It’s not often that you have the chance to report on a life changing experience, but my week at Launde Abbey last year on the first Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) retreat in the UK was just that.
In July 2013 I joined a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds from the US, mainland Europe and the UK itself at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire, with the shared purpose of 'doing whatever it takes' to give us or our loved ones the best chance of recovering from MS.
Expecting simply time for reflection and lectures on the OMS programme, I was blown away by what George Jelinek and his team gave us - not just detailed, scientifically-backed, practical advice but hope, inspiration and support.
We were offered a well-organised week crammed full of lectures, activity and chances to socialise, sustained by delicious OMS friendly food.
Professor George Jelinek
George's talks gave the best explanation I have ever had about what is going on in our bodies when we have MS and he really explained the science behind the OMS approach as well as talking about current ways of treating MS with drugs.
Understanding the reasons behind the rules of the programme make me now much less likely to give in to a biscuit made with butter or a few spoons of dairy ice-cream! And George himself has to be the best inspiration and role model for the programme.
He is both impressive and inspiring: glowing with energy and good health. He had time for everybody's questions, sharing his knowledge with humour and compassion.
Although there were forty or so people there, it all felt very personal, with everyone able to just chip in with questions. It was also extremely relaxed, with bean bags put out to lounge against - I took a reclining garden chair so I could lie back while I listened.
I did not personally manage to attend all the sessions as I did not have enough stamina to do so. I was therefore very grateful that my husband had offered to attend the week with me. He attended every session that I could not and reported back in detail on what I had missed - I was keen to hear every word!
All members of George's team were excellent. Dr Craig Hassed's expert talks concentrated on the mind, showing us the plethora of evidence for the benefits of mindfulness.
He then spent time teaching us how to meditate. We practised twice a day all together, preparing ourselves for making it a habit once we returned home.
And it was very special to meet the lovely Linda Bloom whose determination, hard work and support has led to George coming over to the UK. Her own MS story is told in the book ‘Recovering from Multiple Sclerosis: Real Life Stories of Hope and Inspiration’.
One-on-one and group activities meant that we could share our own experiences, learn from others and were a great way to get to know other people on the retreat.
The ability to talk in a safe environment about our personal journeys with MS meant that a few tears were shed, but in a positive and cathartic way.
The activities were often very moving experiences. We spent the evenings socialising informally, with great local music put on one night.
New friends gathered in the bar and there was the opportunity simply to take advantage of the beautiful setting of the Abbey - walking or sitting and enjoying the countryside. And the whole week was incredibly relaxed.
So, what did I take away from the retreat?
- The evidence for taking up the programme seems to be overwhelming. I definitely felt that it is worth the hard work and commitment! Now I am aware of the reasons behind the programme 'rules' I can see that it's just not worth breaking them. 'Nothing tastes as good as walking feels' to misquote Kate Moss (and that's from someone brought up next to the Bournville chocolate factory)
- OMS food is delicious ! It just takes a little research and a bit of imagination to begin with
- The OMS way of life is just downright healthy and can benefit one's health in many ways. I've already seen my blood cholesterol count improve to very healthy levels. Totally unexpectedly, my husband announced that he was going to adopt the OMS diet too as he was totally sold on its benefits and he is now more than pleased with the side effect of a smaller waistband!
- Meditation isn't easy, but it is worth persevering as it's extremely rewarding. It's a very important part of the recovery programme and in particular has helped me since the retreat
- Attending a retreat is not just a learning experience, it's a sociable and fun one too and can be very emotionally positive
Going on from Launde, apart from the many individual friendships made, the group stays in touch via email and Facebook.
We have already had several meet ups and plans are underway for a one year reunion to renew friendships and compare notes on the last year's journey.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the experience to anyone able to attend an OMS retreat. You'll learn loads, have lots of fun and be empowered and energised to embrace the whole OMS approach.