A student of mine came up to me the other day and mentioned to me that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I knew a little bit about the “autoimmune disease” from my previous experience in healthcare, however not enough to speak intelligently to give an informed answer. While I am still doing a lot of reading on my own to understand the disease, I think it is important to shed light on the topic to the community of people that I work with.
Let’s begin by understanding what an autoimmune disease is. An autoimmune disease develops when your immune system, the system in your body which defends against illnesses, sicknesses, and diseases, begins to recognize normal healthy cells as foreign cells. As a result of the abnormal recognition of healthy cells, your immune system begins to attack itself. There are various types of autoimmune diseases that can affect one or many different types of body tissue. MS is on of those diseases.
So what is MS? According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.”(1) Nerves in our body pass along important information ranging from pain, pleasure, sensory, motor control, and various other feedback senses. Nearly all the nerves in the body (with an exception for C-Fibers) are surrounded by a fatty substance called myelin that helps to conduct the flow of the information – much like a power cord has a protective sheath surrounding it to protect the wires. The myelin sheath helps to insulate and conduct the flow of nerve connections along the nervous systems pathway. In an individual diagnosed with MS, the immune system starts to breakdown the myelin sheath, and instead of having the fatty surrounding layer of the nerve – the patient’s myelin sheath either deteriorates or the nerve becomes encased by scar tissue. The scar tissue can cause a variety of conditions in the patient ranging from weakness, blurred vision, imbalance, tingling, and a number of other symptoms depending on the location of the myelin breakdown. There are varying stages of MS ranging from mild, intermediate, to advanced states. The cause for MS is still unknown and researched is being conducted to determine the root cause/trigger. MS is however believed to be genetically related.
So how does yoga help with MS? For starters, often times when we are diagnosed with a sickness, illness, or we suspect that we are coming down with something – our mind begins to chatter and talk incessantly. Yoga is a tool that helps to calm and still the mind. But moving beyond just the stilling of the mind – I found a fascinating article that highlights a study done on patients diagnosed with MS.
Rutgers School of Health Related Professions performed a pilot study on the health benefits of yoga for individuals diagnosed with MS. The results on the 14 women that participated in the trial were positively encouraging. After an eight-week trial, the individuals who participated in the study were able to walk better for short distances and for longer periods of time. Additionally, the subjects “had better balance while reaching backwards, fine motor coordination, and were better able to go from sitting to standing. Their quality of life also improved in perceived mental health, concentration, bladder control, walking, and vision, with a decrease in pain and fatigue.”(2) The trial conducted included yoga exercises, breathing, philosophy lessons, relaxation, and meditation. The subjects in the study were women who’s ages ranged from 34 to 64. “Some had been diagnosed with MS within the last two years while others had been living with the illness for up to 26 years. For 90 minutes, twice a week for two months, they practiced techniques and exercises that would improve their posture, help to increase stamina, and teach them how to relax and focus.”(3) Pretty amazing what the mind and body can do when it has the opportunity to focus even if it’s for 2 times – 90 minutes a week.
If you or anyone you know is diagnosed with MS – consult with your healthcare professional, but why not give yoga a try? Through talking with a number of individuals, I’ve found that yoga has a stigma and misconception associated with it. As a 500hr-RYT, I feel it’s important to dissolve that misconception by shining a light on the positive effects of a consistent yoga practice, in addition to doing research to promote taking an active stance on personal well-being. Looking at yoga as a value added component in the healthcare continuum, with the right instructor and the right blend of yoga classes, positive outcomes and personal healing is possible.
To learn more about MS, please visit:
I am excited to announce that The Yogi DR is growing and we added another physician that is dedicated to helping the lives of others through Clinical Psychology. Pain and trauma whether physical or emotional can influencing our lives in a number of ways. Yoga is merely one solution to try to work through some of the mental blocks that we have. It is important to take a comprehensive approach when addressing pain and trauma patterns. There are a number of different modalities and methods that can help us to find the underlying source of the trauma. Fortunately, we have professionals like Dr. Kelly Mothner who is dedicated to helping the lives of patients through personal empowerment. Dr. Mother helps her clients “process their experiences, explore their feelings, and most importantly, confront themselves. Everyone comes into therapy for a different reason. Knowing there is a safe place for one’s confusion or despair is the first step to healing and growth.” Mr. Mothner creates an environment of warmth and genuineness where she will affirm your strengths and challenges you to use them while providing you with an opportunity to explore new ways of seeing yourself and relating to others. Pretty amazing stuff! Whether you live in the South Bay/Los Angeles area or live at a distance, Dr. Mothner is here to aid you in your personal growth.
