Since I first started this blog readers have been asking me periodically if yoga helps my MS. In a word, "Yes." Today I bought a book called Yoga and Multiple Sclerosis: A Journey to Health and Healing by Loren M. Fishman and Eric L. Small. According to this book, "Gentle, low-impact yoga is the perfect exercise for people living with multiple sclerosis." Luckily for me, I already sensed this and have been relying on yoga for health and sanity since my diagnosis. I am excited to read and study this book so I can write and do more to help others with MS access yoga. The great news is that there is a video available from the NMSS, Southern California Chapter. The video is entitled Yoga with Eric Small: Adapted for People with Multiple Sclerosis and Other Disabilities. At this juncture, I have little further information to offer except my own experiences and those I begin to detail below.
I first started yoga almost four years ago during my first year as a classroom teacher. Several things brought me to the mat the first time. Work was stressful and I needed an outlet. I wanted to renew my flexibility. I was out of shape and above my ideal weight and I wanted to feel better about my body. Deep down, I think I was also hungering for a place where I could slow my mind and calm my anxieties.
I took my first class with one of the owners of a local studio called Core Power (now the largest yoga franchise around). The yoga at Core Power is not for the faint-hearted. Most of the people who attend the studio where I took my first class have rock hard bodies and little fat. I imagine that for most of these people, yoga is not their sole form of excercise. The classes generally involve a brisk vinyasa workout(flowing from pose to pose)and the majority of the classes are heated. My first class fit this model and I was terrified of the heat. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed with MS but I had always struggled when I was hot. Despite the heat, I made it through my first class. Near the end of the practice we did a pose called "Camel", made by standing on the knees and arching your upper torso backward while your hands rest on your lower back or reach for your feet. This pose exposes our heart and soft underbelly and it can bring up a lot of emotion and intense physical sensations. When I did my first camel, I had no idea about the potential e/affects of the pose. As I arched back I felt like I was going to vomit. When I pulled out of the pose and sat down (light-headed and dizzy) I knew I was going to keep coming back to yoga for a long time. A week later I brought my husband and he also became hooked.
I was initially drawn to yoga because of the physical challenge. I liked the feeling of power and strength I got in the tough, Core Power classes. Within about a month, I shed 10 pounds. I liked the way I looked and the way I felt. As I practiced more, I found something else too-- The way we were encouraged to breath in yoga calmed me. I also found that I was able to meditate as I moved through the asana (physical) practice. It was easier to stay centered and focused on the present when I was immersed in the yoga. This was especially true during a hard practice but over time, I found I could do it during the mellower moments in class as well. Yoga became my sanity. I knew within about three months of starting to practice that I wanted to become a yoga teacher.
I spent 3-5 days a week at the yoga studio for about 3 years. We even went on our honeymoon to a place called "Yoga Oasis" in Hawaii. The whole time I sensed that yoga was improving my life. I felt calmer, happier and a little more slowed down. It was not until I got really sick that I fully experienced the benefit of my yoga practice.
To be continued...
Today I am thankful to be able to teach and practice yoga regularily.