Respect Your Body: Making Minor Adjustments during Yoga Class

  • Yoga is an excellent form of exercise.  Excellent for stretching muscles and joints.  Excellent for physical and mental relaxation.  Excellent for focusing the mind.  Excellent for learning to respect your body.

    We talked last month about how I was coming back to yoga after years of ignoring it’s powerful healing.  One thing that renewed my interest was an email from my local chapter of the NMSS which announced a few classes in the area appropriate for MS patients being offered through the local hospital system.

    I didn’t join the adapted ability class, but the class I did join was labeled as Gentle Yoga in the session catalog.  The class description: “Gentle Yoga class aims to help you restore flexibility, regain strength & ease tensions.  All levels are welcome.”  Both classes are led by the same instructor.

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    So far, we have had five sessions.  The first session went well as I left feeling more loose and limber in my hips and was walking freely.  I left class feeling inspired and excited for future sessions.  During the next three classes, however, there was something lacking. 

    Week Two, we did many poses and exercises which involved being on hands and knees.  I have mild osteoarthritis in the knees and rheumatoid arthritis affecting the hands.  My knees hurt so much during and then after class that they felt bruised on the inside.  Very sore to the touch for a full week.

    Week Three, I got smart and used a folded blanket under my knees for any hands/knees positions.  It helped tremendously.  But also this week, I was experiencing mild spasticity involving the back of my left leg, both thigh and calves.  The movements and stretches during class didn’t touch this particular area and I didn’t leave class with that wonderful “loose” feeling.

    Week Four, I noticed that the focused “relaxation” time we are provided at the beginning of class serves more as a time for me to get stiff.  My knees don’t like to be laid out straight without any support under them.  My shoulders aren’t comfortable when my arms are held down along my sides (palms down as instructed).  And the back of my head begins to hurt after laying on the floor for too long.

    When we finally began to move gently and start stretching, my joints were too cold to withstand the stretch, stretch, stretch, through the tips of the fingers and toes.  My left shoulder (the one with RA) sent me exceptionally strong objections through the use of PAIN.  During this same class, a rarely occurring clonus was triggered in my right foot/ankle.  It was quite humorous actually as I was silently telling my leg to “knock it off.”

    Week Five, I decided to make a change.  I chose to modify my personal yoga practice during class.  During the beginning relaxation time, I did not lay my legs out straight.  Instead, I held them in more of a butterfly shape and let gravity work on opening my hips and indirectly stretch my inner thighs and hamstrings.  (I did straighten my legs half-way through the relaxation session.)  I also laid my arms more out to the sides to relieve some of the pressure on my shoulder joints.  And to top things off, I placed a folded towel under my head. 

  • These small changes made a huge difference.  My joints did not get locked up and my muscles were more pliable during class (most likely due to the small dose of baclofen I took that morning).  During the meditation time at the end of class, I sat in a way which took pressure off my knees. 

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    So yesterday I left yoga feeling good about myself and about the potential of continuing with this class.  I decided to sign up for the next 6-week session which begins in November.  Next week, we have a substitute teacher and I am curious to see how this person choose to lead the class.  Could be same, similar, or completely different.

    No matter what, I will remember to listen to my body and make minor adjustments as necessary.  Long-term enjoyment of a yoga practice and the physical and mental benefits depend upon it.


    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.


Published On: October 14, 2011