Since 2006 I’ve found Yoga or I should say Yoga found me and that day changed my life. I was diagnosed with MS in 2002 and for the first four years, like many, I allowed the diagnosis of MS to define me and then one day I searched out a yoga class.
I had no idea what it was, or what it would bring to me, all I knew is that I had this friend who was remarkably calm and she did yoga.
What was it about this practice that kept her so centered? I’d ask myself. I found a yoga studio where it was small and simple; it had this amazing energy about it and wasn’t “selling” anything but peacefulness.
I had no idea that yoga would bring me so much more than strength and balance (which is what I thought I was looking for). It took me and still continues to take me on an unbelievable journey of self discovery, stillness, inner peace and balance of mind, body and spirit.
I took on a yoga practice where most begin, at the beginning and eventually built up a strong practice, however this didn’t mean that I could throw myself into a handstand or many inversions that come so easily to many. It means that I found this space on my mat that was quiet, balanced and peaceful. I was not judgmental and I was okay with wherever I was each day and I continue to practice yoga and life just that way.
I was content with me and the MS, it was quiet now sitting in the background and no longer standing front and center, and no longer did it define me. Eventually this yoga practice became a way of life. It’s not just the asana’s (the poses) but it’s the way I live, by the principles of self love, love of others, non-violence in my words and actions and how I treat myself and others.
I literally, without knowing it, took my yoga off the mat and into my personal world and then out to the world where MS meets Yoga and beyond.
In 2010, yoga teacher and then friend offered me to take part in her yoga teacher training, if not to teach (which I had no intention of doing) but to truly understand why I was doing what I was doing and also to deepen my practice. I accepted her invitation and in June of 2010 after 6 month training I graduated and became a 200 hour certified yoga teacher.
I decided that teaching the general public was not my purpose or my passion but sharing what I had learned and who I was, the person living with MS discovered that yoga can save the life of someone living with MS as well as significantly change that same life in such a positive way.
I have been actively involved in public service by being a team captain for the National MS Society’s Long Island Chapter’s MS Walk and for the past 12 years have raised over $80,000 collectively. I also ran a 3rd party fundraiser from 2008 through 2012 called Healing and Moving for a Cure, where all monies raised went to a program that I started to provide home health aide assistance to those living with MS.
Then I chose to start a program that offered free yoga classes to those, like me, who live on limited income and have MS to have yoga in their lives. This program is offered free to our local MS Society on Long Island in collaboration with 2 other yoga studios in my area who have also offered their time and selfless service and for that I’m so grateful. We run the program for 8 weeks twice a year and during this time anyone who has MS, their friends and/or support partners are offered the opportunity to take classes with yoga teachers that I’ve worked with to find out what they can do rather than what they can’t do. I also teach one of these free yoga for MS classes during these 8 week sessions twice a year. I am, like them, a body living with MS but I am also an example of how we can learn to live well with MS. Yoga helped me find my way, my peace, and my balance.
My hope and prayer is that this program that I began here on Long Island could reach across the country and that every yoga studio would offer such a program from the perspective of someone living with MS. Unfortunately, I can’t be everywhere but I’m hoping one day I can teach other teachers to teach from the perspective of someone living with a chronic illness like MS so that it might open the door for any ‘body’ to enter the yoga studio, knowing that it is a safe place for them to help guide them to that place that is really within themselves but has only yet to be discovered.
Teaching yoga to someone living with a chronic illness can be challenging. There is a ‘knowing’, a gift that comes from having this disease that allows one to offer out the gift that yoga has brought and to be able to offer that out to others.
Yoga is balance. It is a moving, living meditation. It’s a way to go inside and quiet the mind. For those moments we are on our mat, the MS or the illness or trouble that one is living with can be quieted as well, if only for a moment and hopefully longer. It takes practice, life is practice…yoga is practice…yoga is where I find my peace, my center and my balance.