by Zoë Kosovic


Until very recently, my approach to receiving care has been minimal and begrudging.

 

If I’m sick, put me in a dark room, push some food under the door, and every few days poke me with a 10-foot pole to make sure I’m still alive.  Then I was struck with Bell’s palsy and I finally learned how to receive, slow down, open up, and rest deeply.


Bell’s palsy is a neurological disorder which weakens, and often paralyses, the facial muscles on one side, causing a noticeable droop which may last for weeks or months.  I’ve been asked why it happens and, for me, it was a specific confluence of conditions and circumstances, but the triggers vary from person to person, so I will leave the precise answer to the expertise of medical professionals.  On a Friday I noticed an inflamed lymph node behind my jaw and by Monday morning, weakness and paralysis of the right side of my face had started to set in.


In college, I companioned a close friend through the onset of Bell’s palsy, so I had an inkling of what my own symptoms might indicate.  I vividly remember being in my friend’s dorm room on that first night and, both of us giggling with a mixture of absurdity and sadness, sealing her eyelid shut with bandaids and an eye patch (that I wore for fashun) so she could sleep.  If I had not gone through that experience with her, I would have been clueless as to what was going on in my own body.


Witnessing my friend prompted me to seek care much earlier than I might have otherwise, so I have her among those to thank for my remarkable recovery.  This was the dawning of my realization of how “other people” are crucial to the healing process.  I was seen right away at urgent care, prescribed the standard pharmaceutical course, and a neurologist made space for me in her schedule that very day.


I alerted my husband Sergio, who was working in Los Angeles at the time, my parents, who live in Virginia, and a couple of friends on the East Coast.  My husband offered to fly home right away, which I initially refused knowing how much necessary work he crams into his limited time at his recording studio in North Hollywood.  “No, there’s nothing to be done but wait and rest, so don’t rush home” is an approximation of what I told him.  His tone gently let me know that I was being ridiculous and of course he was coming home.  I’m so glad he did.


On my first day of “rest” after returning home from doctors’ appointments, I accomplished a ton.  I cleaned the house and knocked out several dense modules in my permaculture design course.  I didn’t feel unwell— mercifully, I had no pain, fatigue, or any symptoms other than an out-of-sync blink and a compromised ability to keep liquids in my mouth.  I figured that “taking it easy” was up to my interpretation and I clearly didn’t have an adequate working definition of that approach.


I spent half of Day 2 digging into social permaculture concepts, one of which is the 8 forms of capital — a lens for considering and valuing resources beyond the strictly financial.  I studied in bed, so that counts as rest, right?  Hm.  My partner’s return that afternoon cued me to start slowing my pace.  His presence gave me an anchor that allowed me to awaken to and process the magnitude of what was happening to me— I got to soften and catch up to myself, cues I often give in my yoga classes.  I was unwell, out of rhythm, and due for some reflection and re-evaluation.

 

I have two wonderful friends, Paul and Szuszi, who are veritable alternative medicine wizards.  The depth and breadth of their experiential knowledge astound me regularly, so I reached out to see if they knew of any remedies to support healing of Bell’s palsy.  They basically said: “Acupuncture.  Immediately.”  I reached out to Anne Chiaramonte — you likely know her as the acupuncturist who operated her practice, Arrive Reproductive Medicine, from within Luma — who got me on her books that very evening.  Anne’s caring, professional demeanor and TCM-informed insight into Bell’s palsy did a world of good for helping me make sense of why this happened and how to support myself.  Immediately after the treatment I noticed an improvement in facial strength on my impacted side, which helped me sleep comforted and hopeful.


Over the next few days, my pace of life downshifted.  I blocked off my massage calendar and got coverage for Gentle Flow classes (thank you Ann, Banu, Barbara, and Leanna!!).  The Sunday after the onset of symptoms, my husband and I were booked on a flight to Kauai.  The majority of the travel that we do together is for family, so we decided to sneak in a mini-getaway — 4 days on the North Shore, just us.  While I was not forbidden from traveling, I was encouraged to limit my exposure to the elements, which could be difficult on an island where the elements are just begging to be explored and enjoyed.


