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March 28, 2015

From Inversions to Infancy: How Chronic Lyme Disease Redefined my Yoga Practice.

Sarah Herbert 2

I wanted to nail that picture.

I’m sure you’ve seen it floating around your news feed every now and again. Your friend hikes somewhere awe-inspiring, sets up her iPhone and captures herself in a flashy yoga pose with just the right amount of sunbeams. I planned for somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. I would outdo the gals before me by stumbling upon wildlife at sunset.

Then, I would strike a Natarajasana in front of a majestic beast, and astound everyone with my flexibility while in perfect union with nature.

Let’s be honest. What are the chances of this one playing out? This wasn’t my only outlandish yoga fantasy either. I daydreamed about mastering the most difficult of maneuvers that frankly require some quirky genetics. My desire to succeed in yoga fueled an aggressive approach to class. I would try as hard as I possibly could to take flight on my mat. Every Monday, my legs would swivel into eagle pose, and split wide for bird of paradise. I craved the feeling of accomplishment that came with mastering an inversion, my toes pointed proudly above my head.

Little did I know that I was accomplishing these yogic feats with a bacteria that was staging a coup: a coup de corps. The worm-like inhabitant entered my system through a tick bite and spread through my body, waiting for an ideal time to strike.

Lyme disease is a sneaky infection. The bacteria acts when your defenses are down from stress, sickness or exhaustion. It affects the functioning of each organ and system until down they go like a line of dominoes (buh-bye “normal” lungs, heart, nervous system, bladder and other bodily essentials).

Before I knew it, the bacteria and its exploits had rendered my thrill seeking yoga practice an activity of the past.

For the last three months, I’ve been holed up in my North Carolina townhouse. I’ve watched winter turn into spring out my kitchen window. With this season change has come an internal transformation, resulting in a heightening of my senses. I hear my life’s soundtrack clearer than I ever have before: the chimes pinging on my front porch; the huffing and puffing of my dog when she spots a deer in the backyard; the squeak of the bird feeder off balance as squirrels steal the seeds. Before I was sick, I never noticed this daily music. And, to be honest, even if my ears had perked up, I would have considered these sounds to be relatively insignificant.

In thinking back on my life before Lyme, there’s so much I overlooked. The simplest observations now fill my existence in a way I didn’t think possible. Like this morning, when I sat down to breakfast, I focused on the white spirals of the quinoa decorating each bean on my spoon. I savored the citrusy drizzle coating the grains as they popped between my teeth. I noticed the reflection of neighboring oak trees rippling in my glass of water as I picked it up to take a sip.

Most people choose to undertake this kind of transformation in a conscious attempt to grow. In my case, the transformation chose me. I am lucky if I make it up five steps without losing my breath, so a change in perspective was merely an inevitability. Clearly, the change has penetrated all areas of my life, but one of the most important areas is my yoga practice.

Everything changed the day I accepted that child’s pose was all I could muster. I felt like an infant observing the world with unbiased perspective. I wiggled my fingers and toes, excited by all twenty. I grew calm while smelling the infusion of lavender and sweat on my blanket, listening to the tap tapping of the wood pecker on my roof and rocking my vertebrae into a deeper stretch. The hisses and hums of my breathing eventually took possession of my consciousness, leading me to a hypnotic state in which I was no longer me.

That was the moment I lost my ego—and the first time I truly practiced yoga.

Buddha says that “Life can only take place in the present moment. If we lose the present moment, we lose life.” Many people who suffer from chronic lyme disease say that it has taken away their vitality. In my case, I disagree. Yes, I struggle with high blood pressure, breathing difficulties and chronic pain. But I also argue that lyme disease has given me the gift of the present moment. And only in the present moment can life truly take place.

 

Relephant:

35 Unexpected Lessons I Learned from Late Stage Lyme.

 

 

Author: Sarah Herbert

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo & video: author’s own

 

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