YOGA FOR M.E. AT ICKWELL BURY
by Marie King
This is a personal account of my experiences on a week's residential course of Yoga for people with M.E. at Ickwell Bury, Bedfordshire. At the time (2001) I'd had M.E for 18 months. I practised yoga regularly before I was ill until I injured my hip and had to give it up about 3 years previously. So when I heard about yoga for M.E. I didn't think I would be able to do it. However I consulted a specialist teacher who said "if you can breathe you can do yoga". I thought this must be different to the kind of yoga I had done before, which was far too strenuous for anyone with M.E. So I decided to give it a try.
I arrived in Bedford by coach one sunny afternoon in May, then a 12 mile taxi ride deep into the countryside to Ickwell Bury. There is a train you can get to a station only 3 miles away, if you can afford it. Ickwell Bury is a great big house set in beautiful grounds. It is home to the Yoga for Health Foundation, run by a resident community. They offer a regular programme of yoga events but specialise in remedial yoga to help people with a variety of illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, M.S. and M.E. The cost was £240 for the week but bursaries are sometimes available.
I was assigned to share a room with one other, which I was apprehensive about. But all the singles (there aren't many) had already gone. You also need to book early for ground floor accommodation, as most of the bedrooms are on the first floor. During my week there were two people on the ground floor who couldn't climb stairs. One of them occasionally used a wheelchair pushed by a helper. Chair and helper were both provided by Ickwell Bury.
I didn't want to share a room because I feared the social interaction would be exhausting. And it was, especially as my roommate was nearly recovered and very talkative. However when I explained to her my need for silence she understood, and obliged. And when allowed to speak she was very informative. Although very ill at first, after 2 years she was 80% recovered because it seemed she'd had lots of free help. This included treatment at two London hospitals (St. Barts and the Homeopathic), home care from Social Services and counselling. Although so much better now she was still receiving one hour a week home care. This brought home to me how great is the variation in help given to people with M.E. in different parts of the country, especially how little help we get in Sheffield by comparison. I decided then to apply for more help when I got home, instead of assuming I wouldn't qualify because I wasn't ill enough. After all I felt ill enough, too ill in fact for most purposes.
Being with the people on the course was one of the great rewards and great challenges of the week. There were about 25 of us, all at different stages of M.E. (except the very severely affected. You need to be able to do occasional light exercise without relapse to do this course.) It was so interesting to hear people's stories, and the atmosphere was warm and supportive. It was especially encouraging to hear about people recovering. But sometimes it was overwhelming and I think all of us had to escape from time to time. Luckily there was ample opportunity.
The Daily Routine
Each day followed a pattern of planned activities, which you could dip in and out of as you pleased. Breakfast was 8–9am, horribly early for me. But if you missed a meal there were always snacks available. The food was delicious, wholefood vegetarian, but they cater for special diets if requested. Then yoga at 10 am, followed by meditation. Lunch at 1 pm. There was an activity at 4pm but I don't know what as I was always in bed at that hour. Evening meal was 6pm and an evening activity at 8pm. I managed couple of these. The first was a talk on Ayurvedic medicine. The other was something billed as "chanting" but was in fact a gentle sing song of folk tunes from around the world. I ended up lying on the floor just listening and looking at the candles glowing round the room, very peaceful.
Relax, don't do it
Although there were so many organised activities (too many, some of us thought, for people with M.E.) there was no pressure to join in. I spent hours in the gardens, basking in the sunshine – the weather was lovely – or sitting under a shady tree by the lake. There is a library in the house where you can browse among the Mind– Body–Spirit books (and a little shop where you can buy them). You can also book any of the treatments on offer (cost extra) such shiatsu, reiki or Indian head massage.
The yoga was relaxing and invigorating and mostly done lying down. There were lots of breathing exercises and we did the yoga postures whilst lying on our backs. This allowed movement without strain. We were encouraged to listen to our bodies and not do anything which caused discomfort. There were helpers available to bring blankets if you got chilly or help you move etc. as necessary, and I felt wonderfully cosseted. In this way I was able to avoid hurting my injured hip, something I had not been able to do in conventional yoga classes. I was very pleased.
In India yoga has been practised for thousands of years as an aid to meditation and spiritual development. More recently research in the West has shown that regular yoga practice improves the function of all body systems. For myself I found that taking the time every morning to really listen to my body helped me to know and respect my limits. I get the impression this is something a lot of people with M.E. find difficult. So I think this kind of yoga can be very helpful in managing and perhaps in time recovering. from our illness.
Ickwell Bury tel: 01767 627271
P.S. 2004: these courses are still run several times a year. Cost is now £285.