The Art of Adjustment and Supporting Yourself Through Relapsing MS By Katy, Wife, Writer, and Yoga Instructor • March 16, 2018
Recently, I was in the midst of a yoga class, a well-deserved session of personal practice after a long week of my work to-dos, deadlines, and expectations.
I had put in an hour of downward dogs, low push-ups, squats, and lunges and was ready to relax as we made our way to our backs for some restorative stretches. But then there was abdominal work.
I had forgotten all about abs.
The instructor that night, one of my dear friends, introduced us to a different set of moves designed to tighten our cores. Then, she began guiding us. And on cue, my stomach began to flip with anxiety.
But it wasn’t the idea of fatiguing my obliques that was causing me mental and emotional distress. It was the fact that she was asking us to lift each leg high to the sky in the process.
I can usually “hide” my relapsing MS pretty well when we’re lying on our backs. Unlike the moments when all of my fellow yogis are standing solidly on their left legs in "tree" pose or "dancer" while I give myself permission to gently rest a hand on the wall for balance, the moments that we spend in reclined positions give me the opportunity to blend in. I can forget, for a few breaths, that I have a chronic disease that has done irreversible damage to certain parts of my brain and the rest of my body.
My left leg is the one that acts like a problem child most of the time. Just when I’m hitting my stride in my favorite pair of blue suede loafers, the toes catch me by surprise and decide not to clear the ground beneath them.
I trip; I laugh; I try to shake it off. But every now and then, my heart breaks when I remember that I have a condition that is never going to go away.
During those moments, I summon the “yoga teacher” voice inside of my head and my heart. I encourage myself to keep going, to treasure the fact that my feet do work pretty well most of the time.
Being consistently thrown off-balance has been one of the greatest gifts in my life, calling me to show up more completely in the face of challenge and to maintain my inner sense of calm in spite of unexpected and sometimes distressing circumstances.
I may never have found my yoga practice if I hadn’t developed RMS. I may not have cultivated the empathy that I feel for others in the midst of similar situations. I never would have understood just how challenging each moment of my mom’s life was during the last few years of her disease, like when RMS robbed her of the ability to dance in my dad’s arms on the day of my wedding.
But Mom still laughed when Dad carried her down the aisle before he gave me away. And she was radiant and joyful during my reception as he held her and whisked her off the floor to her favorite ‘50s love song.
I got a little off track, but I wanted you to know what inspires me to keep trying even if I have to modify what I do.
So when my yoga teacher guided the class through those abdominal exercises that I wasn’t too familiar with, I gave it my best effort—and that lasted for about two breaths. At that point, I remembered to listen to my body and didn’t look back.
I spent about 60 seconds doing gentle bicycle exercises, breathing in and out steadily as I tried to tune out the loud music and vocal expressions of distress coming from the power yogis around me. I wasn’t moving like everyone else. But I was finding a way to make it work.
In the midst of my mission, my left leg began to rebel as it always does, and I finally gave in to let it rest. I stretched both legs out in front of me, raised my arms overhead, took a deep breath, and laughed.
Sometimes “giving in” in a manner that may look like “giving up” to others is exactly what my RMS-tinged body may need the most. But taking a break—even if it’s a little early—feels glorious. And I’m okay with that.
Now I’m curious: What do you do to make life with RMS a little easier, or to simply give yourself a break?
- LIVING WITH RELAPSING MS
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