MS and COVID-19: Wellness and Mindfulness
By Mary Gotschall
July 16, 2020
Developing wellness and mindfulness practices can be a great way for
MS patients to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was the theme of MS Insight’s video titled “MS and COVID-19.”
Mindy Eisenberg, who has a Master of Health Administration (MHSA)
degree and is founder of YogaMovesMS.org, holds in-person classes for
MS patients in Michigan as well as online classes for people who would
like to participate virtually. She also teaches adaptive yoga at the MS
“This is a perfect time to build a yoga practice, since we have more
quietude and solitude” during the pandemic, she noted.
Eisenberg was drawn to the field of wellness and MS because her
mother suffered from primary progressive MS and eventually lost all
George A., one of the participants on the video, attends Eisenberg’s
yoga class. He was diagnosed in 2001 with relapsing remitting MS.
Prior to developing MS, he had been an athlete who played baseball and
football. Yoga helps him with spasticity.
He set himself a “30 for 30” challenge of doing three different yoga
routines for almost an hour a day during April. “I did yoga and
challenged myself. You have to remain active and do what you can.”
Dr. Jonathan Merril, M.D., Education Director at MS Insight and
moderator of the discussion, asked Eisenberg why yoga could be
especially helpful for people with MS.
She said yoga has beneficial impacts “from head to toe,” and that there
are no physical barriers for anyone who wants to do yoga. “If you can
breathe, you can do yoga,” she noted.
Merril asked her to discuss mindfulness and whether that could be
helpful for people with MS.
“Mindfulness means being in this present moment,” she explained.
You let your thoughts come in a nonjudgmental way, without reacting.
This helps people overcome negative or critical views of themselves or
others. “Mindfulness doesn’t have to be 20 or 30 minutes,” she added.
“It can be one minute or three minutes.”
Shirley Nedzesky, another participant in the dialogue, is an MS Insight
volunteer who was first diagnosed with MS in 2003. She has primary
progressive MS and lives alone.
Nedzesky talked about the isolation of the pandemic and said she
reaches out to one person a day who’s living alone—whether they have
MS or not—to see how they’re doing. She also has a health coach who
encourages her to stay active.
Wendy Booker, CEO of MS Insight, was diagnosed with MS in 1998 and
does yoga and meditation, in addition to running marathons and
climbing mountains. She still runs four days a week and uses gallon
water bottles as for weight training at home, since many barbells are
sold out online.
“The more I do, the better I feel,” said Booker.
Another speaker, Sue Kushner, has been a physical therapist for 35
years, works with many MS patients, and teaches at Slippery Rock
University. She urged MS patients to include a cardiovascular workout
as part of their exercise plan.
“This is harder to do, since gyms are closed,” Kushner pointed out.
“You still have to shoot for 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three to
four times a week.” This can be as simple as kicking your legs or doing
arm twirls. Having an exercise buddy will help keep you accountable.
You could take walks with them in a local park. In addition, you can
download exercise apps and follow them.
Strengthening your body with weights is also important. But if you
don’t have weights, you can use your body weight for resistance, said
Kushner. She recommended doing a full plank or a modified plank.
“Think of your program as you would anytime and break it into areas
for an overall fitness program,” she advised.
Jan Pizzuto, another speaker, was diagnosed with relapsing and
remitting MS in 2006. She became a therapist, holds meetings with
patients online, and is keenly interested in mental health issues.
To reduce stress during the pandemic, Pizzuto advised limiting
consumption of news to just 30 minutes a day; getting some form of
exercise that works for you; and remembering to “be kind to yourself.”
“Getting up and putting on your pants in the morning—no matter if
they fit—is a win,” she concluded.