Yoga and MS
BY: KERRY MCKENZIE
Downward dog, pigeon, cobra—no, we’re not talking about animals—we’re talking about yoga. The practice of yoga has existed for thousands of years, but has recently surged in popularity. Practitioners of yoga combine a series of poses and breathing exercises, with the intention of bringing peace to the body, mind and spirit.
Megan Weigel, co-founder of oMS Yoga, believes yoga can be a beneficial practice for people living with MS to add into their care routine.
“Research on yoga and MS is growing, and tells us that yoga may help with fatigue, balance, quality of life, depression/anxiety, bladder issues and pain,” says Weigel, a nurse practitioner and president of the International Organization of MS Nurses. “Our students tell us that yoga has also taught them how to breathe, and has helped them form a supportive community, leaving them feeling less isolated.”
oMS Yoga began in Jacksonville, Florida in 2012. Weigel founded it with Cheryl Russell, a yoga instructor who lives with MS. In 2015, Weigel was connected to MossRehab, a member of the Einstein Healthcare Network, the largest independent medical center in the Philadelphia region. With MossRehab’s guidance, oMS Yoga applied for a grant from The Albert Einstein Society to start free oMS Yoga classes at MossRehab. In April, they were notified that they would be receiving funding to bring yoga classes to MossRehab’s Elkins Park, PA and Doylestown, PA locations. Sherri Bittner, an accomplished yoga instructor whose husband lives with MS, will be teaching the classes that started in October.
“MossRehab has a well-known MS program that includes sophisticated rehabilitation therapies, support groups, and physical maintenance programs,” says Weigel. “Our mission and theirs fit nicely together, and we are grateful for their collaboration on this project.”
Weigel knows that someone’s first yoga class can be a little intimidating, but she’s confident there’s no reason to be nervous.
“When you attend an oMS Yoga class at MossRehab, you will enter a room that is filled with others who are there to support you,” says Weigel. “We suggest to yogis that since every day is different, so is every yoga class. And that helps them learn to effectively deal with the unpredictability of living with MS.”
Yoga classes will be gentle, yet challenging, 60 minutes in length and include a guided meditation. The classes are designed to awaken potential, empower confidence and inspire possibility in people living with MS. Weigel stresses that the yoga classes are for everybody, and encourages people of all levels of ability to attend, including those using assistive devices like wheelchairs. If you use an assistive device, you must be able to independently transfer; if not, oMS Yoga asks that you bring a care partner to class. To learn more, visit omsyoga.org or call (267) 614-4291.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of MSConnection.