Living My Yoga Dream With Multiple Sclerosis
Growing up with a yoga-enthusiast mom, it’s no surprise I inherited her yogi gene. My passion for yoga taught me from an early age how important it is to listen to your body and later, inspired my dream business — 365 Yoga Dream — and led to my role as a LuLulemon Ambassador. But my yoga journey wasn’t always smooth sailing. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2011, I worried I might have to give up my passion for good.
Even as a young girl, I was a natural athlete, bouncing from one sport to the next. As I got older, it was still common to find me at the track running bleachers or climbing stairs. But when I was 25, in what seemed like an instant, life showed me it had other plans. One night I was enjoying a hotel getaway, complete with a hot tub, pool, and sauna; the next, I was hit with cold-like symptoms, blurry vision, and weakness.
As a yogi, I’m very in tune with my body and immediately knew something was wrong. A week and a half later, after a visit with my doctor uncovered lesions on my brain, I got the news that would change my life forever — I had MS. The hot tub and sauna caused my first flare up. To say I was in shock is an understatement. Only a few weeks prior I was running stairs at the track. How did I have MS?
The days that followed my diagnosis were a major turning point for me. I was staying at the hospital for additional tests when I lost the ability to walk for the first time in my life. I fell and couldn’t stand up. In all my years of practicing yoga, I had never experienced the feeling of having no control over my body. I could only think — “Will I ever walk again?” In that moment, I realized that my MS diagnosis came with so much I couldn’t control — including sometimes my own body — but I vowed to listen even closer to what my body was telling me. I knew this was going to be key to continuing doing all of the things that I love.
MS has humbled me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Before I was diagnosed with MS, I had a false sense of control, over my body and mind. I still say yes to my favorite activities — skydiving, tennis, you name it — but now, I’ve accepted that my lifestyle sometimes needs to evolve with my health. This means that I listen to my body, and depending on my MS symptoms, some days I opt for chair yoga or meditation rather than tennis or a vinyasa flow. I’ve shifted my perspective to not only focus on the physical benefits of these activities, but also appreciate ways they help my emotional and mental health. And I’ve found that during my toughest days, just taking time to sit, be present, and listen to my breath is so powerful.
Three years after my diagnosis, I launched 365 Yoga Dream. As my health evolved, so too, did my vision for the business. As anyone living with a chronic illness knows, it’s so individualized and each day can look completely different. This first-hand knowledge inspired me to create an environment where people — regardless of whether or not they live with chronic illness — can practice yoga on their own terms. It’s important that people have the flexibility to tailor their yoga practice to their specific needs. So, we provide options during all of our classes. For example, depending on how someone is feeling, they may opt for chair poses or meditation.
In order to manage your mental and physical health when living with MS, taking time to understand the evolving needs of your body, which can change every day, is essential. Over the last 10+ years with MS, I’ve come to appreciate health and wellness even more than I did before. Healthy eating and exercise is critical, but emotional, mental, physical, social and spiritual health are also paramount and impact your overall well-being. Self-care practices like yoga, meditation, and regularly checking in with myself, are my “go-tos,” but it’s important to find what works for you. And you don’t have to do this alone. I often turn to helpful resources, like MoretoMS.com, for inspiration and information on how to holistically manage my MS.
Through yoga, I’ve come to realize that the human body can do amazing things. I’m in awe of what my mind and body, together, have accomplished over the last decade living with MS. I encourage everyone to make a daily practice of celebrating their wins — whether it’s getting out of bed and taking a shower on a tough day or practicing a vinyasa flow sequence. My fellow MS warriors, remember that when it comes to your health and wellness, your body is your greatest teacher. Listen to what it tells you and do what feels good for you.