Moving with Strength and Freedom — Esther's Story
By Rosa Anderson - Jones
Barre Base Member, Esther Ardley, shares her story with us on her battles with scoliosis. Check out her story. She is such an inspiration!
Move with strength and freedom. This is what the banner in the Barre Base studio says and this could not be any truer for me as I believe BB has helped me to get stronger and be able to move (mostly) pain-free (which to me means freedom) which is a HUGE achievement.
Here is the story of how Barre Base is helping me manage my chronic pain and long-term condition.
These are my latest X-rays from a couple months back of my spine which got fused back in 2004. I developed scoliosis (curvature of the spine) rapidly during puberty and 4 months after diagnosis, with my spine angled at 49 degrees, I underwent major spinal surgery where they straightened and fused 9 vertebrae with parts of my hip bone, 2 titanium rods and 16 screws. Thankfully, both the surgery and recovery went well and I think being young, fit and relatively active helped this process and I was back to normal activities within 6 months post-op.
Although I kept relatively active during high school, this changed once I started uni. I had intentions of keeping fit by holding gym memberships but barely used them. I lacked the motivation and didn’t have a form of exercise that I enjoyed doing.
The surgery I had was major and it changed not only my musculoskeletal system but also my nervous and respiratory systems (the latter due to my curvature pushing against my lung).
My body had to learn to adapt to a body that had been mechanically forced into something completely different forever.
It learnt to overcompensate for the changes and it definitely didn’t help that I was doing minimal physical activity. I didn’t realise what the consequences of this major surgery would be as it has forever messed up my body’s neuromuscular system from neck to toe including sciatica, disc bulges, migraines and chronic back pain. I know for sure now that being so inactive during recent years contributed towards the increasing pain which started to affect my daily activities. But there was no point in being sad about this when I knew I needed to decide for myself once and for all that I needed to take some steps to do something about this. I needed to take some action to get fitter, healthier and stronger. I knew strengthening my core and back were going to be the key things to focus on to make sure my weak and vulnerable back was supported.
Around the end of 2016 was when I decided it was time to do something about it and although I knew I would never be pain-free, I needed to get to a stage where I felt my health was better managed. I started by increasing my walking during my lunch breaks and walking home from work. This was a good start but I knew I needed something more.
I had seen Barre Base Facebook posts now and then but I had no idea what they were about. I did some research, watched videos of the sort of things they got up to in class, got intrigued and finally got in contact with them. They were very welcoming and I appreciated the instructors wanting to understand my condition and helping me carefully get started with their classes.
I started coming along to BB in January 2017 (back in the uni and church hall days!), starting with the beginners class once a week. When I first started coming along, I hadn’t done any sort of body weight training in several years so during these early days, muscles that I didn’t know existed burned and at this stage, it was just about getting through the class and getting through each last damn pulse. However, I enjoyed how the classes were low impact on my body yet included high-intensity interval conditioning exercises and were fun! I quickly realised not only how weak and inflexible my body was but also realised how unaware of my posture and alignment I was.
I found myself wanting more so I started going to classes twice a week and started feeling a buzz that I had never felt while exercising.
I had never had this feeling where I was motivated and excited to go to each class. Of course, it was really hard work and got such a burn at every class and was sore for days afterwards but I started differentiating this as ‘good’ sore compared to my usual horrid ‘bad’ pain. I was so excited to feel so motivated to go to each class as I could tell I was slowly getting stronger and more flexible whilst not being hard on my back.
So I was pretty devastated when one of my specialists advised me to stop exercising while undergoing a neuromuscular stabilisation rehab program. During rehab, I learnt how bad my body condition had gotten and further emphasised how weak and unstable my spine and back muscles had gotten. Over the next 6 months, I constantly longed to go back to BB and once I realised how I felt, I realised that I had found a form of exercise that I was motivated to go back to and truly enjoy which was a new and strange feeling for me.
I’ve now been back at BB for 12 months and attend 3-4 classes per week. I love how I have learnt how to not only strengthen my core but also find ways to use it to support the rest of my body both during class and also when doing usual daily activities. It’s only really been in the past month or so that I think I have finally found my deep core and how to really use it - so it has taken a while but now that I have found and strengthened it, it’s pretty exciting! This is a pretty awesome thing to achieve as my specialist had told me that I had developed a weak dysfunctional diaphragm which of course is important for core.
Additionally, I can feel the rest of my body getting stronger too - glutes, legs (had no idea about inner thighs before BB!), back, arms and even my pelvic floor.
I’ve also noticed that I have become more aware of my body’s posture and alignment which is obviously quite important for someone with a bad back.
Now that I’ve built up strength and flexibility, classes aren’t just about just getting through each pulse and bouncing away. I’m understanding what the instructors say about using our sitting bones and bringing them together, engaging our deep core, using the connections and using the power of the breath to help me go further. As you’d expect with a fused back, there are some modifications that I need to make with some of the moves but the teachers are really good at guiding you through these. I enjoy the fun, welcoming and energetic environment that is provided whilst getting a good fun workout.
I have recently started branching out to the variety of classes that are offered such as Barre Sweat and Self-care Sunday and I think this variety in classes and the addition of specialised workshops is great to mix things up and also to give my body a good stretch and some TLC during the Self-care Sunday sessions. All of the instructors are so helpful and are wonderful in their own ways and they know how to push you just enough through the classes.
I’m so happy now to be able to say that both the intensity and frequency of my back and associated nerve pain has decreased dramatically, especially over the past 6-9 months and this has made such a positive difference in my usual daily activities and quality of life. I really do believe that BB has been a big part in this huge achievement.
This feeling of looking forward to classes and getting an itch for that burn and workout is a foreign yet very welcome feeling for me.
Although at times I kick myself for not taking control of my health sooner, I think I needed to go through some deterioration in my health for me to really make the decision to help myself. And hey, if it wasn’t for the circumstances I went through, I may not have found BB!
2 main things I credit to having had a relatively painless year are:
- Undergoing behavioural change in myself where I needed to make the decision to do something about it, developing a new routine and sticking with it.
- Finding the right tools (like BB) to help me get fitter and stronger to help achieve a healthier me that is now relatively pain-free compared to 2-3 years ago.
I’m not letting this ‘screwed’ spine get in the way of my life again and I hope this motivates someone especially those with a chronic condition to consider taking that extra step to try something that I believe has been a key element in improving my quality of life.
And to the Barre Base team, thank you, thank you thank you for all of your hard work and for providing an environment that has allowed me to see a brighter future that involves a lot less pain.