Since the age of ten I remember being poorly, plagued by constant allergies, sinusitis and recurring bronchitis. These then developed into severe asthma at the age of twenty-two. Even as I was learning to lead a ‘normal’ life being in and out of hospitals I developed hashimoto’s thyroiditis at the age of thirty-one. Chronic illness, it seemed, was my cross to bear so I tried to accept it and get on with it.
But then three years ago, I hit rock bottom. I woke up one regular autumn morning and found myself unable to get out of bed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t summon the strength so much as lift my head off the pillow. Perhaps, I was coming down with something I thought. It was the flu season after all, and my immune system wasn’t great even at the best of times.
I lay in bed as my twelve year old daughter got ready for school and left. I must have fallen asleep again, straightaway, for the next thing I remember is the doorbell ringing. It was eight hours later, my daughter was back from school and I still couldn’t get up. Through sheer willpower I rolled out of bed on to the floor. Too weak to stand up, I then crawled to the top of the stairs and slowly slid down one step at a time. It had taken every reserve in my body to get the door. I expected to be burning with fever or coming down with a cold but, there was none of that. Just a lifeless body. I panicked.
The next few days and months are a blur. I remember being taken to the GP, then visits to consultants, the blood tests and scans as we all tried to figure out what was wrong. After the initial few days I could now get out of bed but go so far as the kitchen. The fatigue had become so bad now that I had started to slur my words. Silently I feared the worst. Lupus, MS, Cancer, the dreaded words passed through my mind more than once. But all the tests came back fine. Except, I was not. I was very, very unwell and nobody could tell me why.
And almost too tired to even care about it. All I wanted to do was sleep. I remember sleeping all the time. I hardly knew when my daughter went to school or got back. Even the effort of waking up and having a bowl of cereal would knock me out for a few hours.
Eventually, in May the following year, we saw another consultant who asked me something which none of the previous doctors had. He asked me, how was my sleep. I just looked at him unable to speak, tears welling up. I hadn’t slept properly since the birth of my younger daughter twelve years ago. I don’t why. Perhaps, a previous miscarriage had made me so nervous, a part of me refused to fall asleep lest I miss a cry for help at night. Insomnia was my terrible secret and pain. I let the tears roll.
One question led to another. Did I ache all over? Yes. So much so that even lying in bed was painful and I had to change positions every few minutes. Did all my joints burn? Yes. Did my glutes burn and hurt? Yes. It was impossible for me to sit for more than five minutes at a time. Could I lift a grocery bag? No. Could I walk a few hundred metres? No. There were other classic trigger points and I had them all.
He knew what it was. Fibromyalgia. It meant general muscle fatigue and pain,he explained. It was not life threatening but no one knew what caused it or what triggered it. Yet, it was a well known condition and doctors all over the world were beginning to recognise it as real.
Relieved to know that I was not imagining it all, I asked him what next. Sadly, he said there was no cure. All he could do was give me painkillers and sleeping pills. So, I took them. I was desperate.
Slowly, I began to move around the house. But I was a shadow of myself, unable to do any of things I loved. Writing, going out for walks, spending time with my family, meeting friends.
Months later we were back at the hospital, I couldn’t carry on living the way I was and wanted to do something about it. This time it was another consultant. I will never forget what she said to me. She looked me in the eye and told me I would just have to get used to this new reality. I was only forty-five! And despite my not so great health I had always been an active person. This new reality could not be mine. There was so much I still wanted to do with my life. I said thank you and left, never to go back there again.
Right then I knew I was going to find a way to get better. I didn’t know how but I would find it.
And as it often happens when you are determined to find a way, the universe reveals it to you. I scoured the internet looking for answers, alternative therapies, herbal medicines, healers. I tried homeopathy, acupuncture, lymph drainage massage, reiki …. anything that offered a glimmer of hope. Some of them helped a little but I was still very unwell.
Then one day just like that while on the internet, I came across a yoga retreat for people with chronic conditions. One of the conditions it mentioned was Fibromyalgia! Someone had not only heard of this condition but was offering yoga as a cure. I had to try it out. The retreat was eight months away, but I booked a place anyway. January next year, I took a flight to Mumbai. I remember limping my way out of the airport to the arrivals where my sister was waiting for me. The worried look on her face said everything.
While everyone was being cautiously optimistic, my instincts were telling me this was going to work. How much and how well, I did not know but I was ready to get better.
So imagine my surprise and utter elation when two weeks into the three week programme, I managed to trek up a small hill near the centre. I didn’t sprint up and had to stop to catch my breath more than once, but I got to the top. It was as if I had climbed the Kilimanjaro! That day I glimpsed the incredible power of yoga has to heal and liberate us. And what’s more, I realised the power was within me!
I had started slowly, learning at first only how to breathe right. Decades of living with asthma and stressful life conditions had thrown my breathing off kilter. My breath was so shallow, I barely had an out breath like when you are having an anxiety attack. I didn’t have an anxiety disorder but to my nervous system that’s what it felt like all the time – a constant state of fight or flight. For twenty years, it had forgotten how to switch off. No wonder then that after asthma, I developed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis an autoimmune condition, then nasal polyps and eventually my body and brain gave up and crashed with Fibromyalgia.
The simple act of breathing right did something profound. It activated my relaxation response. I had taken my first step towards healing.
Where conventional medicine is still struggling to find viable cures for many chronic conditions, the science of yoga understands that chronic conditions are often psychosomatic. The body and mind are connected and to heal one we have to heal the other.
Over the three weeks the practice got deeper, embracing all aspects of yoga- gentle asanas, pranayama, cleaning kris, meditations, yoga nidra, chanting and kirtan. It brought to the surface the underlying issues, the baggage, the stories of my life, the regrets. All the things I needed to make peace with and let go. When I did, magic happened. Within days I had more energy than I had in years. Our bodies have infinite wisdom and know how to heal themselves. We only have to give them a chance.
There was no looking back now. I was a true convert. Day by day my yoga practice progressed, I got stronger, my allergies disappeared, my immune system got more robust.
So much so that last summer, almost three years after my first crash, I signed up for a Yoga Teacher Training course and became a certified yoga teacher. It was physically the hardest thing I had done in my life but also the most rewarding and liberating. I was lucky to have had amazing teachers and fellow students who supported and encouraged me through the training. And I had family and friends back home who were cheering me on.
Needless to say it has changed my life; opened up a world of possibilities.
It is not all smooth sailing. I still have days when my body is so knackered, all I can do is rest. But, in a couple of days I bounce back. Knowing that I can bounce back has changed the way I view my condition. I see the flare ups as a temporary timeout when my body needs to take a break. And I am fine with it. I have learned to listen to my body and honour its needs. For someone who had the ‘doing’ disease I am now experiencing the joys of just ‘being’.
My yoga practice and my teaching have become both my refuge and my purpose.
‘Can you do the headstand now?’ I often get asked. No I can’t. One day I will. But that was never the point or the purpose of training to be a yoga teacher.
The purpose was to simply share the healing and abundance I have found in yoga with others. I have a mission now – to heal and to help others heal and live their best lives yet.