badly to do things with ease once again. My brain still expects my body to be able to complete tasks with ease, just as it could for 36 beautiful years. When I try something and fail miserably, I have to dig deep for emotional strength.

It’s easier to see my body as broken and damaged. And it takes a lot of positive self-talk and deep breaths to not let my thoughts gravitate toward negative feelings. Those thoughts are in there, and I doubt they’ll ever go away completely.

Like any muscle, it takes mental practice to strengthen positive thoughts. When an “I can’t” thought creeps in, I shut it out with a good old-fashioned pep talk. For example, when I couldn’t hold the Downward Dog pose (aka, a front body bend), I countered with, “OK, I did great with all the other poses. I’m proud of myself for trying. Now I just need a tool to be successful with this pose tomorrow.”

Be proud of yourself for choosing to fight

I may never be able to say I’m flexible, but I can say I’m more flexible today than I was yesterday. And that’s the goal — to keep improving what I can. Scleroderma does a fantastic job of trying to slow me down. It doesn’t need any extra help from my negative thoughts. I’ll keep choosing to find ways to overcome my challenges, even if I look like a crab instead of a swan.

Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Caro Chesak avatar

Caro Chesak

Thank you for the reminder to do what we can. Prior to my diagnosis, I would run at least 12 miles a week. Now I am happy to either walk or swim laps each day. I also do some work with 5 pound weights, but not nearly as easily as in the past. But if I don't keep on it, I'm afraid my muscles will atrophy.

And the push up handles are a great idea. I also have problems with some yoga poses and have been making my own accommodations. Thanks!

sophie meerasaib avatar

sophie meerasaib

I like your positivity and would like to read more from you. me i live with the crest syndrome and scleroderma.

Joy Bobo avatar

Joy Bobo

I love your posts and the fact that you try and don't give up!
I do water aerobics and it not only feels good but gives me courage and helps me keep my lungs strong!!
I am on oxygen but when I get in the water I don't need it!! I'm not sure why the water takes over but it does and I feel so much better for the effort Amazing!!
It's not only a boost physically but mentally as well!! The friendships give me courage and seem to energize the ongoing fatigue!!
Give it a try and it will make a difference because I do believe life is what we make it to be!!//joy b

Cynthia Swartz avatar

Cynthia Swartz

ty for sharing.. im 67 and my shoulders and neck are soooo stiff and painful .. i had not been exercising so i decided how i should start .... i never was a dancer but i loved to just move with the music ... so i sat at my desk.. turned up the music and just really got into it and was able to do it for a while... i was just so happy... til the next day.... oh gosh.. i totally overdid it and could barely move..... so even tho i went way overboard i definitely believe it is best to find ways to do those thing that will make us stronger both mentally and physically .. i will keep chair dancing as it is good for me to move .... i will just not overdo and those push up handles would help me a lot too... ty so much... have a wonderful day!!


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