Topic / Blog

It’s OK to pause - find mindfulness in your life (and yoga!)

Véronique Gauthier lives in the mountainous countryside of the Algarve in the far south of Portugal, in Europe where she moved in 2018 with her husband, Peter. She is extremely fond of her new homeland. As spring turns into summer, she shares locals’ concerns about the financial impact for many who are reliant on tourism. She believes the Portuguese Government acted quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in early March, requesting social distancing and closing schools.

For Véronique social-distancing is important as she lives with multiple sclerosis, having been diagnosed twenty years ago, aged 33. Social-distancing has been relatively easy as she lives in the hills, in a remote house in the beautiful Portuguese countryside. In addition to her husband, she lives with three dogs and one cat. 

Rachel Moorwood, PR Manager at Overcoming MS had a chat with Veronique via Google Hangouts last week during the COVID-19 restrictions:  

How do you feel about social-distancing?

I am originally from the countryside in northern France; I lived in a tiny village with only a handful of residents. I had one sister, who I wasn’t close to at the time and my two brothers, who played boys stuff together. So from an early age I was used to being alone, enjoyed my own company and loved reading. For me, physically distancing is not too difficult at all. 

Is there anything you would recommend for people to cope with social-distancing?

First, I think it’s important to stay connected with friends and family. We need to support each other. But I also believe that social-distancing gives us the opportunity to pause and be ‘bored’ without feeling guilty. Most people - me included - tend to focus on doing, being active, going places… But it’s important to stop, accept that it’s OK not to be busy all the time. Being ‘bored’ can help us to feel more grounded, more connected to our surroundings.  

Before the lockdown, I would get up, do yoga, go running, get ready, drive to a coworking space to work, and after work go to the gym or the pool. Now, I can’t do that. But it’s good! When I have nothing to do, I sit outside and listen to the silence. I enjoy just listening to Nature being busy - there are birds, bees and the wind in the trees. The more attention you pay, the more layers you notice. I’m also enjoying time for self-discovery and meditation.

I do follow the OMS diet, that’s a way of life, but even that I am simplifying. We eat what is available and now more than ever what is local. I do miss fresh grilled fish from the sea, but we have an abundance of local, fresh vegetables and fruit available. I am enjoying taking my time cooking OMS recipes from scratch which are healthy and delicious. 

I know people will have greater challenges too. But I hope isolation will give people time to stop, to reflect whether they live in a flat or in the countryside. There will be new sounds to listen to in town centres without the constant traffic and the air quality should be improved too. 

Anyone who knows you will know you are a fitness fanatic?  How has your exercise regime changed?

I will admit I miss the gym, swimming in the pool and my trainer. But I am still active every day. I enjoy walking the dogs in the countryside, I do yoga and HIIT. I cycle and sometimes help my husband in the garden. I’m really happy to see that there are lots of online classes available now so I also try to do some of these.

I had just started to teach yoga locally to build a network, but I’ve sadly had to shelve this for the moment. I can’t wait to start again when we are able.

Véronique is one of OMS’ facilitators and helps at events. She started yoga in 2000 when she was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. Over the years, she studied different types of yoga with different teachers and qualified in Hatha Yoga and Yoga Therapy. Together with her husband, she created Taming the Walrus, which is dedicated to encouraging people with MS to practise yoga. 

https://overcomingms.org/about-us/facilitators/veronique-gauthier-simmons

Has your work been affected?

I'm fortunate that my full-time job as a learning designer is home-based so my salary continues. I am used to working remotely with a global education company and I am still able to do this successfully. I am currently working on developing a phone app to teach English and business skills. Our virtual team is global. I have colleagues in London, New York, Switzerland, Spain, Thailand, Poland and we all work from home.  Meetings face-to-face have been cancelled which is a shame as it’s always good to meet people in person but we are managing fine and our business is tech which is proving essential in modern society. 

Véronique is also keeping herself busy learning Portugese (adding to her German, French, English and Spanish language skills putting many of us to shame!)

She does not take medication for her MS, and has still managed to get hold of supplements to complement her OMS lifestyle choices. 

How does she stay connected?

As I live in the middle of nowhere I’ve been using online chat for a while - I use every platform going! I enjoy keeping in regular touch with friends. I do miss my parents who are in France especially as my mum, now 82, has Alzheimer’s.

I feel positive, lucky and well in general though. I hope people may take this unprecedented health crisis to free up time in their weekly lives, make time to talk and accept that it’s OK not to be busy all the time. My top tips are to stay connected with friends and family and use this time to pause, meditate and bring mindfulness into your life. 

I text some of my friends (in Portugal, Denmark and the UK) each morning to nudge them to meditate, so we know we are meditating together which I think is just a nice thing for us to do.

Has MS helped how you are handling your new normal?

Indeed, personally, the hardest part of coping with MS after diagnosis was the lack of certainties. Not knowing what is going to happen was really tough. So I had to learn to expect the unexpected. And not to look too far ahead in the future - there’s no point obsessing over best and worst case scenarios. I’m sure many people living with MS feel the same. So in a way, dealing with a chronic condition like MS has helped us deal with uncertainty and we get used to accepting each day. 

And what have you done to your arm?!

I fell over a couple of days ago while cycling and fell badly on my left elbow. I left it a few days before going to the doctor who put it in a sling to heal (it’s broken!). Not great timing but it’s all fine and it’s another adjustment I’m having to make! 

Overall this time out has made me realise how blessed I am. I would like to extend my best wishes to our OMS community; stay safe and well. And we know, more than most people, how important and brilliant our health workers are. 


For Portuguese news in English, Véronique recommends:

https://www.theportugalnews.com/

And for a reliable source of Government information:

https://www.rtp.pt/noticias/pais/a-evolucao-da-covid-19-em-portugal_i1213879

Overcoming MS focus on COVID is here

https://overcomingms.org/

Véronique is a yoga teacher and some of her free resources and experience are here:

https://vimeo.com/user30009423 and on the OMS site here: https://overcomingms.org/resources/exercise

Plus she also recommends these exercises for people with MS: https://www.msworkouts.com and http://www.themsgym.com/

For anyone interested in reading more widely about the practice of yoga, (perhaps while you have time), Véronique recommends the following:

  • Stephen Cope, The Wisdom of Yoga

  • B K S Iyengar, Light On Life

  • Donna Farhi, Bringing Yoga to Life

  • Judith Hanson Lasater, Living Your Yoga

COVID-19 Exercise yoga
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Linda Boueke (not verified)

It is great to read your news, dear Veronique. Every time I do yoga I actually think of your teaching during our retreat and your encouraging and bright way to look at life with MS as well as your shining example. Stay well!

RMOORWOOD

Thanks Linda. As we sadly had to cancel our 2020 retreat due to COVID restrictions, we are hosting a sort of virtual retreat - a series of five online webinars this Spring. Véronique is hosting a webinar about exercise, including yoga of course, if you wanted to join her then. We will be sharing more information soon - we hope you are well too.