To learn more about Dr. Kelly Mothner, please go to: http://www.drkellyhb.com or call 310-892-2572
This morning I woke up and went through my regular routine of getting dressed, eating a light breakfast, packing my yoga mat, driving along the beach, and teaching my 630am Yoga Class at Easton Gym Co. in Manhattan Beach. I love teaching at this gym because it overlooks the Pacific Ocean with 180 degree views of the beach from Palos Verdes up to Malibu.
The classroom was dark and the windows were open allowing the onshore breeze to flow into the class. As I walked into the class, I could see the shadows of students stretching and preparing for their practice. Because it is an early morning sunrise class, the yogi’s like to practice in the dark for the first half hour as the sun rises. Earlier in the week I had been inspired by my mentor and dear friend (Thomas Taubman) to teach a themed class on shoulder openings. As I started to guide the class through their warm-up and breathing exercises I noticed that I was no longer teaching the class that my mentor had taught. My eyes began to welt with tears, and voicing my cues became more difficult without having to clear my throat repetitively. I was experiencing a flash back to when I was 16 years old. Subconsciously, I was teaching a class based on the experience of watching my mother recover during her remission of Type 3 Metastatic Breast Cancer. My mother had a mastectomy when she was 48 – as a result, the doctors pulled a flap of muscle from her abdominal wall and reattached it in her shoulder. I can’t image the pain and discomfort she must have felt – in addition to the psychological effects of losing a breast. My personal awareness level has changed significantly as I move forward with my practice. I was able to pinpoint where these emotions swelled up from.
Whether we are the instructor or the instructee – we are always working through our own stuff. Often times we may not even realize we have triggers that bring up emotional responses in our own bodies until we are in the moment. Because I was the instructor in this particular situation – I was thankful the room was dark. I quickly wiped the tears out of my eyes, walked to the back of the class and made minor adjustments on my students. Although this emotional experience was about me and my relationship with knowing a loved one with cancer. I wanted to take a broader stroke with this article because the intensity of feelings and emotions that were brought up help me reaffirm as to why I became a yoga instructor.
My mother was a drug and alcohol psychologist, a scholar, a Christian, a meditator, a yogini (female yoga practitioner), lover of life, and most of all an unconditionally loving and accepting spirit. Her struggle, fight, and final acceptance of cancer has been a rallying point in much of my life and it quite honestly has helped me to find my purpose or dharma. Throughout my mother’s fight with cancer, she practiced yoga regularly. After her surgeries and mastectomy she was given a lot of physical therapy exercises as well as breathing exercises (pranayama) to compliment her recovery. I know that if it weren’t for her daily practice of breathing, meditating, and yoga poses (asanas) she would have had a much more difficult time working through her pain and maintaining a positive attitude. With that said, I am a firm believer that our lives are built from the ground up of collective experiences. Experiences like my mother, although difficult to discuss, are important to talk about because we are all affected in one way or another by sickness, ailments, and in my case: a mother diagnosed with cancer.
Nearly 1,500 (1) people a day die from cancer – that’s nearly 550,000 people a year. With that said, there are over 100 (2) different types of cancer. So what is cancer? Cancer is labeled as a disease that manifests as a result of abnormal cell growth within normal cells. Typically during cellular replication there are measures in place that allow the cell to copy itself identically. However, in a cancer cell, there was a misprint on the microscopic level of some basic cellular information. The cancer cells then continues to replicate itself because it does not recognize itself as a cancer cell – it simply is doing what is in it’s DNA code to do – replicate. Sometimes the body recognizes this immediately and is able to combat the cancer cell, other times, the cancer cells will continue to grow…uncontrollably. As the cancer grows it begins to causes changes in the surrounding landscape of the area that it is attached too. This can manifest into a number of symptoms, chemical responses in the body, pain, emotional changes, digestive problems, etc. Sometimes it stays in the same location, sometimes it spreads. Billions of dollars of research have gone in to try to figure out this pattern and find a cure. Often times the cures are harsh medications, invasive procedures, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, bones marrow transplants, strict dieting, and changes in behavioral patterns. My mother went through all of these. She lost her hair, she was bed ridden, there were days that she couldn’t get off of the couch. The pain would be so great that she sometimes had to be fed. I feel like this was one of many lessons in my life about compassion.
