PROVO Left foot planted firmly on the yoga mat, Maegan Martin slowly presses her right heel to her inner thigh, reaching her arms up over her head and bringing them to rest in prayer position in front of her chest.
She doesn't wriggle as she holds the tree pose. She doesn't sway. No one would ever guess, watching Martin do yoga, that she can't stand up without assistance and has to use a cane for balance as she walks.
"Yoga has really taught me how to push myself," said Martin, who has multiple sclerosis. "I push myself in yoga, and it transfers over to my everyday life."
A few weeks ago, the 24-year-old pulled herself out of the bathtub without help. A little while later, she walked 55 steps without using her cane. She can now climb into her husband's Jeep by herself something she hasn't done since she was diagnosed with MS three years ago.
Yoga, she said, made it all happen.
Taking a cue from Martin's success, the Provo studio where she gets private instruction, It's Yoga, is now offering a weekly class specifically tailored to meet the needs of people with MS. The class meets Saturdays at 11:30 a.m.
"I know, know, know that yoga is for everybody," said Amy Williams, owner of It's Yoga, which is located in The Shops at Riverwoods. "It doesn't matter how old you are or what condition you have, yoga can help."
More specifically, according to an American Academy of Neurology study, consistent participation in yoga classes can help people with MS battle fatigue.
Provo neurologist Pamela Vincent regularly recommends yoga to her MS patients. She collaborated with Williams to organize the MS class at It's Yoga.
"Yoga has been shown to be beneficial to people with MS by increasing energy levels and feelings of well-being," she said. "With practice, yoga can help them get back some degree of flexibility, strength and balance."
That kind of progress, though, doesn't come without a price.
The first time yoga instructor Dean Judd saw Maegan Martin, "I thought I was in huge trouble," he said. During their first few classes together, he said he had to physically hold her body in each pose. At first, Judd said Martin experienced vertigo every time she looked up at the ceiling.
Together, instructor and student worked out modifications to make each pose more feasible for Martin. She does some standing poses on her knees and uses a foam block to steady her feet while doing exercises that require her to touch her toes.
"Her body's learned to adjust," Judd said. "Every week we modify the poses a little as she gets stronger."
Because the symptoms of MS differ from person to person, participants are required to fill out a questionnaire before taking a class at It's Yoga. That way, instructors can change the exercises accordingly, said Monica Nardone, who teaches the MS class with Judd.
"I just want everyone to be comfortable," Nardone said. "I don't want someone to come and feel this isn't something they could do or didn't get enough attention."
In a recent session, some people used chairs to steady themselves. Others, with weak arms, lowered their weight from their hands to their elbows.
Judd and Nardone scurried busily around the studio, offering a steadying hand, suggesting modifications and, in some cases, passing out props to help participants hold poses more easily.
"They were really helpful," said Emily Howard on her way out of the studio. Her MS manifests itself through a tremor in her right arm. "They really tried to tailor the class to fit each person's needs."
The class left John Worthington, 50, who struggles most with the fatigue that accompanies MS, feeling relaxed, tired and a little bit sore.
"It challenged my balance," he said. "It challenged my leg strength. But, you know, with practice I'm hoping it will give me some lasting skills."For more information, visit itsyogautah.com.
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