When I pushed myself to do a 15-day trek despite being ill and walking away with the diagnosis pneumonia, I decided I needed to change things! After I had recovered, I looked into alternative treatment options. I thought Ayurvedic treatment in Nepal would be the right thing.
I was too hard on myself and completely ignored my body telling me to stop – obviously. Yes, it would have been a shame to cancel the trek or stop half way through, but if you are ill, you are ill – you are supposed to rest, not trek for extended periods of time – especially if you have never done it before.
The thing is: I was having a fight with my body & my mind throughout the entire trip. I was convinced it was the lazy inner voice talking to me. You know that voice that tells you to stay in bed just another hour even if you have slept enough. Or the one that tells you to have another drink, even though you know you will wake up feeling sick. Or the one who makes you procrastinate and watch a romantic comedy all snuggled up in bed even though you know you have a massive backlog of blog posts to write.
THAT bitch of a voice.
I was convinced, because I had never done a trek before, she will be there ready to whisper into my ear ‘You can’t do this, you are not fit enough. Give up. You are too weak. Hahaha. Look at yourself crawling up that hill you fat blob’. She can be vicious like that. So, I found myself ignoring every internal dialogue I had as I was convinced it was her again.
In German there is a great expression for this inner voice. It’s called ‘innerer Schweinehund’ – the ‘inner pighound’. I prefer to call it the little devil on my left shoulder. Whatever you call it – we all know we have it. And some of us are better at taming it than others. I believe humans are inherently lazy and all of us go through the same phases of having to discipline the voice.
I’ve always been someone who, when I have to do something important…like study, for instance, has to push herself immensely to get things done. But I eventually get it done. I’m also someone who is more productive when under pressure. Ramp up the pressure and I can produce an immense amount of work and achieve one hell of a lot. The reason my grades at uni were so great was because precisely because I studied part-time next to full-time work. I had no time and I knew if I didn’t do my studying in the little amount of time I had left, I would fail and there was no way I would be able to catch up on things!
The problem with this personality type is, that you are, as a result, constantly stressed. You need pressure to function. Because the moment you stop, it’ll take so much effort to get back into it. On top of it all, I hate routine and I’m a night person (another reason why I succeeded in my studies – studying until 3am? No problem. Getting up at 6am to do it – forget it).
No two days are the same for me – and I like it. I don’t think I have ever managed to get out of bed two days in a row at exactly the same time. I don’t think I have ever had the same thing for breakfast for three days in a row. Not eaten the same thing for lunch two days in a row. You get the picture. I don’t like routines. But I excel in chaos! And I always achieve what I set out to do – how I do it, I don’t know. It somehow works.
So, I’ve learnt to tame ‘the inner pighound’ in my professional life: I’m orderly, extremely organised, meticulous, disciplined, reliable, responsive – but when it comes to my private life I’m exactly the opposite. I’m chaos. All over the place. A mess. When I worked in the city, I used to jump out of bed 30min before I had to walk to leave the house – somehow I was showered, got dressed – almost missed my train – did my make-up in the train – and hoped not to be late for work. Everything was always a rush. Always. After work I would rush to uni and after uni I would rush home – eat – study – sleep and the whole chaos would start again.
I usually have at least one bruise on my body as I keep bumping my toes or any other part of my body against tables, chairs – you name it. I get the hiccups almost weekly as I somehow manage to almost suffocate myself whilst eating – resulting me in drinking water backwards to stop the hiccups (a fab trick someone once showed me and it works every time – in fact, I had the hiccups again this afternoon after eating a pastry too quickly and I was amazed how beautifully this trick really works! One must be happy about the small thing in life, I suppose).
My foot always falls asleep and you regularly see me walking side-ways in crab-like motion dragging my foot along the living room as if I had lost a limb. I have once managed to scratch my entire left door from my car not noticing that I had reversed into someone else’s open door (?!) – how this is possible, I still don’t know. All I know is: I was sobbing. My chaos in my private life stems from allowing the little devil on my left shoulder take over too many times (especially in the mornings – oh how I hate getting up in the mornings……..!). So I started becoming really critical of myself.
