Refusing to yield to pain
Rica Gomez lay on the yoga mat for hours, imagining all sorts of fancy yoga poses. Visualization would help reawaken her nerves, her doctor had told her.
The 32-year-old woman was stricken with the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus a year before, leaving her almost paralyzed and in pain. Losing the ability to move was like hitting a dead end for an active and accomplished woman like her.
Gomez wallowed in self-pity. Her two boys, Ian and Andrei, were still young, and the prospect of not being able to continue teaching yoga was devastating. But her will became her loyal ally in overcoming her fear, while persistence and determination became her weapons.
Gomez is back to teaching yoga in a studio she put up with her friend, Anne Manubag.
Ironically, she got the virus when she was bitten by a mosquito while attending a wellness retreat with her husband in Balamban town in Cebu province to strengthen her marriage.
“We were in the car and everything was good,” she recalled. Suddenly, she felt feverish and her joints and muscles were painful. She was brought to the hospital where she was diagnosed to have been infected by chikungunya virus.
Called the bent-over-in-pain disease, chikungunya is spread by Aedes mosquitoes, the same species that carries the dengue and Zika viruses. There is no vaccine to prevent or a medicine to treat infection, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms usually begin three to seven days after being bitten by the mosquito. In Gomez’s case, it took less than 24 hours. Her wrists and half of her muscles were damaged, rendering her immobile and in excruciating pain. Doctors gave her pain relievers meant for cancer patients.
Gomez stayed for a week in the hospital. She could not take care of her sons and husband. And she could not do what she loved the most: yoga.
From Makati to Cebu
In 2001, Gomez, who grew up in Makati City and graduated with a Fine Arts degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman, attended her first yoga session. She fell and injured her leg, so she declared that yoga was not for her.
She married young. At 20, she and her husband left Manila and settled in Cebu to help manage the family resort in Moalboal town. A female guest, who was into yoga, told her that she had the aura of a yoga teacher—which she did not believe.
Yoga was introduced to her in 2012 as part of an intensive six-day beach body program to keep herself fit. “Something happened within me. I felt relaxed and I realized, ‘Oh … this is why people do yoga.’ After that, I did my teacher training (in yoga),” she said.
It was also that time when she was experiencing some problems and yoga became the “medicine for my spirit.” When she got sick, she pondered on giving up yoga.
Still, she fell into depression.
In Instagram, where she posted her yoga milestones that drew offers of brand endorsement, people were “unfollowing” her after she shared her journey about fighting the disease both in mind and body.
“There were times when I wanted to just be real and post that I was so down today, but nobody cared about it. People in social media can be so cruel,” Gomez said.
Three weeks after she was released from the hospital, she crawled to her yoga mat from her bed and just laid there for hours.
“I heeded the advice of my neurologist to visualize that I was doing yoga because it would create sparks on my nerves and my nerves might be able to ‘remember’ what I used to do,” she said.
Finally, after two months of feeling sorry for herself, Gomez accepted her fate. It was only then that she started to heal.
Though it was painful, she forced herself to move. She started to practice like a newbie—ignoring every muscle that screamed at her to stop. For someone who could do handstand like it was the most natural thing to do, starting from zero could be a humbling experience.
She didn’t stop because she wanted to heal every muscle fiber eaten by the virus. When frustrations overwhelmed her, she meditated and prayed, going back to the mat again until she got better and better.
Less than a year later, Gomez was back to teaching yoga. She became stronger and was able to resume the difficult poses. Even her doctors were amazed.
In 2015, Gomez and her friend opened the Asana Yoga + Movement studio as a testament to her dedication to empower people to believe in themselves and go beyond their limitations.
“I would like to see people find their breakthroughs … for them to appreciate the journey without having to worry about the results,” she said.
The pain in the joints is still there and can be bothersome, especially while Gomez teaches. But she is not a woman with a faint heart; she acknowledges the pain but does not wallow in it.
“You have to do something hard to find your breakthrough. I have experienced first hand what strong (yoga) practice can do to empower (people). I am proof of how yoga is really part of my life even when I can’t do it,” she said.
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