At the bottom of our garden in Northwich we have beehives. A few years ago we started with one, and bit by bit my husband Karl has built this up to the current levels of eleven active beehives.
I must confess that I have very little to do with the bees other than to sometimes sit and watch their busy activity which seems to put me into a wonderfully meditative kind of trance, and, of course, tasting their honey! Karl, however, watches over their activity with great interest and occasionally reports back to me on an exciting development taking place in our apiary corner.
Last week, while I was away on a training course, one of our hives swarmed. Karl followed the swarm and the bees settled on a branch of a magnolia tree in our garden. Karl said that it was an easy job to snip the branch and gently ease the majority of the swarm into a newly prepared hive. He blocked the entrance with grass and left it overnight for them to settle into their new ‘home’.
While this was all happening I was away in Cambridge on a four day course for yoga teachers to learn how to teach Restorative Yoga. This was a BIG DEAL for me. I had stopped all of my yoga teaching in May last year due to the overwhelming fatigue of ME/CFS. After 20 years of running yoga classes I wondered if I’d ever be able to teach again and I grieved deeply, not only at the loss of a career that I truly loved, but also for my vision of myself as a teacher with something of value to share. After the first few months of feeling loss, confusion and exhaustion I began to water the seed of a dream with hope. Perhaps there were gifts to be recieved from what I had first perceived as a disaster. Maybe having to learn first hand what it feels like to be utterly burnt out had some important lessons to teach me. Perhaps my experience of stiff painful muscles and joints unable to do movements that once came with ease could offer me a deeper insight to bring to my practice of yoga. And could it be possible that the frightening experience of finding myself constantly anxious, overly emotional and operating from a place of fight/flight could in fact have its own dark gifts to bring?
I began to wonder whether my lived experience of these symptoms and the practices that I found helpful to bring some ease and respite could be used to not only enrich my own experience of yoga practice, but to give me a pathway back into teaching yoga that was both sustainable for me, but also would be of real value to many people. On my return from New Zealand in January I booked to attend a 4 day Restorative Yoga teacher training course at Camyoga in May, feeling confident that by then I’d be feeling well enough to cope.
ME/CFS is a difficult illness to predict. After a good start to the year, much of April was spent exhausted and cancelling almost all non-esssential activities. My days largely consisted of gentle walks with my dog Rolo, taking photographs of nature, daytime resting and meditation, and very early nights. My world was becoming smaller and I was finding this very hard. I knew I was taking a risk attending 4 full days of training and on top of that staying away from home, but my desire to believe that there could be a future for me that was bigger than my current experience of life propelled me forwards.
Restorative Yoga is a practice that aims to bring the body and mind into a space where the busyness, tension and activity of daily life begins to ease and the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, bringing about the relaxation response in the body. The practitioner is guided into different postures where the body is fully supported by props so there is no strain or effort. Feeling safe, nurtured and supported the student is then given from 5 to 20 minutes to simply ‘be’ in that pose. Different poses allow a range of spinal movements to be explored as well as encouraging deep breathing and creating space and/or awareness of the deeper organs of the body. Gradually the body and mind begin to relax and a state of deep peacefulness may be experienced.
As potential teachers of Restorative Yoga we needed to experience the practice for ourselves as well learn how to safely and effectively teach it. The first few poses we practiced made me realise how tight I was, and how much physical and nervous tension simply getting myself to the course had caused. As the practice began to allow me to release the layer upon layer of tension, tears began to flow and for a while I felt even more exhausted than before. I was feeling first hand the effects of Restorative Yoga on a stressed system. It is a testimony to the skill of our two teachers, Beverley Nolan and Tiffany Thorne that they were able to support me to work through these layers of letting go in a safe and nuturing environment without allowing this to impact on the other students. They both taught us the fundamentals and possibilities of this wonderful practice with great skill and expertise.
I had come on this training course hoping to add some new tools and techniques to my teaching repertoire, but like all the very best training it gave me far more than this. Not only did it allow me to find a way to release some of the tension that had built up while living with ME/CFS for a few years, but it also gave me real inspiration and hope for my teaching in the future. I was able to see how I could incorporate my own way of teaching with Restorative Yoga. For the first time in ages I was able to feel as if my years of teaching yoga and developing my own particular style of practice could still be of value in my new way of teaching. I didn’t need to let go of who I was or how I taught, but could see ways that I could incorporate that fully into new and exciting offerings. I felt like I had not only come home to my body, but to that place of inspiration and flow as a teacher that I had missed so very much. There was a deep sense of homecoming.
While all this was going on for me in Cambridge, back at home in Northwich my husband was watching another inspiring drama take place. Remember at the start of this blog I told you about the majority of the bee swarm being coaxed into a newly prepared hive? After leaving them overnight in the hive with grass blocking their exit, Karl removed the grass and watched them settle comfortably into their routine of flying off and returning to the hive with pollen. There was a small group of bees from the swarm that hadn’t been put into the hive with the others which were still congregated near the Magnolia tree. Karl decided that he would see if he could introduce them into the new hive. He captured the bees from the Magnolia tree and brought them down to the new hive. As he watched, Karl could see the bees who had settled into the new hive overnight come out, become aware of the “left behind” bees, and then change their behaviour. Instead of flying straight off to gather nectar, the new hive bees turned their back ends towards the “left behind” bees and started waggling from side to side. They were allowing the scent of the hive to waft to the “left behind” bees. In effect they were saying “It’s ok – you’re home – smell the scent – this is YOUR hive, your family, your tribe!”. The “left behind” bees stayed for some time, and then flew straight into their new hive – back to where they belonged.
At the start of this blog I said I’d try to weave together these two stories so that you could share a little in how I saw a similarity between my experience on the training course and that of the “left behind” bees. What have the bees and the training course got in common you may ask? As I was telling my parents the story of the bees I realised that one of the things that made my Restorative Yoga training course so inspiring and effective for me was that I had experienced a sense of coming home. Not only in the way that we talk in yoga of “coming home to ourselves”, but I also was able to feel that I was coming home to myself as a yoga teacher. Beverley and Tiff had allowed me to recognise the ‘scent’ of what it feels like to be inspired when teaching and to find our own particular style of delivery. To be able to draw from many different influences and bring them together to teach in a coherent whole. Through their very different but highly personal and knowledgeable teaching I recognised, remembered and in some way felt as if I had come home to my hive, my family, my tribe.
I am really hopeful that through careful pacing and continuing with my daily routines to encourage good health that I will before too long be once more able to teach yoga. That I will be able to bring those dark gifts of wisdom and experience that ME/CFS has given me and use them to enrich and deepen my teaching. But – and here is the really radical thing – even if for some reason I don’t go back into teaching yoga, those few days away training with Beverley and Tiff have given me the gift of coming back home to a part of myself I thought I’d lost – to that part of me that can use my knowledge and the experiences I have been through, together with the world around me to teach. I hope it will be to teach yoga – but I’m now open to recognising that it may come in any, or many forms.