Choosing to postpone that trip was the easiest decision imaginable.  Between my vulnerability, the challenge to remain indoors and bundled, and the presence of the coronavirus which had recently landed in Hawaii, a staycation became pretty darn appealing.  I meditated, practiced Qi Gong, read, cooked and ate soup (with a high success rate of keeping it in my mouth), lounged around like sloths with my sweetheart, and kept my spirits lifted (and my body indoors) by chatting and messaging on the phone with friends and trading Marco Polo videos with my dear friend Ro Kimbrough (who lives in Virginia and was an unexpected gift from the Luma Yoga Teacher Training program).  My symptoms were resolving all the time.  I was quickly regaining strength on the right side of my face so I looked less like one of those antique dolls whose eyes close— usually in a creepily out-of-sync manner — when you tip them back.


Toward the end of my course of corticosteroids, I started to feel pretty speedy and stir crazy.  Rest was just not an option with all those ants crawling under my skin.  I channeled that up-the-wall energy into the garage and onto an album art project that my husband’s been asking me to contribute for half a year.  Done!  Shortly after, the incomparable Kaysi Contreras reached out to offer me an aromatherapy session.  The next morning, she helped ease me back into my skin and into a parasympathetic state of healing with a foot bath, supportive oils, and an energy medicine session that made feel seen, held, and helped me to see myself, my strengths, and where I still need repair.


Two days after my session with Kaysi and an evening treatment from Anne, I returned to teaching at Luma.  10 days into this Bell’s palsy experience — of which resolution typically begins at 2 weeks and can take up to 6 months — I was virtually symptom-free.  My face was back to normal (I’ve probably always been a little lopsided, so I look normal to me!).  As you can tell, I did not do this on my own — far from it.  I received a lot support, much of it from the Luma community.  Over and over again I flashed to the S. Kelley Harrell quote that adorns the wall next to the front desk:

 

“We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.”


I wept tears of gratitude at the wealth I felt through to my bones.  This feeling was a visceral daily experience, not a realization I gleaned in hindsight.  The 8 forms of capital include intellectual, social, material, financial, living, cultural, experiential, and spiritual capital and while I won’t expound upon those concepts, I felt filled on each of those levels every day.  I truly felt like the richest person in the world; far wealthier than I would have felt on an island floating in the Pacific.


Although I look normal, I know that there is still a lot of healing to be done beneath the surface and it will have been for naught if I lose touch with what I learned along the way.  I am now far more conscious of my energy resources and I catch myself when my mind and feet start to lift off the ground and return to my frenzied pace (turns out, I have a lot more vata, or air, influence in my system than I realized).  I am doing less and connecting more, nourishing the relationships that ground, uplift, and fill me.  I am creating time to rest constructively and deeply (I find that this time does not spontaneously appear, it must be consciously chosen) through yoga nidra, which connects me to all the layers of my body down to my soul, which I now listen to and hear with greater clarity.  Turns out, reading and Netflix are recreation, not rest.  If you have 15 minutes to listen to a yoga nidra meditation, you can have more peace and ease all day while supporting your nervous and immune systems.


As science advances, the more we are learning about the biopsychosocial — the aspects that make us human, not machine — relevance in pain and healing.  Our social web and our environment, or context, matter.  We may find that leaning heavily on technology does not always make us thrive, but there are appropriate technologies that can help us stay connected in generative, nourishing ways to remind us that we are not alone, and, in fact, we matter.  You matter.


Luma has been an immense node in my support web.  Luma is also a node in your web, and I hope you will consider me to be a node and call on us when you are in need so we can hold you  whether in person or from afar.  In this COVID-19 moment, please remember that you are not alone and even if you are physically isolated, you are still supported and can call in your resources.  I know that I needed reminding of these things, so I will offer them toward you in case you need a reminder: be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself, gift yourself with 15 minutes of real rest as often as you can because you matter, more than you know.


In closing, I extend my deepest gratitude to my community (which includes you), the talented healing facilitators which I am graced to have in my proximity, and the unsung heroes of the yoga community: the subs!


In health, gratitude, and rest,


Zoë

 

Connect with Zoë by joining her live Gentle Yoga every Tuesday & Thursday at 1:30pm (here), or learn more about her services here