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Adaptive yoga can reduce some symptoms of MS, as well as relieve the anxiety many people with MS feel.
At age 63, Charles Zuccarini had never set foot in a yoga studio. He had certainly never considered trying yoga to help with symptoms of primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), with which he was diagnosed in 2002. However, about four years ago, he found himself at a yoga class.
“A friend who was big into yoga convinced me to try it. I was skeptical because I didn’t see how yoga could help my MS,” Zuccarini says. “But I went in a skeptic and left a believer.”
Zuccarini attended a class at Yoga Moves MS, a Michigan nonprofit organization founded by the yoga instructor Mindy Eisenberg. The adaptive yoga classes Eisenberg teaches are focused on helping those with MS and other neurological diseases.
Eisenberg says yoga has the potential to lessen several physical symptoms of MS and may contribute to improved strength, flexibility, posture, balance, focus, circulation, digestion, elimination, and pelvic floor health and to decreased tension, fatigue, and spasticity.
Zuccarini can attest to this. He experiences numbness, tingling, and swelling on the entire right side of his body and walks with a limp. “After I go to class, I feel better. I can walk better, am more flexible, and it helps me with my balance,” he says.
In 2012, eagerness to help my yoga students with chronic pain led me down the mindfulness path. Little did I know then that it would become a vital part of my being. As I delved into the literature on coping with pain, mindfulness studies kept cropping up and caught my attention. Jon Kabat-Zinn had obviously done his homework when he developed a stress reduction program over 30 years ago at the University of Massachusetts. My intrigue grew as I read how mindfulness and meditation have the potential to rewire, reshape and mold the brain to improve our physical and emotional health.
It took 2 ½ years of being on the wait list to finally attend an MBSR Professional Education and Training with the two pioneers, Jon Kabat –Zinn and Saki Santorelli. The training was filled with 160 professionals from around the world, including physicians, therapists, military officials and governmental staff, patients with bone marrow cancer, VA staff, educators and principals of schools, corporate administrators and leaders, and yoga instructors and therapists. [Read more…] about Caught by Mindfulness
Yoga Moves MS at MS Consortium 2016
The scientific community is becoming more—well, flexible—when it comes to attitudes about yoga and its role in alleviating symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Until recently, the effects of the practice on MS had never been subjected to rigorous scientific inquiry, and therefore it couldn’t be recommended. But a recent pilot study conducted at Rutgers University is changing that with promising preliminary outcomes. And the study’s participants seem to be at least as excited about the results as the researchers, if not more so.
“After nine years, I was finally able to feel the sand underneath my feet at the beach near our house on the Jersey shore,” reported one participant in a follow-up survey. Another said she was able to get up from her seat unassisted for the first time in 11 years.
Such comments echo a large volume of anecdotal evidence that’s accumulated over the years that supports yoga as a powerful tool for helping people with MS live safer, healthier and happier lives. “And the scientific research is beginning to catch up,” says Dr. Allen C. Bowling, a neurologist and author of Optimal Health with Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide to Integrating Lifestyle, Alternative, and Conventional Medicine (Demos Health, 2014).
Not just a bunch of posers
Susan Gould Fogerite, PhD, director of research for the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the School of Health Related Professions at Rutgers, gathered 26 experts, including neurologists, psychologists, physical therapists and yoga instructors, as well as people with MS who practice yoga. Together, they created a progressive series of 90-minute, twice-weekly gentle yoga classes. Fourteen women who had either relapsing-remitting or progressive MS, ages 34–64, completed eight weeks of the classes.
The researchers took baseline and post-study measures of mobility, coordination, fatigue, and mental and emotional status. They found that after the program, the women were better able to walk for short distances and for longer periods of time, had better balance and fine-motor coordination, and were better able to move from sitting to standing. The women also reported that their quality of life improved in key areas, including perceived mental health, concentration, bladder control, walking and vision, with a decrease in pain and fatigue. All of these improvements rose to the level of “statistical significance,” an important benchmark of scientific credibility.
Previously, a 2004 Oregon Health Sciences University study found that six months of yoga significantly helped relieve fatigue, and improved strength and flexibility and other quality of life measurements among 69 people with MS. Other smaller studies in the past 10 years have found improvements in anxiety, depression, bladder function, pain, spasticity, weakness and walking among people with MS who practice yoga.
