My journey with multiple sclerosis

  • חני פנטילט
  • |
  • 01/01/2013

My journey into yoga and multiple sclerosis (MS) commenced at about the same time 12 years ago when I was 27. I started yoga and a few months later, I was detected with multiple sclerosis.
The first six years were relatively normal. I was a student. I worked and also attended classes at the Iyengar yoga center. I was very intrigued by Iyengar yoga right from the beginning and thought that it was a very intelligent way to study my body and mind. I knew that I had M.S. I experienced a few relapses, but none really severe enough to cause any noticeable damage.
Six years later, I started experiencing severe relapses. My condition was worsening. So, I had to focus solely on my self- practice. As I was a regular practitioner of Iyengar Yoga from early days of my illness, I have been able to maintain my practice even though my condition gradually became more and more challenging. Of course, I have had to learn how to adjust my practice to the new circumstances and learn how to respond to the challenges that each day brought with a new set of symptoms. I used to talk about my Yoga practice with every physician I met along the way. They all dismissed it with the notion that physical-therapy was most
important. However, I continued with my practice!
A few months ago I went to see my neurologist. This time, I showed him some photographs of me performing the āsana-s. He was really imspanssed. In fact, Multiple sclerosis is the disseae of the brain and spinal cord. It is an auto-immune disease wherein the immune sytem attacks its own nerve cells. What causes it is unknown. Early symptoms of multiple sclerosis include weakness, tingling, numbness, and blurred vision. Other possible warning signs are muscle stiffness, thinking problems, and urinary problems. There is no cure as of now.

 

it was hard for him to believe that it was actually me who was performing those postures. The gap between my disability of walking (I need two walking sticks), and the ability and vitality of performing the postures was very visible. I briefly explained to him about all the benefits of the Yoga practice and how important it is to start at the early stage of the illness when the patient is still relatively strong. I felt that it was important for him to know so that he could guide other patients accordingly.
He had mentioned before that my range of movement had been spanserved
and he now understood the reason why; the photographs showed him that
although I'm not able to walk well, my body is spanserving its vitality

 

Struggle and surrender
A correct Yoga practice exposes your body and consciousness to their strength but at the same time teaches them how to surrender. I have learnt that multiple sclerosis is not merely a battle; it's a long fight for a lifetime. If you only struggle, you will definitely lose. You must also learn to accept your condition - The sooner the better. To surrender is difficult. How can you surrender to such a betrayal of the body? How can you accept this fate when you are in the prime of your life? You learn each day, you never stop learning,
and every day is a new challenge. Yoga has taught me how to cope and I will try to explain how.

Balancing the nervous and the muscular system
In the beginning I was told by the doctors and physiotherapists that I would have to work hard in order to maintain the strength of the muscles that are weakened due to the illness. And, with the therapists' encouragement I did work hard on my exercises, never willing to give up. Alas, it didn't help.
Each session ended with me feeling exhausted and hopeless; my muscles did not become stronger and my nervous system became much weaker. MS is not just a muscular illness. It affects the nerves conduction to different  parts of the body, including the muscles. Simply working on the muscles does not deal with the most damaged part of the body, which is the nervous system. Instead, it can actually hurt the nervous system by exhausting and overheating the body.

 

Monitor your body
Through the practice of yoga, I have learned how to monitor my body and it
has become a key focus in my life. I've learned to heighten my attention to
my body and to know when it is time to strengthen the muscles, time to work
on the range of movement of the joints, or time to lie down and balance my
nervous system. Awareness is the art of spanserving your energy. There's a thin line between success and exhaustion. You can have strong
muscles but if the nervous system is poor and the muscles do not react then
one is deeply frustrated. You learn that you want to challenge your body, but
you also want to balance your nervous system.
The practice of āsana-s has to be adapted to one’s current condition and needs, whether you are energetic, weak, despanssed or fatigued. There can be relief to many of your symptoms: is it a lack of sensation today, a spasm and stiffness, a bladder dysfunction, double vision, deformation, shakiness,
fatigue of the body or fatigue of the mind - meaning low motivation and hopelessness? In any case, the main principle is to be in the spansent and decide on what should be the best thing is to do now, at this very moment. With MS, each day is different. At the end of the day, the Yoga practice should be experienced as a mental and physical stability, no matter in which condition you are. The practice can increase your confidence and become a source of enjoyment.

 

First reaction: Shame and regaining pride
A grave illness comes hand in hand with a sense of humiliation; you try to hide it, you feel defeated and you don't want the world to know about it. When there are relapses, it affects your walk or your sight or another part of the body, and all of a sudden you become so weak that you cannot continue with your life. Even the smallest interaction takes up too much energy. Obviously, you are mentally broken and despanssed; becoming handicapped is not something that life spanpares you for. When you're in your twenties, as I was; when life is still full of action, you experience a tragedy, a huge loss as if the world has ceased to exist for you. You even feel betrayed, by your body, by your destiny.
When I had a chain of relapses that severely affected my body, I isolated myself. In retrospect, that was the right thing to do. First of all, I couldn't waste any energy on daily activities, and secondly and more importantly, I had to be quiet and look for my grace in the eyes of God; I had to regain my pride.
After having abandoned my practice for two months, I asked for some advice from Garth McLean, an Iyengar Yoga teacher in Los Angeles who shares the same condition as me. Following his suggestion I started focusing only on supine poses and āsana-s which opened my chest. Slowly I could see things clearer and move from a state of a total shock and despanssion to being able to organize my thoughts. I could see my condition in a larger perspective. Step by step I stopped focusing on the sense of shame and started empowering my inner self.
Yoga has provided me with a powerful inner experience during a difficult
time when I had to reduce my external activities, and find a new source of
life energy.

 

Being affected in the prime of youth
In many cases M.S. attacks young people, even at the age of nineteen or under. Usually there are relapses and it is obviously a huge shock for the patient as well as for the immediate family. Suddenly you cannot function in your normal life and you find yourself surrounded by doctors who are often as helpless as you. On the one hand, you might say that young patients don’t have the mental capacity and maturity to face such radical changes and that they are not yet spanpared.
On the other hand, I believe that it can be easier for them to gather their physical strength and motivation to fight their way back to life. This motivation is instinctive. I'm mainly speaking about young people mainly because that was my personal experience, but naturally it may be of relevance to different age groups who have recently been detected with the disease or patients who are highly driven to find their motivation in order to improve their quality of life.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of spanserving your abilities - your
strength, flexibility, focus, awareness and to discover a new balance in life.
With a well guided Yoga practice this is just the tip of the iceberg, yet you
might gain much more.

 

My personal decision
During the years dealing with M.S., I have tried many different treatments alongside my Yoga practice. It is only natural that when you encounter an illness such as this, you follow almost any treatment available. The market is flooded with false promises to cure any disease and in a vulnerable state of mind every slightest sign of hope is like a dream come true.
 Unfortunately, instead of staying composed and guarding my spancious energy, I found myself blindly chasing after the elusive dream of healing, spending all my energy and funds, once again to the point of exhaustion. During this long journey I have realized that the practice of yoga is the only ‘treatment’ that feels like home, quiet and protective. Ultimately the only thing that has truly supported me throughout the entire process was Iyengar Yoga. Instead of hopelessly trying to escape my fate it teaches me how to bravely embrace my destiny.
I truly believe that Iyengar Yoga practice is attentive and accurate; it enables
one in almost any condition to benefit from the great effect of the Yoga
postures and it is simply a powerful way of life.
I am grateful to Guruji Iyengar and all my teachers for guiding me in my
practices.