What Happens on a Yoga Retreat with Fiona
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people, especially those with M.E. (CFS) have some anxieties about coming on a yoga retreat and most are pleasantly surprised. It’s important to understand that yoga is a spiritual philosophy and is not just about ‘doing postures’. Below are some frequently asked questions which should help you to have an idea of what to expect.
Q. What do you mean by ‘spiritual’?
A. This is not about religion or even God. Yoga is about helping us to realise our true nature which is peaceful and happy. Some refer to this as God, the self or awareness. It doesn’t matter what you call it but it’s about the sense of peace you get, for example, in nature or in being still or in realising a connection to others.
Q. So what happens on a yoga retreat other than the postures?
A. We have sessions and discussions looking at happiness (click here for further details), and on how to find your true purpose (called dharma in yoga) so that you are not in conflict with your true nature. Being in conflict – living your life without joy or with the wrong priorities is what can make us ill and often illness is an opportunity to examine or self-inquire about who you really are and to find what will really give you peace.
Other sessions might be around understanding the stress response and how we may unconsciously be locked in this for years without realising it. (That tired but wired feeling….). So we look at breathing healthily – this is the key really for good health. Or we might look at the importance of a quiet mind – as advised in the Yoga Sutras, and how keeping life simple and avoiding over-stimulation is a route to a happy life. We do a lot of work around the mind-body-spirit connection. For example we look at tools for helping us to become more present so that we are not linking to our suffering – or creating a story or drama around it. For those with M.E. we might look at unhelpful behaviour patterns (samskaras) that can prevent recovery such as being a perfectionist, not wanting to give up control of outcome or finding difficulty in saying ‘no’ – and in just doing too much – even if it sabotages our health. Yoga philosophy can give amazing tools to deal with this and applying yoga philosophy in every-day life leads to a healthy way of being.
Q. And what about the yoga postures?
A. It’s about function not form. In other words, it is not about difficult contortions. It’s about a practice which helps the mind to become peaceful and present and helps us to connect with the body – to inhabit the body as a home. Many of us are so connected with the mind that we have become completely out of touch with the physical body. The yoga I teach is designed to help correct this. There is also a lot of focus on healthy breathing, as this is so important, and on proper relaxation.
Q. Well, I have health problems. Will yoga help me to recover?
A. Following a yogic life helped me to recover from a severe illness. But really, it’s about seeing things differently and making simple lifestyle changes. Yoga is about a way of life and on the retreats we explore this – as well as enjoying the classical yoga postures as well!
Q. I have chronic fatigue and am worried that the yoga will be too strong. What if I find it too tiring?
A. The therapeutic yoga is very gentle with an emphasis on relaxation and proper breathing techniques. The gentle stretches are mainly done from lying down but you will always be encouraged to rest and not do a posture or sequence if you feel too tired. Yoga is non-competitive and you will be reminded that, in the words of the yogi Mr Iyengar, relaxation (savasana) is actually the most important posture to learn. The yoga sessions are about ‘being’ and not ‘doing’ and also about opening and releasing tension – not doing strong difficult postures. None of the yoga sessions is compulsory so if you are having a bad day you can take time out.
Q. I don’t have chronic fatigue. Will the retreats be suitable for me?
A. On all the retreats there are people who come who are fit and well. I always put on a stronger session first thing in the morning for those who enjoy a more challenging physical practise. People who are recovering often join this session.
Q. I would like to bring my partner on a retreat. Is this all right?
A. Of course! Couples often come. Nothing is compulsory, although partners often try the yoga; are pleasantly surprised and end up joining in. Also, there is usually a choice of practice – gentle yoga for those who have chronic health problems, and general hatha yoga for those who would like to work more strongly.
Q. I have never done yoga before. Will I manage or find it too difficult?
A. Not at all. Beginners are very welcome –nothing is difficult and clear instruction is given.
Q. I have ME but don’t want to come on a retreat and find that everyone is talking about illness all the time.
A. This is a very common concern. On all the retreats at the beginning people are asked respectfully not to focus on illness as it can disrupt the group dynamic and most people don’t want to talk about being unwell. However, if you need to unload you can always come to me or an assistant to talk. Rather, the emphasis of the retreat is put on healing in a nurturing and safe environment with the space just to ‘be’. So if you need to rest or stay in bed or are having a bad time, there is total love and support for this at all times. The energy of the group is usually very positive with humour being used a tool for enjoyment where possible.
Q. On a retreat, what is the structure of the day usually like?
A. This depends on the venue. On the retreats abroad we have a hatha yoga in the morning and a relaxation or philosophy or gentle restorative session in the afternoon. At Claridge House the main session starts at 10am, after the Quaker Quiet time, followed by meditation. The afternoon is free and then there is a yoga session in the afternoon which is often philosophy based around topics such as ‘What give energy’ ‘Balancing chakras’, ‘A Quiet Mind’, ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘How to be Happy.’ These sessions often refer to Patanjali’s yoga sutras. In the evening after supper there is often a relaxation or yoga nidra. All sessions are optional.
Q. I am disabled and am in a wheelchair. Are the retreats suitable for me?
A. Again, this depends on the venue. Claridge House has a couple of downstairs bedrooms and a wide downstairs bathroom with good wheelchair access. The Atami hotel in Turkey has a lift. However generally you should have some mobility – even if limited. If you are confined to a wheelchair it is better to take a carer with you if possible. As far as the actual yoga is concerned, there is no problem – you can work from the floor, in a chair and in some cases we have put up a bed in Claridge House.
Q. I have MS. Can I still come?
A. Of course – many people with MS come on the retreats and they are open to everyone.
Q. I have muscle pain when I lie down. Will yoga be painful for me?
A. Again this is quite common. It is a good idea if you buy yourself extra padding such as a thin foam mattress to lie under the mat – or use two or three yoga mats. At the Atami hotel we use the sun bed cushions – they have proved excellent for support!
Q. Do I need to bring a mat?
A. If possible this is always a better option, especially from a hygiene point of view. However all of the venues have some mats and I have some spare ones in the UK in my car.
Q. What is the Transition to Recovery course about? Would this be more suitable for me?
A. These courses are being put on in Turkey and the UK in response to feedback from students. Many people who come on my yoga courses start to recover from ME after some time, and no longer feel that the very gentle yoga that I use on the Beat Fatigue with Yoga courses is what they want. If you have ME and are still finding it difficult to manage, and if your energy levels are low, then the Beat Fatigue with Yoga or Energy Yoga retreats will be right for you. However, if you are nearly better from having had a chronic illness and are phsyically quite able and would like to try some stronger postures, with a focus on being well, then the Transition to Recovery course will be more appropriate. If you are still not sure then please contact me.