Dr. Fogerite attributes the benefits seen in research, in part, to the mind-body-spirit aspect of yoga. Yoga’s calming, focused method of breathing and mindfulness, along with its acceptance of the body’s limitations, works in tandem with the strength, balance and flexibility training that come with the actual poses, she says.
Drs. Fogerite and Bowling both say more research is needed to discover the mechanics of how yoga works for people with MS, but Dr. Fogerite suspects that the slow, mindful repetitions of the movements in yoga may help “recruit” brain cells next to the cells damaged by the disease—in essence rerouting the network needed to connect for a particular function.
Yoga for every body
For people with MS who practice yoga, the research validates what they already suspected. Eric Small, a Los Angeles–based senior certified Iyengar yoga instructor, says his practice completely transformed his life.
“Had I gone along with my diagnosis and the recommendation to go home, do nothing and stay out of the sun, I would have been long gone,” says Small, who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 1953 when he was 20 years old and there were no available medical treatments for the disease. “But here I am at 81, stronger and more able than I was before my diagnosis.”
Small, who is co-author with Dr. Loren Fishman of Yoga and Multiple Sclerosis: A Journey to Health and Healing (Demos Medical Publishing, 2007), notes that people don’t have to be especially flexible or strong to do yoga. “Even for a student in a wheelchair, there is a way to do Iyengar yoga,” he says. Adapted yoga poses can also be performed while lying down in bed. “For people to understand that there is something they can do to improve their state, that’s really the most important part. People gain a sense of freedom, independence and confidence knowing that they have tools that can help manage symptoms.”
Mary Ann Braubach, 56, diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2003, began adaptive Iyengar yoga after a particularly bad relapse, working from her wheelchair with Small. “It’s extraordinary how much yoga has helped me. It’s really strengthened my body,” says Braubach, a resident of Brentwood, California. She adds that her practice also has improved her balance and spasticity, ultimately enabling her to forgo her wheelchair and use a cane for mobility. Yoga has also helped her manage stress, she says. “They call some of the poses ‘restorative,’ and they really do restore your body,” she says.
Going with the flow
As you begin practicing, pay attention to your body, and be very careful as to how much you push yourself, warns Dr. Bowling. “For people with muscle stiffness and spasticity, it’s important to be very cautious about how much to stretch their muscles,” he says. “Err on the side of underperforming, just until you see how your body handles it.” As with all physical practices, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first.
How long and how often you need to practice yoga before you begin to feel benefits depends on you, says Small, who underscores that yoga is not a “quick fix,” and consistency is key.
You can take elements—like a few minutes of yoga-style breathing—and do them throughout the day as needed: at home, in your office or even barefoot on the beach.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Momentum, the magazine of the National MS Society.
Yoga Moves MS has been chosen as one of the charities for Art Van Charity Challenge. This will run from April 4th, 2017 at NOON until April 25th, 2017 at NOON.
The 9th annual Art Van Charity Challenge is underway where Midwest charities raise money, awareness and donors through a three week fundraising competition. Focusing on charities committed to women, children and human services in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, participating organizations are vying for $180,000 in grand prizes to help further their missions.
The Challenge launches on Tuesday, April 4th at 12pm ET and runs through Tuesday, April 25th at 11:59:59am ET.
The best part of the Art Van Charity Challenge is that even if your organization don’t win any of the grand prizes, your organization keeps the money raised during the campaign.
To help propel us to the top of the leader board and earn one of the prizes click here.
HELP YOGA MOVES MS!
By: Mindy Eisenberg E-RYT 500
As yoga instructors, we have often seen a student’s peaceful smile after practice, but to experience the exhilaration felt by my Yoga Moves MS students is truly inspiring.
It is no wonder that two recent studies on yoga and multiple sclerosis (MS) confirm that yoga uplifts one’s mood (1,2). Individuals with MS experience a wide range of psychological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, fatigue, and anger. Approximately 50 percent of patients with MS experience depression, which is three times the prevalence of the general population (3). I have seen how yoga provides a healing path for my students. I want to spread the word on the fantastic benefits of adaptive yoga to this underserved community, and share these studies with you.
I chose to dedicate my life’s work to helping individuals with MS and neuromuscular conditions to live their lives to the fullest. As a child, I witnessed my mother’s struggle with MS, and saw her physical and cognitive capabilities decline at the whim of the disease. Intuitively, I knew there must be a better way to live a quality life.
