In January of 2018 my life was changed. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Since then, I have experience one of the worst years of my life—and one of the most transformative.
MS is a chronic illness, classified as an autoimmune disease, where the immune system flares up and attacks the central nervous system. I understand it as a mutiny, where my soldiers (immune system) have risen up against me to attack the most central part of my body. The central nervous system is so important that, when damaged, it has the ability to affect everything. It can affect your mental health (causing stress, anxiety, depression), as well as your physical health (impairing balance, vision, strength, spasticity, triggering fatigue, and more).
I found that I was angry—angry that I had a tingling numbness all along my left arm for a couple of months, angry that I had lost my vision along with some sensation in my face, and most of all, angry that the only thing that brought me almost back to normal were steroids, which left me feeling worse than I had ever felt before.
We’re in an age where terms like “mindfulness,” “wellness,” and “fitness” come up all over the internet; but how much does anyone really understand about these terms?
This is where I start to sound like everyone else who boasts about all the benefits of eating healthy and staying active. When I was diagnosed, I ate junk all the time. I smoked. If I got to the gym once a month, it was an accomplishment that I rewarded myself for with more junk food.
“Maintain mobility” is one of the first recommendations I received from someone with MS. With this advice, I started a mantra that I would tell myself everyday: “This is MY body. I am in control of MY body.” I decided to face the goals I had prior to my diagnosis: eat healthy, quit smoking, and become a “yogi.” And then I started small, with at least five minutes of yoga a day. Starting with an unused app I had downloaded months earlier, I tried a fifteen-minute class, right out of bed and onto my yoga mat, continuing my mantra throughout the practice.
Slowly, I began to believe and understand that I was capable of change, no matter how small or slow. The poses got easier, I began craving lighter, healthier foods, and I found mental relief in the harmonization of my breath and my movements.
After I had accomplished ninety consecutive days of yoga, I decided to take my practice out of my home. I found the Yoga Sanctuary on Danforth Avenue and signed up for the “Zen Stretch” class with Bodhi Batista, who taught me that moving meditations can take many more forms than yoga and why they are so beneficial for autoimmune diseases. Bodhi helped me understand that “these modalities are designed to calm the mind, reduce cortisol—stress hormone—and increase serotonin/dopamine—your natural opioids— … In [these] environment[s] the body is better able to heal itself.” Bodhi continued to go into detail about the benefits of moving meditation—not only for people with MS, but for everyone.
Most people experience some form of stress or anxiety, Bodhi explained: “We’re either trapped in the past—stress, anger, irritability—or were in the future—anxiety, worry. Either of those two places is where the body tends to attack itself, and we’re in the constant fight or flight mode.” When in the “fight or flight mode,” the body is more likely to attack itself, which is what happens with autoimmune patients. But “it doesn’t really matter what you do—you could do yoga, or you could do Qi Gong, or you could go for a hike—what it needs is the mind, breath, and body connection.” The next important thing is that you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Bodhi talked about the importance of the instructor, because you can be doing your practice and still be thinking of a bunch of other things. If “you don’t feel comfortable at the place, that’s going to be detrimental,” he explained. Bodhi has taught his meditation program at the Yoga Sanctuary for ten years because of the warm and welcoming community that surrounds it.
Bodhi owns an acupuncture and wellness clinic just down the street from the Yoga Sanctuary, where he helps MS patients as well as people without MS. In our five-minute conversation, Bodhi’s insight showed me how my disease functions and allowed me to look at it in a new light. It’s refreshing to know that there are other options for me. Moving meditations have the ability to help with mental and physical health, and I can’t wait to start venturing outside of my home and learning as much as I can about meditation and how it can benefit myself and others.