September 8, 2011
NEDERLAND — At the end her class, Nederland yoga instructor Gail Pickens-Barger asks her students to mediate on how they are unique and “there is nobody like you in the universe.”
Her students suffer from multiple sclerosis, a chronic, unpredictable disease that effects the central nervous system, and none of their symptoms are exactly the same.
Some of her students experience episodes extreme numbness in their limbs.
“It is as if you put a giant foam block around your leg or foot,” Pickens-Barger said.
For some, the disease effects their balance or, in Crystal Chauvin’s case, a day-long jolt of electric pain down her cheek.
All of the students seem to share in one thing: The relief and relaxation of yoga.
“It helps me move better, helps me balance,” said Becky Dry, who has dealt with the disease for much of her life.
“The class helps us get through the day,” added Dry. “I’m ok now but tomorrow I may not.”
Approximately 400,000 Americans suffer from multiple sclerosis and every week 200 more people are diagnosed with the disease, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
There is no known cause or cure for MS. It is only fatal in extreme cases.
MS adaptive yoga is done in chairs for safety but, as Pickens-Barger points out, it can still make you sweat.
“Keep it between easy and ouch,” Pickens-Barger said during one of the stretches. “Far, far away from ouch.”
Pickens-Barger just got back from a two week long chair-yoga training in New York City, where she learned new techniques to allow her students to access the benefits of yoga without completely exhausting their bodies.
One of the biggest problems for people who suffer from MS is balance. Most of the students use a cane or a walker to get from one place to another.
The yoga techniques are designed to strengthen a person’s core muscles which help them balance whether they are sitting down or standing up.
Just as important as the benefits of the exercise and strength-building, is the sense of community and friendship the class brings to each other’s lives.
“It’s a support group also,” said Pickens-Barger.
Lonestar National MS society sponsors the class as well as a 180-mile bike ride from Houston to Austin for cyclists living with multiple sclerosis.
The yoga classes take place every Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Nederland, and the local branch of the Multiple Sclerosis society meets the first Saturday of every month at 11 a.m. at the Medical Center in Port Arthur.