Participants practice the “Leg Up Wall” pose.
Participants practice the “Leg Up Wall” pose. (Elayne Gross/Elayne Gross Photography)

The power of yoga, among other topics, will be at the forefront of the annual Yoga Moves Holistic Health Forum.

Mindy Eisenberg believes that yoga should be accessible to everyone.

The certified yoga therapist and founder of nonprofit adaptive yoga organization Yoga Moves MS believes that yoga, among other holistic health remedies, can help alleviate symptoms of certain conditions like multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system.

The power of yoga, among other topics, will be at the forefront of the annual Yoga Moves Holistic Health Forum. The virtual forum, taking place on Nov. 6, will feature panel discussions with experts on MS sharing their insight on how to manage the disease through holistic ways.

“When somebody has a condition, a lot of times, they disassociate from their body,” Eisenberg, 57, of Franklin and a member of Adat Shalom, says. “Yoga is a way to get back in there again and appreciate what the body can do.”

Mindy Eisenberg
Mindy Eisenberg

Through yoga, Eisenberg believes that people coping with and managing MS — regardless of their age — can experience a variety of physical and mental health benefits. But yoga, like many other exercise classes, can often be expensive. It’s also not covered by medical insurance.

To alleviate those costs and help people access yoga as a tool for their health and wellness, Eisenberg launched Yoga Moves MS in 2005, a program that offers free adaptive yoga classes for people with the disease and their caregivers. The classes are 100% funded by donations.

Unlike traditional yoga, adaptive yoga modifies yoga postures to accommodate the needs of people with MS. These small-group classes incorporate props like blankets, chairs, yoga straps and blocks to make different yoga poses easier, often with one-on-one instruction.

For Eisenberg, whose mother had Primary-Progressive MS, she knew firsthand the challenges of both the financial costs of the disease and how essential it was to address the pain and other symptoms that it can bring on. Most important was the idea of finding support groups.

“I realized that small group classes were very therapeutic,” Eisenberg says of Yoga Moves MS classes, which see anywhere from 8-12 people and now hold virtual sessions as well to accommodate the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. “People who participated were able to see all of their challenges because of the condition like a map.”

That’s because each Yoga Moves MS class starts with a brief check-in to see how participants are feeling. They take time to discuss their symptoms that week and what areas they want to work on. For example, if foot pain or foot issues are a common concern, the class that day will focus on yoga poses or stretches that help alleviate foot discomfort.

“We’re making the practice our own,” Eisenberg says, “so it fits our body and what we need at that moment.” This, she says, is a significant mental health benefit because it gives power back to those with MS. “We’re so used to going to doctors and they make health decisions for us. But with something like yoga, we’re doing it for ourselves. We can be playful and have fun.”

Since MS is characterized by extreme chronic pain, fatigue and impaired coordination, yoga can potentially benefit all three. Through stretching and breathing exercises, Eisenberg says the pain and sometimes stiffness associated with the disease can be significantly reduced.

“Yoga can help calm the nervous system and help cope with pain,” she explains. 

Many participants at Yoga Moves MS have noted that they experience less muscle spasms, sleep better and have improved circulation throughout their body. They also have increased energy.

Adapting yoga for those with MS
Adapting yoga for those with MS Elayne Gross/Elayne Gross Photography

Other benefits of yoga for MS can include muscle strengthening and increased flexibility. “There’s weight-bearing; there are core practices,” Eisenberg says of different yoga moves. Unlike traditional yoga, adaptive yoga moves at a slower pace. It can also include restorative yoga, which focuses solely on restoring the mind and body through breathing and stretches.

Yet above all, Eisenberg believes the biggest benefit of adding small-group yoga into an MS care regimen is the community that comes with it. Now, thanks to going online and holding virtual classes, Yoga Moves MS is even seeing participants from as far away as Australia.

“Many people are good friends now,” she says of the program’s participants, who range in age from 18 to those in their 70s. “You have the support of everyone around you.” 

Register for the Yoga Moves Holistic Health Forum at yogamovesms.org/2020-holistic-health-and-wellness-forum-for-ms/.

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