Twelve years ago, I began teaching adaptive yoga and created the non-profit Yoga Moves MS. Students and instructors readily offer their talent, intellect, creativity and love in each class, uplifting the tone of the room exponentially and inspiring all who are present. Together, we have created an empowering community that goes off the mat and well beyond the classroom. My students even made me write a book to help them continue their practice at home! (4)
During class, relief spreads across their faces from the release that yoga brings to their bodies. Students literally cheer for each other while practicing poses together. Yoga Moves MS students report that the physical postures lessen symptoms such as fatigue, spasticity and muscle rigidity. After yoga, they move and ambulate better and report that they also have improved sleep, and better means to cope with their pain and personal challenges.
Researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have documented some of these benefits. They examined the effects of single bouts of treadmill walking and yoga compared with a quiet, seated-rest control condition on acute mood symptoms in MS (1). Results published in the International Journal of MS Care indicate that walking and yoga yielded similar improvements in overall acute mood symptoms and confirms that yoga is a viable intervention for managing the mood disturbances associated with MS. The study analysis concludes that it would be helpful to compare different types of yoga such as Hatha, Yin and Vinyasa to identify the optimal style when considering varying levels of disability.
Additionally, a pilot study at Rutgers University in 2014(2) found that yoga helped participants improve mobility and quality of life, and decrease pain and fatigue. With two 90-minute sessions per week, they were better able to walk for short distances and for longer periods of time, had better balance and fine-motor coordination, and were better able to move from sitting to standing. The women in the study reported that their perceived mental health, concentration, bladder control, walking and vision improved to the level of “statistical significance,” an important benchmark of scientific credibility.
These studies begin to demonstrate what yoga can do for those with MS and neuromuscular conditions. It is exciting to know that studies are confirming what Yoga Moves MS instructors and students already know about the benefits of yoga. Yoga inspires and empowers individuals with MS to take control of their lives.
Adaptive Yoga empowers those with MS and neuromuscular conditions to partake in their healing process. It is not about fancy poses. It is not “one size fits all.” It can fit all body types, whether flexible or stiff, short or tall, muscular or lean, and able to ambulate with or without a cane, walker, scooter, or wheelchair, says Mindy Eisenberg, yoga therapist. She is the Founder of Yoga Moves MS, a non profit, dedicated to providing therapeutic yoga to individuals with MS and neuromuscular conditions in small group classes throughout southeastern Michigan.
A regular yoga practice provides a means to harness inner power and manifest changes that were perhaps never considered possible to those with chronic conditions and movement challenges. By becoming more aware of the mind body connection, our students discover and focus on capabilities rather than disabilities. We teach them to say “Yes, I can. Saying “I can’t” is obstructive. Even stating, “I will try” does not show enough resolve. Having a little faith, students find they can have more control over their body.
Dr. Voci, Chair, of Yoga Moves MS, states that “the empowerment that yoga provides can serve, along side one’s medications, as therapy to better health. Adaptive Yoga and breathing are referred to in our community as our Weapons of Mass Empowerment!
Breathing practices, physical poses, and meditation have a high impact on energy level. Everyone and anybody can learn to use the Complete Yoga Breath to calm the nervous system and manage fatigue, a common symptom for those with MS and neuromuscular conditions. The breath is a natural “edge detector” that helps one to understand their current capabilities andand energy level. The simple act of focusing on the breath can relieve stress, and improve focus, pain, and sleep patterns.
Yoga Moves students report that physical postures lesson symptoms such as spasticity or muscle rigidity. The practice may complement a medical treatment or even reduce the need to “take another pill” to decrease spasms. Those interested in adaptive yoga should always take the necessary precautions by consulting with their physician before embarking on a practice.
For muscle spasms, practice Leg Stretch Pose in a chair or on the mat. It helps to stretch the back of the leg, hamstrings and calves.
If students ask me for one pose to manage fatigue and relieve stress and tension, I always tell them to find time in their day to practice Legs Up the Wall Pose or a variation, Legs Up on on a Chair Pose. These poses are known to help with headaches, circulation, swelling, menstrual cramps, and restless leg syndrome
<em>Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body</em> is a user friendly guide that contains simple yet detailed instructions for traditional yoga poses together with lots of photos and accessible adaptations.
The dream is for yoga therapy to be covered by insurance,” said Mindy Eisenberg, yoga instructor and author of ‘Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body, a guide full of hundreds of poses with adaptations suitable for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or other conditions that impede movement. As a child, Eisenberg witnessed her mother’s struggle with MS, and saw her capabilities change at the whim of the disease. “I was about six when it really started to develop. For better or for worse, I was around someone who had a disability, so I’m comfortable,” said Eisenberg who’s lived in Birmingham, Bloomfield and Franklin.
