Yoga Practice

Too Close to Crazy: Healing on the Mat in the Jungles of Costa Rica

My vinyasa teacher Sarina shared a powerful insight with us just a week into our five-week teacher training class in India: “I love my life. I love myself. I think I’ll start doing yoga…said no person ever.” I could tell by the sober facial expressions and the slight nodding of my classmate’s heads that I wasn’t the only one on her mat who resonated deeply with that statement. We all had a bit of pain. A gnawing angst, perhaps. A desire to escape, transform, be more, do more. Why else had we bravely traveled solo thousands of miles around the world?

I knew what the power of yoga could do.

Well, let’s just say I knew enough to know I needed to know more. A lot more. Yoga and meditation had saved my sweet life this past year. My mental life that is.

When I was younger people would say “Man, I had a really, really bad day”. Got a little older and those confessions turned to “what a week from hell!”. Then I’d hear someone lament on what a tough winter that was. When you realize that’s it’s possible to have experienced a whole year of emotional and physical turmoil you know you are in the heart of one of life’s transitions. 2017 was one of those years for me.

If you were to look at my continually smiling face, bubbly personality, fit body, life on the lake and travels around the world you’d have never have known my inner struggle. Few did. I kept it darn close and became a master performer of optimism with friends, family, business associates, and even my partner, Mark.

Of course, there was that time I insisted he take me to the emergency room just after midnight.

Earlier that day my OBGYN had told me that the rise in my calcium levels could be attributed to a tumor on my pituitary gland and might be cancerous. I could not get the fear (which had translated to a rapid thundering heart rate) out of my mind and insisted the ER doc run the blood tests at 2AM to determine my levels on the spot. He did. They were fine.

But I wasn’t fine. Over the course of the past year my body had become weak. My mind was unsettled. Unbalanced. That had been my fourth trip to the ER that year and it wouldn’t be my last. My adrenal glands were churning out cortisol like a custard machine in high gear. I developed an allergy to wheat/gluten/sugar out of thin air. My legs became weak. What in the heck was going on? As a Doctor of Naturopathy, I was haunted by not knowing the source of my problem.

That next week I got a call from my only sister, Sue. She broke the devastating news to me with a raspy whisper. She was in hospice. At home. Three weeks later at the exact moment I was experiencing my most intense panic attack to date (again in the ER) she died.

There wasn’t a lot of time for grieving. Mark and I were off within days on a planned one-month excursion to the jungles of Manzanilla, Costa Rica. My oversize bag was full of herbal formulas to calm my body and was so large that my new purple yoga mat fit in with ease. After 30 years of lifting weights, stomping on the treadmill, and pushing myself through a zillion boot-camp type workout classes I had recently walked out of the gym and into the yoga studio. And I knew I was home. That I needed yoga.

Every day in Costa Rica was a challenge.

The only time I felt any semblance of calm was when I was bobbing in the tremendous blue ocean waves of one of the beaches we would ride our bikes to daily. I actually spent 30 days on sunny beaches under swaying palms, reading junky spy novels and romance bores in-between jaunts to that warm ocean and the soothing 3-4’ waves that caressed my body, my mind and grieving heart.

I meditated two times a day every day. Rolled out my mat and pulled up on my laptop to mindlessly follow along the vinyasa routines that started to finally clear my head and shape my body. The routine of it all seemed religious almost, but I really wondered how/if this path was going to take me back to “me”.

Along with the yoga, meditation, green drinks, and ocean bobbing I found Brad Yates on YouTube and did some EFT (emotional freedom technique) “tapping” for grief. Wow. The tears came hard, sobbing. But what I felt after? An amazing lightness of my heart. The pain was leaving. Finally.

I continued my self-care in our gorgeous high-gloss wooden tree house in the jungle. Families of monkeys played loudly around us all day and bright colored birds flew by squawking loudly drawing our eyes up every time to their grace and beauty. The jungle sounds in the deep dark night were both loud and comforting at the same time. I felt safe. I was getting stronger every day.

Fast forward one year and today I am in Sri Lanka exploring this beautiful country by train with my partner Mark. We’re biking, hiking, snorkeling and more. I’m super strong (signing up for yoga teacher training and 18 yoga classes weekly for four weeks will do that!), relaxed and allowing my life to unfold with grace. I’m completely calm, aware, and grateful. Like an alcoholic might say: “Hi, I’m Shirley. It’s been 376 days since my last panic attack.”

The year was rough and the navigation rarely clear, but I’m thankful for it all. Yoga did and still does bring me back “to me” every day. What a great place to be.

Does this story resonate with you? How have you found healing on the mat?


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    March 5, 2018 at 3:40 am

    I feel you darling. I had a stroke when I was 23, heart surgery, endocarditis, my grandpa died when I was in hospital, and my grandma Is in hospital with her 3rd cancer diagnosis. But I found yoga, when I was still on the wheel chair, shortly after the stroke, and it did for me what nobody else could ever do. It gave me strength and trust in myself. Now I’m able to walk and do most of the things I did before, and most importantly, I am completing my International Yoga Teacher Training. I’m still weak, too thin (after the endocarditis I wasn’t able to gain weight), I get short-breathed very quickly, and I get sick very often. But I will become a Yoga Teacher! 😀

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      Shirley Piccarreto

      March 6, 2018 at 5:33 pm

      Wow….what a story of inspiration! You have had so much on your plate of life…sending you much love and encouragement….You WIL become a Yoga Teacher…keep me posted!

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    Suzanne Gower

    March 5, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Shirley Piccarreto is a dear friend and true inspiration. She lives her life with grace. We had many conversations, including a trip to Vegas and she never shared her concerns, and certainly never complained.
    Her personal strength and commitment is truly inspirational. Honored to call Shirley my friend.

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      Shirley Piccarreto

      March 6, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      Thank you, Suzanne….you are also a friend and inspiration…we all have a few stories that could make someone is in the grace, isn’t it? The “this too shall pass” mantra is one that has always helped….dark days birth the bright ones!

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    Kc Rossi

    March 6, 2018 at 8:01 am

    Thank you for sharing so deeply from the heart. Your message and journey will touch many. It’s the brave that speak out that pave the way for those that suffer in silence. To continued yoga bliss and inner discoveries. Xo

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      Shirley Piccarreto

      March 6, 2018 at 5:38 pm

      The article was sure a lot easier to write than to hit that “post” button on Facebook! So glad I did, though. Many have been touched and that’s the most important point of it all. I’ve worked at being “perfect” for too long…it’s exhausting and I’m done with it. Yes to yoga and more discoveries! xo

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