Iyengar yoga, MS + autoimmune diseases

Garth McLean was, in his own words, “blessed with a diagnosis of MS” in 1996, an event that disrupted his career trajectory as a Hollywood actor. MS (multiple sclerosis) is a progressive autoimmune condition which causes the immune system to attack the brain or the spinal cord. MS can cause numbness, vision problems, muscle stiffness and spasms, problems with balance and coordination, and ultimately profound disability. It is not considered curable.

Garth has compared the shattering individual experience of receiving his diagnosis with the global impact of the terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11. After these watermark events, everything, he says, changes – instantly, forever and continuously as we live with the impact and the fallout.

In the immediate aftermath of his diagnosis, Garth’s doctor recommended yoga to help manage his MS symptoms and the stress of these changes. Within 48 hours of discharge from the hospital, he had registered at the Iyengar Institute of Los Angeles and began an intensive practice. The numbness that had driven him to seek medical assistance in the first place began to give way to sensation. Encouraged by these immediate results, Garth committed to daily practice, and went on to train as a yoga teacher in the Iyengar tradition and a yoga therapist.

Iyengar yoga is characterised by its attention to detail and its use of props to allow students to awaken and encounter the intelligence of the body. Multiple clinical and scientific studies now demonstrate what yoga practitioners have known for thousands of years – that the practice allows for a reduction in stress and a sense of wellbeing that have a real, lasting, positive impact on peoples’ lives that vastly outweigh the short-term benefits of achieving challenging poses. In this sense, any yoga style might be considered therapeutic.

Garth found particular benefit from the inversions that Iyengar yoga places particular emphasis on, and the compassionate discipline of his original teacher. He considers yoga to be a powerful wellness tool that we can apply to neurological and autoimmune conditions to manage the conditions themselves, their progression, and the side effects of some common medications. He is co-founder of Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics, author of a book about MS and yoga, and remains a dedicated student of Iyengar yoga.

Garth joins us online on March 27 + 28 for a workshop for people living with MS and other neurological and autoimmune disorders, their family members and carers, health practitioners and yoga teachers and therapists. He’ll offer an approach to asana that foregrounds accessibility, safety and progression to enhance bodily strength and mobility, and mental calm.

Some of this text appeared originally on www.yogatherapy.health published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Used with permission.

Read more of Garth’s story in this article from the South China Morning Post.

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