When my inner pighound was telling me that I was sick and could not do a trek, I thought ‘yeah yeah whatever. You’re just trying to make me give up. So I tried to ignore the voice. And I tried to ignore it for two weeks more. Until I sat with eyes wide open in front of the Dr. telling me that I could be hospitalised if I did not improve quickly. How did I not notice that it was actually my angel on my left shoulder telling me it was time to slow down? How did I not hear the compassionate voice inside of me? How out of tune am I with my body so as to ignore warning signs – and there were warning signs….! Coughing blood is hardly something that should be ignored. How did I get to this stage of self-sabotage?
I thought if I ignored the symptoms, they would go away. Sometimes, with a cold it does work – you should never give in to a disease, it will consume you – right?
When you are ill, you need to rest. It does not mean you need to necessarily be in bed the whole day. It just means you need to take it easier than before. And if you are really ill, like I was, then you should curl up in bed. When I rested at Hidden Paradise for a week, I met a young couple from Germany. He woke up feeling ill one day and his girlfriend forced him to stay in bed for two full days. I think he may have even stayed in bed for another day. And this is exactly what you need. A lot of rest. Sleep. Drink lots of fluids. Take it easy.
Don’t trek the Himalayas for two weeks. Duh…!
See, when I was battling this ‘cold’ in Kathmandu, I drugged myself with Paracetamol and other painkillers just to get through the day – a bad choice as I did no longer feel how ill I really was. I was masking the symptoms and stubbornly continued what I was doing. Well, I paid the price for it.
I want to learn to practise self-love – because clearly I’m struggling with it. I want to respect my body in a way that when it tells me to slow down, I will do just that. Health is the most important thing in life – without it, what do we have left? Being ill for almost 6 weeks and needing another 3 weeks to recover fully made me tired. It transported me back to the time when I had a pneumonia in 2011. The changing point in my life.
When I decided to never ever give up….
On a spiritual level I’m wondering if this second pneumonia is trying to tell me something about my life in general. The last one was a result of pushing myself too hard and stubbornly continuing on a path I knew was not good for me. I had to change direction. Again, 3 years later (at exactly the same time, in November), I have another pneumonia. What is life trying to tell me? Last time it was the end of a certain path in life – the beginning of change – a new direction. I had to let go of something which was immensely painful. I had to move on. Break patterns. Leave the old. Build a new road. My lungs are weak. I cannot breathe. Breathing.
What am I meant to exhale?
When I went to see an Ayurvedic Dr. in Kathmandu, she told me that I’m crouching too much. I’m supposed to sit and stand straight. The pressure on my lungs is not good for me. She also asks me whether I’ve suffered any traumas in my childhood. I look at her and wondered ‘would my childhood be split in several traumas or one big one? I don’t know what to say to her’
“Yes”, I say.
She replies: “I think the cause of your re-occurring problems with your lungs lie in your childhood. “Ok. What can I do about it?”, I ask – she scribbles down some notes and says “first we need to establish your dosha and from there we can come up with a plan. But alongside of some lifestyle changes, you need to start eating healthier, exercise more and do breathing exercises which I can show you later”.
After asking me many questions ranging from: ‘How is your stool’s consistency’ to ‘How is the relationship with your mother’, she writes down some notes nodding whilst doing so. “I think you are a Vata type with some Pitta traits”. – “Aha…ok…and what does that mean?” – “We cannot go into too much detail within this short consultation (meaning: you need to pay me more if you want more of my wisdom) – but in essence, the Vata type is dominated by air, meaning, movement. They cannot sit still and even if they do, their minds wander constantly. They have a lot of fire in them. You need to establish routine – that is VERY important for you” she says stretching the very in a way that gives me a shiver down my back. ‘Eurgh…oh no…’ I think ‘aren’t the breathing exercises enough? Routine. How I hate the word’.
She proceeds and makes me feel even more uncomfortable, when she says: “It is crucial that you start your day at exactly the same time every single day. And you also do the same things at the same time each day. You eat your food at the same time and you go to bed earlier and at the same time”. At this point I raise my eyebrows and look at her in shock. I press my lips together.
