In 2003, I turned 40. Three weeks later, Hurricane Isabel humbled our city with 70 mph winds that wrought destruction and heartache for thousands. My husband and I were renovating houses at the time and had an overwhelming backlog of projects. Thanks to Isabel, our burdens doubled — garages and homes to re-roof, trees to remove, insurance claims to file. Plus, our own 4 acres of beloved pecan, fir and walnut trees lay like corpses across our yard, gardens and our daughter's playhouse. I promptly caught pneumonia. Twice.
For months, I struggled with intermittent fevers, night sweats, achy muscles and an overwhelming fatigue. I would slog my way from one room to another like a sea diver wearing her 1,000-pound magnesium suit. After a year, I began to wonder if pneumonia alone could wreak this much havoc. I was tested for one thing after another: Lyme disease, lupus, hepatitis, metabolic disorders, sarcoidosis. All came back negative. I was sent to an allergist. Yes, I was allergic to my three dogs, chocolate and celery, but I was sweating, not sneezing. Nonetheless, I spent $2,000 on an air cleaner and a Miele vacuum with hepa filters for its hepa filters. I vacuumed religiously, washed my curtains and got rid of my area rugs. I stopped eating chocolate. And still, I moved like a carpet beetle.
Depression set in. I felt 70 years old. I have always been a workaholic's workaholic. No project ever too big. I stacked 134 granite boulders into a retaining wall in a weekend. I renovated a 12,000-square-foot building in six weeks. But now if I managed to cook a meal or pay a bill, I would reward myself with a nap.
My friend Sarah has always loved yoga. She'd been trying to get me to a yoga class for 13 years. No thanks. Yoga brought to my mind endless hours of breathing and pain. But I noticed a class at Yoga Source called "Relax & Renew: Whether recovering from illness or injury, this class works to restore health and inner harmony." I went.
Several things happened that I didn't expect. I tend to be mildly anti-social and reclusive, likely due to a disorienting hearing loss. So when in public, I'm armored and alert. The first thing I noticed as I limped into that yoga studio was the aura of calm that surrounded me like perfect bath water. Aromatic incense warmed my nose. Candles and mood lighting welcomed me along with hushed hellos and a contagious serenity. Although I felt awkward, being as I was a foreigner to the world of healing and homeopathy, my defenses fell seconds after entering this mighty yoga womb.
At the teacher's cue, we got our yoga blankets, blocks, strap and mat. We sat on our mats, eyes closed. The teacher began speaking in soothing tones, saying things like, "observe where you are in this moment" and, "when you step on your mat you leave your ego behind ... there is no good or bad; you are exactly where you need to be." I felt awash in acceptance. In that hour, I was nicer to myself than I had been in 30 years. I realized that this simple act of self-love was perhaps the most healing thing of all.
It took only a few yoga classes before I emerged from my depression and fatigue. My body was coaxed into action. My mind was stilled and focused. My spirit was nurtured. I indeed felt relaxed and renewed.
I still practice yoga, though I am not religious about it — and that's OK because it's always there. I'll do a downward-facing dog after too many hours at my desk. Or go through a sun salutation on my deck in the morning. Two minutes here, three minutes there. And as soon as I step on my mat, I am exactly where I need to be. And that is the first time in my life that I have ever been there. ■