Reese Garcia is 24 years old, grew up in Colorado, and recently graduated with her Master’s degree in public health. She was diagnosed with MS two and a half years ago. Reese experienced her first symptom when she was thirteen years old — every time she would bend her neck, she would get what felt like an electrical signal through her body. Fast forward to her senior year in college when she started experiencing total numbness on the right side of her body and made an appointment with a neurologist.
Since her diagnosis, Reese has experienced a five-month episode of optic neuritis where she lost acuity and some color vision in one eye. Since then, her symptoms have included nerve tingling, vertigo, spasticity and neck pain.
“After I had some time to process my diagnosis, I realized — along with being on a disease modifying therapy — exercise, diet, and staying connected in my community were ways that I could have some control over some outcomes of the disease,” said Garcia. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help have some power over MS.”
With that determination, Garcia set out to make adjustments to how she approached exercise and movement. “I’ve always been a runner, and I was very focused on maintaining my running regimen and training schedule,” she said. “At some point, I started to realize that I was kind of overdoing it when it came to running. Something inside of me said: ‘This is too much. It’s exhausting and it’s not making you happy anymore.’ That’s when I started getting more into a yoga practice.”
That doesn’t mean no more running, but rather an adaptation. “I still run regularly, but now I really try to keep a good balance of both running and yoga, instead of just constantly training for a big race or only running,” said Garcia. “That has been a key shift for me and has been very beneficial.”
Yoga has helped Garcia feel more in control of her symptoms. “When I do yoga and am consistent about it, I haven’t noticed nearly as many relapses as when I’ve taken breaks from yoga,” she says. “It also gives me a way to incorporate a holistic mind and body approach to dealing MS and helps me to feel more calm and relaxed.”
Garcia credits her yoga practice with helping keep her disease in perspective. “It helps to know that I am able to do yoga and I feel great when I do it. It’s not just helping my physical being, but it’s also helping me keep a healthy mindset,” she said. “When I’m doing yoga, I feel good and I don’t feel like I have balance issues. I don’t really see the MS.”
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
“I’ve learned that it’s very important to listen to your body,” says Garcia. “Whether you’re feeling tired, or the approach you’re taking isn’t making you happy, or you have a are in symptoms. