Article by: Marilynn Freeman
In the early 80’s I was living in Boulder, Colorado working in a fast-paced, high stress real estate syndication firm. Like so many Boulderites, I was heavily into fitness: bicycling, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, Iyengar yoga, swimming and cross country skiing. The firm had its own set of Nautilus equipment that I could use as well. I loved the outdoors, being active, challenging my body and being competitive. My life was about working hard and playing hard.
For some unknown reason, my energy began to wane and I got sick. I had a constant sore throat and the glands in my neck were horribly swollen. My body ached from head to toe and my energy became non-existent. The first two visits to my physician left me without an answer and I kept trying to get well by working out more. This tactic failed andI only seemed to deteriorate more. On my third visit, he said there was a new disease that sounded like what I had. A titre blood test indicated that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (Note: I have heard that there isn’t a conclusive test to diagnose CFS, but this is how my story unfolded.)
It became apparent to me that I was not going to be able to exercise to get well. The Western medicine offered no answers. In fact, its prognosis was that I would never be well again. What I had to look forward to was being debilitated the rest of my life. I was offered the opportunity to quit work with full disability, but the hitch was that I had to prove that I was ill to continue getting benefits. Getting well wasn’t an option if I wanted disability. I did choose to quit work, but decided I wanted to find a way to regain my health.
Totally out of answers and fed up with being sick, I asked my yoga teacher what to do. He suggested a series of restorative poses that took about two and a half hours for me to complete. This was less than thrilling to me for several reasons. First, I thought restorative yoga was useless, even though he assured me that he had seen and experienced the power of it at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India. It certainly wasn’t my yoga of choice. I could barely tolerate “wasting” the time to do Savasana at the end of class! Secondly, I was afraid that all my muscles would atrophy because I wasn’t pushing myself. Third, the poses weren’t easy; some seemed agonizingly impossible at first. After arguing my objections, his response went something like this. He was confident that I could do these poses and get well, or I could not. When I came to him the next time asking for help, there would be more poses and they would be more challenging. It was my choice: do them now or do them later.
Since I was practically bed-ridden as well as home-bound, I committed to doing the poses. Initially, I was anything but gracious about my practice. I did what I could faithfully for six months before I began to see improvement in my health and my ability to do the poses. At that point, I discovered that I had enough energy to walk around the block or go shopping for groceries, and not collapse in a heap. I continued doing the poses for over two years which helped to rebuild my endocrine and immune systems. There was definitely a learning curve in terms of knowing how much energy I could expend and not suffer a relapse. Each time I pushed the envelope too far, restorative yoga was there to help me regain the ground I had lost. I eventually came to know my limits and to have great respect for the power of the poses.
Nearly three years after I quit work, I felt like I had completely regained my health and strength. My muscles hadn’t atrophied and in fact, I seemed capable to athletic feats that had previously eluded me. The real surprise, however, was that my desire to challenge myself with athletic feats had disappeared. Restorative yoga changed my life by making me aware of my inner world, instead of just the outer. I was more content to enjoy my experience of doing something physical than to hunger for the competitive edge.
It has been thirty years since my experience with CFS and it has never returned. The poses that I was given absolutely enabled my full recovery. Many of these poses were featured in a Yoga Journal article entitled, “Health, Hope and HIV” in 2001 (almost 20 years later, August 2001). My yoga teacher proved right about restorative yoga as well as something else. He said that, “no one signs up for a yoga class asking for change and transformation, but this is what yoga brings.” Restorative yoga opened my eyes to the need for balance in my life – time to rest, relax, and renew.
Marilynn Freeman, MA, E-RYT, has practiced yoga for over 30 years and taught for more than ten. She is a certified Relax and Renew® Trainer and Wellness Coach. Her passion is teaching and sharing her love of yoga with others. Her home is in Silver City, New Mexico where she offers workshops and retreats at nearby hot springs. For more information, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website, www.BodyMindCoherence.com will be launched mid-2012.