I published the following article earlier this summer, after the passing of Mohammed Ali. I was inspired by the many different interviews and news clips of his life from his rise to his supposed fall, although there was never really a fall. He went from the greatest in his sport to the greatest in grace living with a chronic illness. I’ve had some tough days lately and I needed a solid reminder of what I have been wanting to accomplish, what I was working for, what I was working toward. We all carry a heavy load and we all need to rest. I needed to reread my own work to remind myself of this. You might too. Enjoy…
With the recent passing of Muhammad Ali, I’ve been drawn to watching interviews recounting his fascinating life. He was a gifted man, on many levels. I find myself really enjoying the spontaneity of his iconic poetic rhymes that were so appropriate and so eloquent (and sometimes shocking!) wherever he was speaking. I appreciate wit and cleverness, it’s what keeps us on our toes and makes life a lot more interesting than we intended it to be sometimes. Muhammad Ali was renowned in his sport and for the cultural shift he created to instill & manifest a new self-confidence in his era. Standing up for what you believe in, who you believe you are. He should also be renowned for how he lived his best life after his career ended. During one of the interviews when they were talking about Ali’s turn in health at the young age of 42, the host remarked, “can you imagine God striking down the most mobile person on the planet? I wonder what was going on in his mind and in his soul.” I know what might be crossing your mind right now and I agree: that is an intense quote. The words instantly resonated with me. For once, I did not feel alone. If The Greatest could handle his changed life with grace, then so could I. It was justification that each choice I make toward wellness was worth it, even when it seemed hard. I can’t believe it took watching a Muhammad Ali interview to experience this epiphany. Even through the support of family and friends, we all hear what we need to hear when we are ready to hear it. Have you heard that before? Wink, wink.
Me, I was struck down with multiple sclerosis in my early 30’s. The MS progressed rapidly by the time I reached 40. Unable to walk unassisted left me unable to do much of what I wanted to do and what I loved to do. It took away my independence, my spontaneity, and it tried to chip away my spirit. When I dreamed of my future, I don’t recall writing the chapter this way in my mind. Living with advanced MS was never how I imagined my prime years. Obviously. We never write the hard stuff. It writes itself into our own stories. As I’ve grown into my disability it’s become clear that there are always two choices: I can laugh or I can cry. Regardless of age or ability, we’re all given this choice.
It is easy to focus on the fact that I cannot walk, cannot move my legs, cannot playfully chase my young children. No more running, no more high heels. It is easy to feel heartbroken about it. It is hard to accept a sudden change that I didn’t agree to.
As we grow older in our lives, let’s be honest, our bodies do start to do funny things. While the aches and pains, physical disabilities great or small, or in Ali’s case Parkinson’s disease, and so on, are all very real, it is very easy to get caught up in the daily struggles and believe that what we’re currently doing to take care of ourselves is not working. We then let go and revert to our same habits of eating poorly, not giving our bodies enough rest, not consistently taking our medications or wellness supplements and not exercising as we should. We all set out with the right intention but we’re not patient enough to see the results. There was a baseball movie some years ago, Field of Dreams, in which this line became famous, “If you build it, they will come.” What you feed yourself today whether it be mind, body or soul, is so vitally important in determining the good days ahead. The circle of our lives is one phase after another and it is never too late to give your body the best.
My disability is incurable and progressive. I’m still working on accepting that concept. I’m a fixer by nature. In addition to seeing my team of doctors regularly and following a medical plan, I have also tapped into many natural health alternatives to maintain my overall health for as long as possible. You see, my legs are failing me and somewhere along my journey I realized that life is still OK. I realized that peace is living life as it is, not as you think it should be. I had decided that I wasn’t going to cry. I was going to laugh.
We can adopt healthier ways throughout our lives. The foundation is there and it is our individual choice whether we build a mind, body and spirit fortress or not. Outside of conventional medicine, I follow this approach and wanted to share some ideas that have helped me over hurdles. They represent pillars in my life that I can control regardless of physical challenges, and regardless if I am strolling on my own two feet or rolling in a wheelchair.
