There are firsts for everything. We remember our first day of school, the first time we rode a bike, or the first time we were able to dive into the deep end of the pool. But when you have a disease like Multiple Sclerosis it is like starting over. Everything we do becomes a first again with the tag line..."It was my first time doing such and such after my diagnosis with MS." And so it was recently that I took my first yoga class after my diagnosis of MS.
I had taken only one yoga class prior to my MS diagnosis. It was a class offered at my gym and resembled more of an aerobics class than any idea I had of what yoga should be like. The perky instructor would yell out poses and the class would respond. The class would transform into monkeys, cows, and dogs and needless to say I had no clue what was going on. I looked around the room and everyone was gracefully elongating and twisting themselves into these shapes as I tried to figure out how best not to injure myself. Fortunately I was in the back of the class and near the door. I slowly made my escape and felt relief once I reached the other side of understandable treadmills and weight machines. At least I knew what to do there.
See I had thought that yoga was about relaxation, philosophy, and stretching. Disillusioned by my very short experience in an advanced gym class, I never sought to do yoga again. Until...I got diagnosed with MS. I had heard that yoga was good for us MSers because the stretching would help with symptoms such as spasticity and that the relaxation component would be good to reduce our stress. It took me two years but I finally got the gumption two weeks ago to try yoga again.
I had no idea what to expect. My previous time was nothing like what I thought yoga should be so I simply reserved judgment until the class would begin.
The teacher was nothing I had expected. She was an older lady, pudgy and rounded, and who appeared that she did not spend much time at the gym. Appearances can be deceiving so I held my superficial bias in check. She quickly assessed the crowded room and began to take roll. Since I had noted on my form that I would possibly need accommodations she asked what those were. I told her that I had Multiple Sclerosis and she then asked me if I was at the stage where I had congestion in my chest. I looked puzzled but didn't catch on at that moment that maybe she didn't know what MS was.
She told me that the relaxation would do me good and then moved on to another participant. I probably should have taken the opportunity to educate at that point but I guess I was amazed that she wouldn't know about MS.
Most people in the room did ask for some sort of accommodation. Some had foot problems, back problems, or had been through surgery. It seems as you grow older this list of physical and/or medical issues grows with you.
The teacher then dimmed the lights and gave us instructions to listen to our bodies and to not go beyond what our bodies could do. I was feeling grateful that she was a gentle spirit and not a believer in the "No pain no gain" motto. I was liking this teacher more and more by the minute. For a full hour we stretched pretty much everything on the body which can be stretched and then some places I don't think I have ever stretched before. It was all done slowly, methodically, and peacefully. Now this was what I had originally expected from yoga.
We would stretch out one side and she would ask if that side felt longer than the other side. And it did! Then we would find balance by doing the other side. She also had us do some breathing exercises which were actually difficult for me. She called it "box" breathing where you breathe in for four counts, then hold for four counts, then exhale for four counts and hold for four counts. At this time I was thinking of that magic dude who tried to break the world's record for holding his breath for over fifteen minutes under water. And I found it hard to hold my breath for four seconds.
I was a little worried that my MS would show up during the class. It did a little teeny bit. My right arm began to jerk after those breathing exercises. I felt self conscious and looked around the room to make sure nobody was looking. And then it happened. Someone farted in the class. In a way I was relieved. I mean we are all human right? If someone can fart in yoga class then I can shake. I smiled as class continued.
It was twenty some minutes before the class would be over when the teacher dimmed the lights even further and told us it was relaxation time. I felt like I was in kindergarten and that special time when you get out your sleeping mat. I have to say that relaxation is not something I do well at all. So this was good for me although it did feel like torture. I wanted to get up and do something! My thoughts were bouncing around like monkeys on a tree. But the teacher would talk in this soothing voice and I finally reached a point where I did feel more peaceful.
She would say, "You are perfect just the way you are. There is nothing to do. Nothing to think. Nowhere to be right now. Just feel your breaths going in and out."
It worked too well on some people. I heard snoring in the back of the class. I think it will be awhile if ever that I would fall asleep in yoga class. But I did manage to feel less wired so it was a huge success for me. I slept very well that evening.
MS and yoga? It works. I felt a greater confidence about my body and what I can do. The stretches felt good for the most part. And I am learning to relax. So go ahead, take a yoga class. I bet you will like it!