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Why a MS Diagnosis Was the Beginning of My Life

Why a MS Diagnosis Was the Beginning of My Life

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007 was the best thing that has happened to me.  Bet you don’t hear that statement too often!  But seriously, my diagnosis was a turning point in my life.  It woke me up and got my attention back where it needed to be: the basics.

I was on vacation in sunny Ft. Meyers, Florida burning my winter-pale skin on the third baseline of Fenway South.  Most vacations are memorable, but this one will always hold special meaning to me, for it was that Red Sox spring training vacation in 2007 that I noticed a numb spot on the bottom of my right foot.  It felt weird, but wasn’t causing any major malfunctions so I continued to enjoy winter baseball.

Months later I would visit a neurologist who explained to me that I might have Multiple Sclerosis.

For those of you that are unaware of MS and its wonderful symptoms, I will allow the National MS Society webpage to explain:

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The exact antigen — or target that the immune cells are sensitized to attack — remains unknown, which is why MS is considered by many experts to be “immune-mediated” rather than “autoimmune.”

Basically what happens is your immune system decides to attack your central nervous symptom.  It wreaks havoc on nerves and causes countless side effects including: severe fatigue, nerve pain, hyper-reflexes, banding in the chest, lightning flash pains, headaches, joint pain, skin sensitivity, noise sensitivity, depression, anxiety and in rare instances, death.

Now back to our story.  As any normal, self-diagnosing expert does, I conducted an extensive internet investigation and immediately starting designing my coffin!  All joking aside, my initial reaction was to excuse myself from the doctor’s office, go outside and cry.  After all, the only knowledge I had of MS was Annette Funicello… and she died!  What I would eventually discover was that MS was the best thing that could have happened in my life; it was a gift!

Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption said it best:  “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” So, I turned a “death sentence” into my own personal new beginning.

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My disease forced me to focus on my body, my mind and my spirit, which is why a MS diagnosis was the beginning of my life!

My Body

Up until a few years ago I didn’t think much on what types of food I put in my body, nor what quantity.  It was not uncommon for me to eat fast food several times per week or lay around the house on my days off.  Then it dawned on me that carrying around too much body fat and a lack of physical activity was actually helping MS destroy my body!

I had to make a change.  I developed a plan that would involve introducing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and water into my eating regimen.  I began to track my daily caloric intake with a mobile app and began to walk the dog 2-3 times per day for exercise.  I spoke with a nutrition expert to check my plan for weaknesses and to gain a better understanding of how the body operates.

My plan was a huge success.  In 6 months I trimmed down from nearly 200 pounds to 170 pounds, mostly due to a keen awareness of the types of fuel I put in my body.  I knew that if I were going to be successful I would have to focus on a strict eating routine due to the fact that I would not be as active as a healthy adult male.

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The benefits of losing that weight have been immeasurable!  My symptoms, although still present, are more tolerable.  My knees and hips hurt less when walking up and down stairs.  My feet hurt less when taking the dog for a walk.  My confidence has been elevated, which helps tremendously on the bad days.  There is a reason why military personnel go through extensive physical training, because if the body is weak the mind will be weak.  I had to have a more fit and healthy body to help my mind deal with the stress of living with MS.

My Mind

One of the worst symptoms associated with MS is cognitive impairment, and for me it is a new and developing issue.  I have moments when I forget how to spell my wife’s name or forget where I’m going or can’t remember my social security number.  Now for most this would seem normal as we’ve all experienced walking into a room to retrieve something, only to forget what that something was.  With MS it is like that scenario, but slightly more often and a little more extreme.

To combat this my neurologist suggested I incorporate activities into my life that would act as cognitive therapy.  So I decided to start blogging.  Writing would challenge my mind, keep me fresh and would allow me to purge some of the internal baggage I had been holding on to.

It had been years since I exercised my mind on a regular basis and boy was writing a workout!  Developing post ideas, outlining, writing and editing was just what the doctor ordered.  No pun intended!  Writing my blog has changed my perspective on having MS, as well as, the world around me.  I met new and interesting people that had diseases and health situations far more drastic than mine, which allowed me to appreciate my life and my disease.  I am reminded of a quote by Regina Brett: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”  Writing challenged my mind and led me to a brand new world that put my life in perspective.  And trust me, the mental drain of hurting everyday is intense and unrelenting!  Having my mind in the right place made it easier to deal with the daily grind of dealing with constant pain.