Keeping your body nourished throughout the day with fiber, nuts, fruit, good solid protein and water will give you the energy you need to feel satisfied and strong. When we let our bodies go hungry or consume junk foods, our digestive systems react as well as our body’s natural sugar balance. We’ve all felt the shakes, tummy grumbles, and weakness. It doesn’t feel good. Here is my favorite simple snack that you can prepare quickly or make ahead to munch on in between meals:
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup almond or peanut butter (depending on preference)
1/2 cup of chocolate chips
1/3 cup raw honey
1/4 cup of ground flaxseed
Method: in a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Roll out teaspoon sized balls and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Freeze until set for 1 hour. Enjoy and keep leftovers in a Ziploc bag in fridge (or the freezer, however thaw before eating). Feel like adding more? Go ahead! Raisins, dried cranberries, or finely chopped nuts are all wonderful additions or substitutes. A serving size is two energy bites.
Consider finding a place to sit in quietness on a daily basis. No TV, no music, no distraction. This means sitting comfortably, in an upright position if possible, closing your eyes and focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. Let your thoughts float by. Be an observer of your thoughts. You can use the visualization of sitting on a porch and watching a parade. Your thoughts are the parade. Just watch them march along. And most importantly, assign no judgement to what you’re feeling or thinking. Acknowledge your thoughts and keeping breathing. This practice is a form of meditation. The purpose of this practice is analogous to hitting a reset button. The gentle breath in and out brings you into the present moment, without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. You can do 5 minutes or 30 minutes, there is no requirement.
If time is a limitation or you need to hit that reset button throughout the day, another powerful tool is the Cleansing Breath. Very simply, take in one deep breath, hold it for a moment and slowly exhale. Do it once, twice or however many times you need to re-center yourself.
You should always consult your doctor to ensure that your exercise plan fits your current health. Many exercise programs can be modified for all abilities. For a moment, let’s drop the word exercise and focus on movement. Stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, and resistance training can all be done standing, seated or on the floor. While endurance can be a challenge, performing constant movement in short bursts of 5 – 15 minute increments throughout the day is equally effective as one 30 minute session. Resistance movement 2 – 3 times per week is ideal. For those of us that are seated, or if you are watching TV, sitting outside, or upon rising in the morning at your bedside try these two simple arm movements for resistance, flexibility and posture improvement:
The Field Goal: sitting upright, drop your hands to your sides, arms straight. Without bending your elbows, gently and slowly raise your arms straight up and down, extending your arms and really reaching up toward the ceiling. Monitor your posture during this exercise and raise your arms to the highest of your ability. Repeat 8 – 12 times.
The Goal Post: Sitting upright, put your arms up, elbows bent, as if you pretending to be a goal post. Once again monitor your posture and gently press your elbows back, pressing your shoulder blades together to stretch your chest. Hold for a count of 8 and then rest. Repeat a few times.
I’ve never been a fan of the term “bucket list” but now are the prime years to reflect back and take action on things you’ve always wanted to do. Try taking some time to make a list of everything that makes you happy. And if you find yourself saying, “I can’t do that,” try saying, “how can I do this?” We can all make adaptations in our lives that still fulfill our dreams. Go get the goal, don’t just set it. You will never regret doing.
The foundation for creating joy is all about choices. And choices are answered when you set an intention. A good intention + good choices = well-being. This is the formula. If you don’t identify an intention, what good are your choices? An intention can be as simple as one word. Like wellness or strength or peace. When I begin my routine each day my intention is to live well. When I acknowledge that I want to live well, I choose my time, my food and my activities based on living well. This takes constant work. I am human too and I derail from time to time. That’s when you enjoy the moment, forgive yourself and look toward the next good choice.
Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Great in boxing and great in grace. Well, I am here to tell you, whether you are strolling or rolling: you’re The Greatest in your own life too. Be well.