So why discuss my mother, her battle with cancer, my relationship with her, and tie it into yoga? Because yoga helped. The more I learn about yoga – the more I realize just how much of a misconception I had of the practice. The practice of yoga itself has been around for over 6,000 years! We often times choose ignorance over understanding – yoga was one of those things I chose to remain ignorant over for a long time…at least until I was ready. Yoga helped my mother to cope with the pain. Yoga helped her to breath. Yoga has helped me to dive deeper into my own mind and understand why I feel how I feel sometimes. Yoga needs to be studied more as a positive alternative for diseases such as cancer. As I continue to move through my journey from a daily practitioner to a daily instructor, I find it is crucial to bring into light the benefits of a consistent yoga practice. There are numerous studies in the U.S. National Library of Medicine that discuss the benefits of yoga for cancer patients mainly – that of depression, stress, and anxiety. However, there are controlled randomised studies that show a decrease/leveling-off of the development of cancerous tissue. One such study is a pilot-study published July 1st 2014 discussing “Yoga Management of Breast Cancer-Related Lymphoedema: A Randomised Controlled Pilot-Trial.” (3) Although the pilot-study was small – participants in this study showed improvement of drainage in lymphatic tissue without exacerbating the lymphoedema. I am not going to go so far as to say that yoga can cure cancer, but it can help with symptoms, coping, breathing, lowering anxiety, decreasing fatigue, and decreasing levels of depression.
At the end of the day, we all come to the mat, go to the gym, surf, run, cycle, participate in various exercises because more often than not we are working through things in our own lives. Perhaps its work, our relationships, sickness, or in my mothers case: cancer. As I have transitioned throughout my life and witnessed my own evolution, the sanskrit word “yoga” takes on even a deeper meaning. The word yoga comes from the root word “yuj” which means unity or yoke. A yoke is a harness used to couple two animals with carts, plows, or farming tools. With that said, metaphorically speaking – yoga is a tool to help harness the physical body, the mind, and the external world in an effort to perhaps keep ourselves together – moving as one. If we can hold ourselves together, we can then begin to cultivate our own fields, we can pull our own weight or “cart”, and we can create a space around us for us to thrive in. However, to have a strong yoke that can hold ourselves together, takes maintenance and a daily practice. The minute we give up the practice all is not lost, but we lose the integrity that the continued practice we had previously established. Keep practicing.
I will continue to research more on this topic as individuals suffering from chronic pain, cancer pain, and various other ailments hold a space that is near and dear to my heart. The information for helping individuals is out there and we need to live from a selfless space to try to get this information available for others to make positive decisions in their lives. I thank all of you for love and support as we collectively try to find solutions to the things that impact our lives the most. Namaste!
- Yoga management of breast cancer-related lymphoedema: a randomised controlled pilot-trial Annette Loudon,1 Tony Barnett,1 Neil Piller,2 Maarten A Immink,3 and Andrew D Williams4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4083036/
In researching information on an article I am writing about Yoga for Cancer Pain, I found an incredible article in the US National Library of Medicine – National Health Institute; about the growth of research concerning yoga as a modality to treat various health-related problems. The article is called: In Search of Yoga: Research Trends in a Western Medical Database. Yoga as most of you know has become an integral part of my life. As such – to merely demonstrate poses and teach in front of a class is a small piece of being a well rounded instructor. The various postures we intend to achieve throughout classes are merely platforms of self-study and awareness. While the benefits of the physical practice promote strength, balance, and steadiness – the physical practice is always accompanied by a mental practice once we bring our attention to the cerebral chatter that constantly accompanies each pose. That little voice in our head is telling us a lot about ourselves both consciously and unconsciously. From a mind/body point of view – it is also manifesting things inside and outside of our bodies.
The power of the mind is incredible. What if we began to simply witness the mind and witness the chatter instead of reacting to it? Could it and would it be possible to control stress levels, anxiety levels, and even pain tolerance levels? Since my background has been in chronic pain the last 6 1/2 years – my interests in yoga for chronic pain and various other types of pain has grown significantly.
There has been an incredible thrust over the last decade regarding Yoga Health and Wellness and I am excited about the implications as the population is becoming more empowered to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. I for one, love the beautiful poses and postures that the body can create when we are patient with our own process of opening and stretching. However – to focus simply on the pose is to merely scratch the surface of the underlying benefits of yoga.
It is important to me to continuously bring awareness to others that might be looking for an option for self-help, self-treatment, self-improvement, and self-empowerment. Yoga has significantly changed my point of view on self-awareness, self-reflection, and personal development. I believe as a whole, our population is evolving and we are trending back towards our roots by taking less invasive measures of medical treatment whether it be alternative medicine, alternative therapy, or non-surgical approaches to self-treatment. I think this is also a direct result to the changing healthcare landscape, rising medical costs, and the negative effects that medication can sometimes have on the body. Collectively, we are beginning to have a greater awareness over our own bodies, eating heathier, and workings out more. In the practice of yoga – we want to create steady/relaxed physical bodies AND steady/relaxed minds. When the body and mind are steady – we find calmness, relaxation and a field of space that has yet to be explored.
