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

Society.


“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

muscle tone.


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.

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