Convalescence is defined by the dictionary as a gradual return to health, a period of time over which we recover our health and strength following illness or medical treatment.
When I began my nursing career many moons ago, we had two amazing local convalescence centres to choose from for our patients, beautiful locations by the sea or in the stunning Lake District, quiet surroundings, nourishing meals and nursing care to help nurture people back to full strength before they had to return to the grind of daily life. Relieved of responsibility and given time to become strong not just medically fit they were able to concentrate on their own wellbeing.
Today there are no convalescent homes available through our NHS, most people are sent home within two days of major surgery. We live in an age of modern medicine which gives ‘instant’ cures. Drugs cut down the acute phase of illness, but, they do not repair the inflammation and damage these illnesses leave in their wake. People do not return to ‘normal health’ once surgery, antibiotics or other drugs have dealt with the acute problem.
Infection or illness is an attack on your body, cells rush to fight. If we dont rest after an attack the cells dont have an opportunity to return to base camp to replenish and regenerate for the next attack that may come along, instead they have to continue fighting. Our immune systems dont have time to enter the recovery phase. Without that recovery we are vulnerable to further more debilitating attacks.
Without convalescence our bodies survive the immediate heath problem but are left just that bit weaker and less able to deal with the next threat that comes along.
Add to this the fact that in todays world we constantly live on full throttle, we juggle, trying to do more than we are really able. Tiredness has become a way of life and we are constantly pushing our bodies beyond their limits. It is no coincidence that chronic illness is at an all time high…
We treat our symptoms, feel better and immediately put our foot down on the throttle again, but in fact we haven’t healed, we have just fought the fire of the acute stage of illness. Convalescence is the all important recovery phase after symptoms have subsided and it is something we no longer consider a part of healing.
Any illness is a process, not an event, we have to build ourselves up again. We have to learn to be led by our bodies messages and needs and heal slower, to stop doing and instead concentrate on healing through rest.
Resting isn’t about ‘doing nothing’, it is about replenishment and it is vital to our wellbeing whether illness strikes or not. By not resting, not allowing our bodies time to recover when compromised we are vulnerable.
Recently, I have learnt this lesson the hard way… I have been suffering ill health for the last two years, I have constantly fanned the flames, recovered enough to continue and keep going. Never taking time to rest and restore properly between bouts of illness and also never truly acknowledging the debilitating effects which were being felt more deeply in my body after each attack. Eventually, my body gave up its fight and could no longer sustain the marathon endurance being asked of it in the face of attack and I had no choice but to stop, and I mean completely stop. I was unable to function at the lowest level, I had allowed my health to become so compromised that there was nothing left with which to fight. Convalescence became not a conscious choice but an imposed state, I had to do nothing and take stock. I had to accept and admit the extent of the illness I had been experiencing and I had to gently nurture my body with the love and nourishment it needed to retreat and seek to rebuild its defences.
As a Yogini; a yoga teacher, it was so difficult to accept that I couldn’t heal my body alone, that although I had wonderful gifts of yoga and meditation to help support me they just weren’t enough and I needed to seek other help. But this yoga journey always has more lessons to teach, more layers to reveal and I have learnt and gained so much from this latest episode of my life story that I am truly grateful for this journey, but, I know I could have made it easier had I heeded the messages sooner…
Convalescence means learning to pace yourself and put some of the new found wellness you can gain in the bank for that day you will need to draw on it again.
My initially enforced convalescence was something I fully embraced once I began to truly listen to the messages my body was giving me. I stopped doing and I just was, I eased myself back into daily life so so slowly. My days were spent trusting the messages, being, not doing, and taking care of my one precious body as if it was the most fragile and valuable gift it actually is. Our bodies are wise they give us the signals and messages they whisper to us with their needs and they deserve to be heard, we deserve to take care of ourselves in the way we so often care for others.
I truly believe the time has come to consider the way we manage illness and the pressures we place on both our physical and emotional health. We should not be approaching illness by considering how quickly we can get back to work, back to normality and the frantic daily routines we have all adopted. Instead, we should view illness in any form as a call for help from our inner self, a plea for us to slow down, take time and turn inward.
Rest & Recovery are not weaknesses they are in fact a sign of true strength. When I speak of rest I do mean complete rest in the initial stages, truly doing nothing with lots of sleep. Sleep is one of the most potent tools of healing we can offer ourselves. The building of activity must be gradual and gentle, nurturing ourselves step by step back to full health. Your body will let you know when its ready for more, but that more needs to be gentle, for me it was meditation, restorative yoga and only after some weeks was I able to consider a more physical asana practice.
The lessons I have and still am learning on the bumpy road that is my current health journey are gifts and they are gifts I want to share. I am putting together a Yoga for Convalescence Programme which I shall be offering in the next few months and I hope that through this programme I can help others to find ways to nurture and heal themselves fully but gradually and with tenderness.
Be led by your body needs
Trust your Intuition
Heal gently and slowly…