Yoga Space offers hope for those with multiple sclerosis

January 10, 2014

BY SCARLETT SALEM — This month, droves of people will make resolutions for the coming year. Improving health is one of the most common goals, in part because the New Year follows the excesses of the holiday season. But for people with a chronic disease, getting fit can be more of a challenge.

One Hyattsville business has designed a program to help people with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder that affects more than 2.3 million worldwide, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

MS is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks myelin, the protective sheath covering nerves in the central nervous system. Damage to myelin can lead to the deterioration of the nerves. Symptoms vary depending on the amount and the extent of the damage. There is no cure, but treatment can help mitigate MS attacks and slow progression of the disease.

Though there are no figures on how many area residents have the condition, the Adaptive Yoga classes at Yoga Space routinely draw up to eight students whenever a session is offered, says instructor Douglas Thompson.

Thompson founded Yoga Space in 2005, in a Gallatin Street storefront that is “exactly 200 steps” from his house. He began offering Adaptive Yoga in 2010, after having a student with the illness.

“We became friends. I watched the disease take its toll on him over the years,” recalled Thompson. “He felt the yoga helped him, while he was still able to do yoga.”

Participants enroll in the Adaptive Yoga course hoping to retain or improve their mobility.

“Some [students] may have a right leg that doesn’t function, or has very limited functioning,” Thompson explained. “Some may have difficulties with their left arm.”

Nikki Johnson, who took the class in 2011, said it “was very beneficial to me and helped with my balance, posture and walking at the time.” In a recent e-mail, she told Thompson that she has been looking for a similar one near her new home in North Carolina.

Yoga’s benefits go beyond the physical, said Thompson.

“[It] seems to help … their ability to cope with stress. And believe me, they have stresses to deal with. I am honored to be able to help them in this way,” he said.

The National MS Society website notes that yoga can be beneficial because of its emphasis on relaxation, breathing, stretching and deliberate movements. The regional chapter lists adaptive yoga classes by county at www.MSandyou.org; Yoga Space is the only one in Prince George’s County.  What’s more, the group offers financial assistance to cover the cost of the classes. Call 202.296.5363 for more information.

Thompson, who has been teaching yoga in Hyattsville since 1997, relies on his extensive experience for adjusting the class to the student.

“Teaching such a class means constantly learning how to adapt on the spot.  When one of my students couldn’t sit unaided, I found a kind of legless chair called a BackJack.  With that, she can now sit on the floor in a cross-legged position and we can do seated poses and twisting poses.  I try to find things that can be done either standing, sitting on the floor, or sitting on a chair.”

“The struggle for some of moving from the floor to a chair is difficult, but necessary [for maintaining muscles used in daily living],” Thompson added, “so I have them moving back and forth several times during class.”

But Thompson gladly accepts the challenge of instructing the class. “I feel very privileged to be a part of their world.  The way they hold themselves up is a true inspiration, and makes any problems I might have in my life pale by comparison.”

For schedule information on upcoming Adaptive Yoga classes, visit www.yoga-space.org or call 301.699.5440.