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My Spirit

Our spirit is one of the areas I think most people neglect and one of the first areas sick people reclaim.  I met a doctor through my blog that had abandoned traditional medicine and had replaced it with what he referred to as Integrative Medicine.  I had never heard of this method before, but once I educated myself I realized this was for me.  Integrative medicine incorporates treating the mind, body and spirit with many types of treatments, including traditional medications. The primary difference being that a traditional doctor will prescribe you medications to treat only the body.

I would come to understand how neglecting my spirit, my essence, had negatively affected me as a person and my ability to deal with my MS.  I began to introduce some meditation practices into my morning routine as well as prayer; something I had not done in nearly 20 years.

Needless to say awakening my spirit has been invaluable in better understanding myself, my disease and my place in this world.  I don’t have to fret and worry about the future.  I don’t have to wonder why.  I don’t allow these types of thoughts to enter my mind as I have learned they are unproductive.

Prior to my diagnosis I took my life for granted.  I took life in general for granted.  I took walking for granted.  I under-appreciated living in a healthy body.  MS has opened my life to meeting incredible people, volunteering as a public speaker for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and becoming a blogger and soon to be author.  None of these things would have happened had it not been for MS.

Sure the daily grind of being in pain is tough, but I wouldn’t trade my experience thus far for any amount of money. One day we will live in a world where MS is a thing of the past, taking its place beside polio where it belongs.  Until then, you’ll find me writing, eating veggies and maybe doing a little meditation.

If you’d like to find out more about my experience, please click on the link in my author bio.

Featured photo credit: On the Fence/Steve Wilson via flickr.com

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Published on March 8, 2019

How Adding Flow Yoga to Your Workout Routine Boosts Your Gains

How Adding Flow Yoga to Your Workout Routine Boosts Your Gains

When we fall into a workout routine, our moves become automatic, and the body quickly adapts. This is called muscle memory.[1] While teaching your body how to properly execute squats, push-ups, or crunches is a benefit, overly relying on these moves to consistently grow gains won’t yield the kind of results you want. That’s because the muscles work in the same way every time.

Simply put, they’re not being “surprised,” so they get lazy.

Supplementing your routine with flow yoga is one way of surprising your muscles, especially if you are new to the yoga practice and have never tried the postures. It’s like taking a new road home when you drive, deviating from your usual route. Science has found that by doing so, you’re creating new neuropathways in your brain.[2] The same is done in your muscles when you try a new routine.

How is this done? Let’s dive right into it.

How Flow Yoga Boost Your Gains in Your Workout Routine

Think about your current workouts:

If you lift weights, you rely on external tools to engage your various muscle groups. Over time, your shoulders, legs, or biceps will come to expect the weighted plates or dumbbells, in the repetitive sequences that you remember.

In flow yoga, we use the body as the weight. Add gravity and hundreds of different postures and combinations, and you have a workout that uses the same muscle groups, but in many different ways.

A pose such as plank is a full-body workout, with every muscle engaged to keep the body in one long line. While it’s a stationary pose, it requires muscle control and activation, with no room for passivity.

    A Flow sequence, on the other hand, requires your muscle to switch from one pose to another swiftly, providing you with a more balanced and wholesome use of your major muscle groups.

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    Not only do these poses and routines re-energize the body in a refreshing way, they also allow you to learn something new, which is powerful for the mind.

    Bottom line? Complementing your exercise regimen with flow yoga is like hitting the shuffle button on your workouts, using your muscles in ways that “surprise” them, which in turn boost their growth and performance.

    Energizing Flow Yoga with Added Cardio

    Flow yoga is also known as “Vinyasa.”[3] In Sanskrit – the sacred language of the practice and its Indian roots – Vinyasa is roughly translated to “one breath, one movement.”

    This guideline, first and foremost, enhances your breathing, and teaches you how to go from our typical shallow, chest-only breathing, to a more deeper, belly-chest breath that uses the entire lung system.

    Not only is this beneficial for a myriad of healthcare reasons (combat allergies, eliminate toxins, reduce stress, ease anxiety), it also greatly impacts our muscles,[4] and therefore our workout.

    Flooding your muscles with rich oxygen will only keep them healthy, while the cardio benefit will get you warmed up to take on the more challenging postures in a flow yoga class. This prevents injuries and cramping.

    The best example of energizing cardio in flow yoga is the Sun Salutation sequence. Each pose is completed on an inhale or an exhale, until the sequence is finished. One full sequence may be repeated several times, encouraging you to take fuller and deeper breaths. The cycles warm up and loosen the body and prepare the muscles for stationary poses that are held longer.