The first articles of yoga were officially published in Western medicine journals as early as 1948. Yoga was not widely accepted as a medical practice at the time. Perhaps two of the greatest difficulties in creating a solid research study thus far for yoga is finding both the patients and the funding to create a large scale study. Multiple research data collection sites would need to be set-up to handle a large volume of patients. It is my goal to hopefully shed light on this topic in the future. I know that there is significant results driven evidence that can prove the benefits of yoga – I see it every day in my classes and by talking with my students.
According to the article, as of 2012 – over 53% of the articles on yoga dealt with stress/anxiety. That’s huge! We live in a society that is constantly under stress. Only 17% of the articles since 2012 addressed pain conditions. Cancer Pain is also an emerging topic that is been getting significantly more attention. A lot of research has gone into physical therapy, but I believe a study needs to be created that takes nearly identical subjects that would be selected to go to physical therapy and have them undergo a 3 x a week yoga program for a period of at least 6 months. Why is this important? Because right now yoga is not covered by insurance. I believe it should be. If we can get yoga to be covered by insurance, we could potentially lower the overall costs of healthcare.
The paradigm of yoga is shifting – it’s benefits are unquestionable and health insurances would be proactively advocating their members to participate in gym and other yogic center programs. Less stress equals less medications and less symptomatic problems within the body. A bottle of meds can cost several hundred dollars a month…thousands of dollars a year to the health insurance company. What if we could reduce that cost and patients monthly deductables by providing low cost memberships to fitness centers with individuals with pre-existing or emerging health problems? Or better yet – what if yoga based health clubs or yoga therapy providers could charge the insurance companies directly? Everyone would benefit – the patient or individual would be getting quality certified instruction, gyms would potentially see higher membership numbers, and insurance costs could potentially go down because now the member is incentivized to take a proactive stance on his or her own health.
These are just my thoughts – but I think it is wonderful to see so many new articles being released to investigate the positive effects of a consistent yoga practice. As always – thank you to all my family, friends, and loved ones for their on going support as I move along this path of self-evolution and growth. Namaste.
To read the articles I am referring to above – please go to:
1. US National Library of Medicine – National Health Institute: In Search of Yoga: Research Trends in a Western Medical Database. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097914/
Do you or someone you know suffer from Chronic Low Back Pain? According to PainMed.org, nearly 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.1 Over $600 BILLION is spent annually on medications, interventional procedures, and lost wages as a result of chronic pain. Of the 100 million American’s suffering from chronic pain, nearly 31 million suffer from chronic low-back pain.
To understand chronic pain, we first need to understand the various types of pain. There are two major categories of pain that the body feels: acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is a type of pain that may arise quickly and lasts temporary. Acute pain typically lasts less than 6 weeks with proper medical treatment. Examples of acute pain include, bites, scratches, burns, cuts, scrapes. etc.
Chronic pain on the other hand is a type of pain that lasts for an extended or indefinite period of time. There are several categories and subcategories of chronic pain; however, for the purpose of this article I will be focusing on neuropathic chronic pain as it relates to individuals suffering from low back pain. “Neuropathic Pain is a complex, chronic pain state that usually is accompanied by tissue injury. With neuropathic pain, the nerve fibers themselves might be damaged, dysfunctional, or injured. These damaged nerve fibers send incorrect signals to other pain centers. The impact of a nerve fiber injury includes a change in nerve function both at the site of injury and areas around the injury.”2 Chronic pain is often times treated with medication, interventional procedures, physical therapy, and even surgery. While spine surgery has an 85% success rate in lowering overall pain scores; second and third back surgeries show a significant decrease in success rates with only 30% (2nd surgery) and 15% (3rd surgery) of patients having successful outcomes.3
One of the major problems that arises from chronic pain is the pain cycle that begins to develop and persist. Below is an example of one of the feedback cycles for chronic pain.
Image taken from http://www.arthritis.ca/pain4
So how can we break this cycle? Just because someone is suffering from chronic pain, doesn’t mean they can’t reduce or potentially remove their pain. Having worked with chronic pain patients for the past six years, I have had first hand experience of how chronic pain effects not only the patients overall quality of life, but the lives of loved ones and care givers around them.