Published at the end of 2015, ‘Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body’ represents Eisenberg’s personal experience and her intensive work with Yoga Moves MS, a non-profit she founded that offers adaptive yoga classes for people with MS at various studios throughout southeastern Michigan. “(Our instructors) get beyond disability, and get more into the gift of what yoga has to offer. We focus on ability, not disability,” she said.
Once her students began asking for instructional aides to take home, Eisenberg brainstormed how she could help them practice at home. “I had an idea for a flip chart that they could stand up next to their mat, but the packaging would be really expensive, and the book was big.” She considered a video, but realized that without a book to accompany it, that could create hurdles because “if someone has mobility or cognitive issues,” she said, “they will move slower, and the video just keeps going.”
After five years of research, and learning from teachers around the country, a 400-page resource guide was printed. “We had to put together our own philosophy because there’s very little adaptive yoga being taught around the county.” One of the instructors she sought out was Matthew Sanford. “He’s like one of the gurus in adaptive yoga, and he teaches from a wheelchair, so I’m learning from someone with experience himself.” Composed of clear instructions and pictures of her students in the poses, ‘Adaptive Yoga for Any Body,’ is the only book of its kind. “There’s a section on coping with pain. I believe strongly in mindfulness, philosophy and practice, and that’s very strongly applied in the book.”
Each pose in ‘Adaptive Moves Any Body’ shows various adjustments to suit the individual’s needs. Poses are shown standing, seated, or with the support of props such as chairs, blocks, blankets and bolsters. “My experience is working with people who have limitations. I specialize in people with MS, but the condition has a range of different symptoms, so one person can see just fine, and another is blind in one or both eyes. Another may have drop foot; another is really tight. There’s so many different symptoms, and we found that knowledge of the various symptoms takes you across a wide spectrum of people with illness, like arthritis, stroke, or Parkinson’s.”
Having sold over 350 copies, the book has been mailed all over the world, including Belgium, Switzerland and Australia. “All the money from the book is feeding these (Yoga Moves MS) classes,” she said.
My eagerness to help my yoga students with chronic pain led me down the mindfulness path in 2012. Little did I know then that it would become a vital part of my being. As I delved into the literature on coping with pain, mindfulness studies kept cropping up and caught my attention. Jon Kabat-Zinn had obviously done his homework on developing a stress reduction program beginning over 30 years ago at the University of Massachusetts. My intrigue grew as I read how mindfulness and meditation have the potential to rewire, reshape and mold the brain to improve our physical and emotional health.
It took 2 ½ years of being on the wait-list to finally attend a MBSR Professional Education and Training with the two pioneers, Jon Kabat –Zinn and Saki Santorelli. The training was filled with 160 professionals from around the world, including physicians, therapists, military officials and governmental staff, patients with bone marrow cancer, VA staff, educators and principals of schools, corporate administrators and leaders, and yoga instructors and therapists. I experienced mediation trainings and retreats, but these instructors were different. When answering questions and conducting group discussions, their humble, thoughtful words were spoken with deep presence and care. They practiced with us during sitting and walking meditations, body scans, yoga and the silent meditation “retreat within the retreat.”
After the initial training with the genuine masters, I found myself on the four-year journey to becoming a qualified MBSR instructor for my students, of course. I thought to myself, this is a hefty commitment and investment but my students are worth it. Little did I know that there was a little catch. The MBSR teacher training process is structured to make sure that the teachers actually live the practice. There is no way around it. I had to do the homework. After about six months of steady practice, I realized that mindfulness meditation was making a difference. If I missed a day, a pattern started to emerge. The days without the formal practice did not go as well as the days I practiced mindful meditation. Unexpected life challenges still happened, but my internal coping mechanism shifted. Has my mindfulness set me free from stress, depression and anxiety? I would like to think that is possible, but the answer is no. The waves of up and downs still flow with the current of reality. The intensity, however, has changed for the better. I now have a way to cope that is within me. When communicating with others, I attempt to really listen. My morning ritual includes mindful meditation. There is no choice for me. It is an integral component of my never-ending quest for healing.
Open minds and hearts are prevalent among my students. They tell me that mindfulness has helped them to realize that they are not defined by their condition or pain. My experience continually teaches me that mindfulness is not only a meditation practice. It is a way of being.