Today is a day of recovery for me. Most people do not attend a restful and healthful three day yoga retreat and then come home to recover, but such is the nature of life with chronic illness. Yet I will welcome this time of recovery over and over again if it means I can continue on this path to wellness.
I have learned many things so far on my path, and the one lesson that appears repeatedly is that this is a process.
Healing takes time, and although I am caring for myself better than I ever have, there is still an unpredictable nature to fibromyalgia I cannot avoid. Setbacks, sidesteps, and distractions are all part of the process. That is an important point to emphasis – they are PART OF THE PROCESS. They do not separate me from the process, but they do challenge me to redirect my focus and discipline myself to get back on track when the distraction has passed.
The retreat I attended took place at a beautiful desert center in the community of Joshua Tree – the same Joshua Tree that inspired U2’s fifth album. The setting was beautiful and serene and COLD! Each building at the retreat center was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright designed buildings in a way to bring the outside in, meaning there were lots and lots of uncovered windows giving a sense that we were sitting in nature rather than a in building. Beautiful and quirky yes, but the design also made the rooms drafty and cool.
Our first evening we settled in the great room by the cozy fireplace for a restorative yoga practice. I chose an unfortunate place to lay my mat, and within 5 minutes I began flaring up from the cold draft hitting the back of my neck. I moved my mat to a more comfortable spot closer to the fire and was able to really enjoy the practice, but the damage was already done. I was in a flare.
One of the things I love most about yoga is the gentle way it warms my body from the inside out.
It is like an internal heating pad! And for a person with a regulated central nervous system, this internal warming would have corrected any discomfort caused by the cold draft. But for me it was too late.
I lay in bed that first night unable to sleep because of the extreme pain in my neck and head. The house started buzzing early that next morning with energy and excitement so I got up to join in. In truth I was pretty miserable, but I did not want to shut myself off from the other amazing women who were a part of the retreat. I was drawn to the buzz of energy and sound of laughter.
The last thing I wanted from this retreat was to experience a flare while I was there, but I chose not to let it become the focus of my experience. Instead I tailored my experience around it.
I participated in the gentle morning yoga practice but skipped the active evening session. I made sure I had plenty to eat and drank lots of water to keep hydrated in the dry desert air. And I accepted the help when my massage therapist friend generously offered to work on my neck. Massage is something I have resisted for some reason, and oh how silly of me! The tension in my neck was so great from the cold draft that my left eye was twitching uncontrollably. She was able to release the tension and helped me to assure my flare would be shorted lived and that I would be able to enjoy my remaining time at the retreat. I also credit my regular yoga practice for decreasing my flares and recovery time.
Today I am in what I call the “hang-over” stage of a flare.
The worst is over, but I still need to be mindful not to over do it and re-trigger. I know the gentle yoga sessions helped me, along with the wonderful massage, but in truth the thing that helped me most was the friendship and community I felt there.
I had the option of staying in my room to rest and recover, but instead I chose to interact with the wonderful women there. Their kindness, sharing, and laughter restored me and helped me remember I do not suffer alone. I was the only woman at the retreat with fibromyalgia, but each woman there is dealing with her own type of suffering – depression, addiction, abuse – and their honesty and bravery inspired me. I felt safe and understood amongst them.
It was unfortunate that I experienced a flare while at the retreat, but in a way it opened me up even greater to the experience, and because I was open about how I was feeling and did not try to hide it, it became an avenue for others to share their own pains and struggles.
It is so humbling and empowering to recognize that we are not unique in our struggles, and most especially to recognize that we are not alone. We all live with our own particular pains and suffering. It is how we deal with those pains that either separates us or brings us together.