As an instructor and yoga practitioner I have turned to yoga as a method to help not only cure my own struggles with chronic pain, but I also have the opportunity to see the effects that a daily practice has on my students. Numerous studies have shown conclusive evidence that yoga is a superior alternative to help manage chronic low back pain compared to standard physical therapy practices and medication prescriptions. A study completed in November 2011 concluded that “Offering a 12-week yoga program to adults with chronic or recurrent low back pain led to greater improvements in back function than did usual care.”5
Another study looking at the “Efficacy of Yoga as an Intervention for Chronic Low Back Pain” concluded that “healthcare practitioners should consider yoga as an efficacious intervention in addition to standard education or no care. With the complexities involved in formulating an effective treatment for low back pain, yoga is a viable option. Research demonstrated that yoga reduces functional disability, has a positive effect on QOL (quality of life), and a negative effect on stress, depression and pain intensity.”6 The study looked at different styles of yoga to include Iyengar and Hatha Yoga. All styles showed evidence in helping to reduce lower back pain, increase functionality, and decrease stress/anxiety/depression.
In the western world, yoga is often times glazed over in the continuum of medical treatment – with medication and surgery being the first line of defense to treat patients. We need to shift this paradigm in medical thinking. Yoga is a non-invasive therapy, in fact – it can be a very passive tool especially when we focus on pranayama/breathing exercises. Yoga teaches us to go inside and focus on the self. Yoga not only addresses the symptoms, but when practiced steadily, yoga helps us to find the source and cause of many of our own ailments. The actions, mindfulness, concentration, and awareness that we maintain through a personal yoga practice allows us to help relieve the physical tension and release emotional and mental stress we may be harboring.
The practice of yoga has been thriving for thousands of years. There has been a steep increase in regular practitioners over the past 4 years. According to the Huffington Post, In 2008 there were roughly 15.8 million yoga practitioners. From 2008 to 2012, that number grew by nearly 4 million.7 With that said – I don’t believe yoga is merely a trend – I believe that it deserves significant attention from the medical community. I think that if physicians can begin referring more patients to practice yoga (mind/body/spirit) we might actually see a reduction in overall healthcare costs.
“Yoga does not remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life but rather places our feet firmly and resolutely in the practical ground of experience. We don’t transcend our lives; we return to the life we left behind in the hopes of something better.” ~ Donna Farhi
- Back Surgery That Does Not Relieve Pain. By Robert J. Gatchel, PhD, ABPP, Emily Brede, RN and Whitney Worzer, MS, PhD Candidate
- Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. Tilbrook HE1, Cox H, Hewitt CE, Kang’ombe AR, Chuang LH, Jayakody S, Aplin JD, Semlyen A, Trewhela A, Watt I, Torgerson DJ. University of York, Heslington, United Kingdom. firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22041945
- The Efficacy of Yoga as an Intervention for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials Alison M. Diaz, BS, Morey J. Kolber, PT, PhD, Chetan K. Patel, MD, Patrick S. Pabian, PT, DPT, Carey E. Rothschild, PT, DPT, William J. Hanney, PT, DPT, PhDDisclosures. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2013;7(6):418-430.
One of the fathers of modern yoga, Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar passed away yesterday in the town of Pune, India. For many, I realize that his passing may not be a big deal – but the effects of his practice on the western world were, are, and will continue to be far reaching as his theory on living, self-realization, and the asana (physical pose) practice of yoga will continue to live on and evolve.
When we consider how many people practice yoga daily, and the effects that the practice has on the individual practictioner – we begin to realize that Mr. Iyengar helped start a worldwide movement nearly 70 years ago (along with his teacher Mr. Krishnamacharya).
School teachers/educators, civil workers, corporate leaders, sales reps, military members, law enforcement, marketers, etc. – millions of people practice yoga everyday – and the effects of their practice change the dynamics of their immediate environment and often times their decision making as well. There is a huge difference between making a decision from a space of being centered versus a space of non-centered. Centered decision making is mindful, non-centered decision making is irrational. The lessons that come from the individual practice are often times applied into the practitioners lives – therefore affecting their attitude on how they interact with the world. Yoga surrounds us all – yoga means union.
It is the teachings, lessons, and knowledge of this man and his lineage of instruction that continue to be present in the movement and actions of millions of lives. It is my hope and desire to help carry that instruction on. It is an honor to have mentors and teachers that trained with Mr. Iyengar to have that knowledge passed along to me.
Om, shanti, shanti, shanti…Namaste!
“Yoga, is an ancient but perfect science, it deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day to day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.