“You must also be careful with lentils, chickpeas and these types of vegetables. If you eat them, make sure to eat your meal spicy. Cinnamon, Pepper is very good for you. You may also sprinkle it over your fruit in the mornings. And I will give you some natural remedies for your chest and you will need to use a small device to flush your nose whenever you feel ill. I will show you how to do it”. The medication consists of herbal powder which I need to mix into hot water in the morning and evening. And I need to take some herbal pills whenever I feel ill. That I can handle – not a problem.
But what comes next was worrying me…..
First we do the breathing exercises for half an hour which are not entirely foreign to me as in essence it is Pranayama which I had done in a few Yoga classes before. Inhale through the one nostril, exhale through the other. Inhale, Exhale. We then proceed to breathing into our bellies and pumping our arms back and forth, opening and clenching our fists in a rhythmic motion aligned with our breathing. After a few more exercises, I feel quite dizzy but also deeply relaxed. This deep sense of relaxation cannot be described to someone who has never done Yoga or any form of it.
“I will now get the milk” and she leaves the room. ‘Milk? What for?’ I think and assume I will be drinking some yummy honey & milk concoction.
I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened next.
She returns with some sort of stainless steep cup with milk in it – it is yellowish in colour and some spice is floating in it. “Cardamom and Liquorice” she says, looking at me and nodding while I look at her confused. Next to it is a glass of cold water and she begins pouring some of it into the milk mixture to cool it down. She then pours it into a plastic device that almost looks like a miniature version of a watering can.
“Come here to the sink. You need to hold the one nostril closed, and pour the milk mixture into the other nose and let it flow out of the other nostril”
‘Aha…ok….and this is good for my chest?’ I think skeptically.
I stand there while she directs me “look at the wall, turn your head – yes that is right – now pour in the milk – yes – and now it will burn a bit” and all of a sudden this burning sensation appears out of nowhere and I need to stop as it’s soooo painful! But I’m here now, so I might as well go through with it….So I continue pouring until finally PLOP the liquid comes out the other nostril and I gaze down, not moving my head, and observe how the yellow liquid is flowing out.
After I poured all of the liquid through my nose – which must have been a good 250ml or a bit more even- I get to blow my nose. This must have done something as my snot is covered in black web-shaped gooey bits. ‘Yum. And that is what is stuck up there? Delicious!’. I proceed to do the same thing on the other side which has the same effect. I’m glad once it is over as the milk burns in my nose and I detest the feeling of liquid running through my nose. “You can also do it with saltwater if you want”. ‘Yeah I might just do that. Thank you’ I think to myself when I start sneezing and only stop after the fifth time. After that I spend a good 15min sneezing and blowing my nose blowing out more grey, black and yellow gunk.
At the end, I stand at the till waiting for my bill. This will be 4768 NRP. “Excuse me, WHAT?!”. “The lady at the reception explains: yes, you will need to take this powder for 3 months and the tablets for 1 month”. I look at her in disbelief and respond “I think I’m only taking one powder and one packet of pills”. “But we have already vacuum packed the powder for you so you can travel” “Well, you need to maybe tell me in advance during the consultation how much I’m looking to spend in herbal medicines and whether I would be ok with that. I’m sorry but I’m not going to buy more”.
She doesn’t say a word and recalculates the bill which amounts to more than 2700 Nepalese Rupees, still amounting to a lot of money and blowing one entire day’s of travel budget in one hit for poxy herbal powder! I am annoyed as I drive back to town in the taxi as I keep sneezing yellow looking spices out of my nose. Tomorrow is our last day in Nepal. ‘It’s time to leave I think’ and drive back to Thamel where Ben is waiting for me. I settle into a crossed-legged position on a floor cushion in Places (my favourite restaurant in Nepal) and tell Ben the story of what just happened as he laughs at my look on my face. And he laughs even more when I tell him that apparently I need to get into a strict routine from now on. He knows me better than anyone else and knows that this is almost an impossibility for me.
“Whatever it is…I need to change something in my life. And if routine and breathing exercises will do the trick, I want to give it a go”.
“What about pouring milk into your nose?” – I turn around ignoring his question and order a soya masala as I hear Ben giggling to himself next to me.
Have you ever ignored what your body was trying to tell you? How do you practise self-love? Have you ever visited an Ayurvedic clinic? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.