    Here’s how to do a Sun Salutation Flow:

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    Due to the Sun Salutations, the muscles are not thrown into a challenging workout, but rather primed and prepared with energizing breath.

    Why is this important, you ask? Because happy muscles are warmed-up muscles.

    The Best Thing About Flow Yoga

    The best thing about practicing flow yoga? You’re building strength and flexibility.

    Strength and flexibility are like the Mecca of a wholesome workout routine. Before we get into why this is important, let’s break these two down individually to see how they stand up on their own:

    Meet Strong Stan

    Strong Stan is at the gym, doing bicep curls with massive dumbbells. His muscles have peaked in size, and he proudly displays them.

    While he loves to lift weights, Strong Stan often skips stretching or warm-ups. He just doesn’t see how that could help him continue his muscle gains, so he jumps right into a heavy workout.

    While it’s not evident to a passerby, Stan’s muscles are hurting. Without sufficient flexibility or deliberate stretching, Stan’s muscles are shortening and getting tighter. This eventually leads to joint injuries,[5] because un-stretched muscles have limited range of motion.

    Big muscles are a sure indicator of strength, but here’s the kicker – choosing not to prioritize flexibility will keep them inherently at risk.

    Meet Flexible Fiona

    Flexible Fiona is in a flow yoga class, easing herself into a backbend.[6] She effortlessly gets into the pose, and “hangs” out there for a few breaths while the teacher cues the class.

    Even though the teacher instructs the students to engage their glutes and be mindful that this is an active pose, Flexible Fiona opts otherwise, and relaxes into the posture by sacrificing the strength she ought to be building.

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    To many in the class, Fiona’s execution of the backbend would be a success – maybe even something to envy. However, what Fiona doesn’t realize is that her excessive flexibility is actually a detriment to her joints.[7]

    Flexibility has been defined as the “absolute range of motion” by Tony Gummerson, Martial Arts instructor. For people who are naturally flexible, that line of absolute range is often blurry and, in practice, overlooked.

    It’s very easy for Fiona to go above and beyond her range of motion, since her flexibility parameters are much wider than what Strong Stan may experience in a similar pose.

    Because she doesn’t feel the stretch in the same degree of motion as other students in class, Fiona has to push the envelope of her flexibility. This puts too much pressure on the joints that are already overworked, and it overstretches the muscles that are now prone to tearing.

    Your goal is to create muscle and joint balance and wholeness.

    What Strong Stan and Flexible Fiona have in common is that they’re both missing vital pieces of muscle awareness.

    In Stan’s case, heavy and tight muscles crave flexibility. Without it, not only would Stan hit a plateau in his gains because of a sure injury, but he would miss out on having the lean and toned muscles that we all want to have.

    In Fiona’s case, her overstretched muscles are not getting a workout at all. Rather, her excessive flexibility is resting on her joints, which leads to definite injury.

    So what can you do? It’s quite simple.

    You have to give your muscles the opposite of what they’re used to.

    If you’re a Stan and hate stretching, focusing on your flexibility is key. You will lengthen your tight muscles, and you’ll create new muscle memory by practicing routines that are new to you and your muscle groups.

    If you’re a Fiona and hate strengthening, focusing on this priority is vital. Your muscles are used to being passive as you stretch, so shaking up the usual and putting them to work will not only keep you injury-free, but that much closer to the muscle gains you’ve been looking for.

    Fortunately, flow yoga is the whole package, and can be the one-stop-shop for both Stan and Fiona.

      Final Thoughts

      If you’re serious about using flow yoga to supplement your workout routine to boost gains, sign up for a class at your local gym or yoga studio. There are a number of styles of yoga to try, but as we’ve discussed in this article, the Vinyasa style is your best bet to complement a moderate exercise regimen.

      Many studios offer beginner-style Vinyasa classes, where the instructor will explain the basics, and break down the sequences in a pace that is suitable for entry-level students. From here, the student can build upon their practice, and opt for more challenging, fast-paced classes, such as Power Flow or Ashtanga.

      Working out is a lesson in teaching your muscles. The gains that we grow are the result of that experience, and it all comes down to conditioning our body in a way that is healthy, efficient, and balanced.

      With a practice like flow yoga, we can offer supplemental training to our current regimen that will work our muscles in ways that are new, refreshing, and “surprising.” This method will keep our muscles toned and lean, as long as we prioritize the balance between strength and flexibility to ensure that we’re meeting both of these needs. Our muscle gains and body health depend on it.

      More Resources About Yoga and Fitness

      Featured photo credit: Edit Sztazics via unsplash.com

      Reference

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