Strength. Flexibility. Balance. Alignment. Endurance. Relaxation . . . These are but a few of the health benefits readily associated with the practice of yoga.
Add the qualities of “playful, empowering, healing, restorative, accessible” and you begin to understand the creative aspects, therapeutic potential and principles of adaptive yoga as it applies to any body, every body and, in particular, those living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and a wide range of neuromuscular conditions.
A student of yoga for more than 21 years, Mindy Eisenberg has devoted the past 11 years to teaching adaptive yoga to help students overcome the symptoms of MS as well as other physical challenges. A hospital administrator by training and a certified yoga therapist, Mindy is the founder and director of the non-profit 501(c)(3) Yoga Moves MS, which provides small group classes for more than 70 students per week through private donations and with the support of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
“It’s a gift to teach yoga to patients with MS,” says Mindy. “They’re inspiring, they’re creative – the most sharing community.” At the urging of her students, Mindy has written Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body, a practical, step-by-step guide to her methodology and philosophy of healing, gleaned from her years of instruction and learnings from some of the most talented instructors in the country.
A personal journey
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling autoimmune disease of the central nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord that interrupts the flow of signals and information and often disrupts normal body functions. Mindy’s personal journey towards adaptive yoga began at an early age when her mother was diagnosed with MS in a progressive form which confined her to a wheelchair for more than 25 years. Though it was too late to help her mother, at the completion of her training as a teacher, Mindy volunteered as a yoga instructor for a MS support group. From there, she launched headlong into further studies and the quest to improve the quality of life of her students.
Q & A with Mindy Eisenberg
Why the book?
Experience shows that the benefits of yoga dramatically increase with frequent practice and, actually, the book was my students’ idea. They started asking for some handouts with reminders of what they did during class so that they could take their practice home.
I started by compiling a flip chart, but as I got the project going, I realized I was on to something much bigger.
There are not many adaptive yoga instructors out there, but as I learned from traditional yoga instructors and physicians alike, interest is growing. It was apparent that there was an underserved need and a gap to fill for a comprehensive user-friendly guide to adaptive yoga. It’s been five years in the making, but in short order, since the book has been published, it’s become something of the bible for adaptive yoga, intended for any body – at any age, living with an illness, limited mobility or simply healing from an injury.
How is Yoga Moves MS different than traditional yoga?
Unlike regular yoga classes, Yoga Moves MS specialty classes include co-teachers so every student receives extra attention and spotting so that they feel safe in various poses.
Within our two-hour sessions, we practice meditation; we practice traditional yoga poses, facilitated in a chair, standing or on mats; we practice visualization techniques, breathing techniques and at the end we have a generous relaxation pose. We look at each individual from head-to-toe, toe-to-head, inside and outside. It’s a whole-body approach.
I like to think of adaptive yoga as restorative and renewing, beginning again and again. It’s a practice not a cure. It is not a replacement for physical therapy. But they can work well together.
Class fees are “donation only.” Scholarships are provided with funding from Yoga Moves MS, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and an annual $100 scholarship allowance per student from the National MS Society.
Can you envision a time when adaptive yoga would be considered a therapy covered by health insurance?
Studies show that those who take an active role in the health and well-being do better managing the outcomes of their illnesses. Yoga Moves MS is meant to empower people to keep moving – and stretching past what they might perceive as their physical limitations.
As we have seen, change is slow to take root in medicine. We often consider pharmacological solutions as a path to treatment and pain management, when mind-body awareness and meditation activities may either complement them or yield similar positive results. I believe that the kind of therapy that goes on in our classes can ultimately save a lot of money. Even if we had a donation of $25 per person per class, our cost would be a small fraction of the cost of a traditional physical or occupational therapy session. Yoga complements these therapies to maintain the gain and prevent further progression of neuromuscular conditions.
If you had just one message to drive home about adaptive yoga today, what would it be?
It’s right on the cover of my book. Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body! My goal is to take away the fear of trying. I want people to know we’re not about fancy poses. We’re about helping our students feel better and more comfortable in their own mind and body. If a student can walk better after class or is able to lift her leg into the car when she was not able to do so on the way into class, we know we’ve done our job.
Mindy Eisenberg and nine other instructors teach at multiple locations throughout the region, including Southfield, Rochester, Bloomfield, Novi, St. Clair Shores and the newest location in Detroit. Visit yogamoves.org or call 248-417-5985 for more information