Sometimes when a landslide begins, the movement is gradual and almost imperceptible. It can take a while to build momentum, gathering speed until suddenly it is rapid and unstoppable.
When I was 15, something happened to me that I think of as almost like a ‘mini-landslide’. This might sound crazy, so let me explain…
It started with tiredness- unexplained and unexpected fatigue. I would come home from school, put a CD on, climb into bed and soon find myself drifting off to sleep.
What followed over the coming months was a growing heavy sensation in my limbs. It felt a bit like I was constantly wading through water; a feeling so abnormal that I knew something very odd was happening…
And then the landslide really took hold. I was bombarded with new symptoms- muscle pain, nausea, blurred vision, difficulty with mobility… Suddenly I was spending much of my once relatively normal, teenage lifestyle alternating between the sofa and my bed.
It took a while but eventually I was given a ‘label’ to make sense of how I felt. Well, actually, it was more like an assortment of labels-Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as M.E. but also referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome. While the diagnosis helped to explain some of what I was feeling, it didn’t help me to manage the symptoms. There was no treatment; I just had to wait it out and try to remain positive.
I’m going to fast forward to around 10 years later. Life had changed. I was a little better, working part-time. I tried not to tell people about the strange illness that dictated much of my life.
I reached a point where I thought, “This is it now. I am never going to feel any better than this”. It was like reaching a plateau and I was reluctantly acceptant of it.
When someone is recovering from a chronic illness, there can be a number of maintaining factors. One of these maintaining factors is muscle wastage. I hadn’t been able to move around much so I was a skinny twenty-something-year-old with zero strength. The truth is, although I was aware of this problem, I had no idea how to change things without over-doing it and triggering a setback.
It all started with a yoga DVD that I was given as a present. I can’t remember much about the DVD but my body found it manageable and also, even slightly enjoyable..!
The next time I encountered yoga was a 30 minute class in my workplace on a Tuesday afternoon. I was initially anxious that I wouldn’t be able to keep the pace. Strangely, it felt almost natural. I struggled with the strength and speed required for sun salutations so I started to practice them daily at home.
Every day, I seemed to manage an extra sun salutation. As cheesy as it may sound, it felt a little bit like I was sweeping away some of the rubble accumulated from the landslide. I became fascinated by the new energy yoga gave me, attending classes, watching YouTube videos, reading books…
One of the things I found most beneficial about yoga in the early days, was how I could use my breath to power each movement. I felt somewhat in control of my wayward body for the first time in a long time; like my breath was almost keeping it in check.
Even my mind was starting to fall into line. The automatic flow between yoga postures kept my mind from wandering to the ‘stressy zone’ where I fixated on every twinge that my body felt or the need to anxiously monitor my energy levels.
There is a quote from Rumi that explains something of what yoga has taught me; “Everything you need is within you”. I had given up on my body and thought that I would continue through life with reduced energy and muscle pains. By changing my mindset and my movement, my body has surprised me. I didn’t need a fancy ‘fix’, just a new way of doing things.
I’ve been actively practicing yoga for around 4 years now. I can’t say that every day is easy but knowing that I can unroll my mat, breathe and move for as little as ten minutes or for over an hour, is a simple life-change- one that has literally been life-changing for me.
By Sarah Alderman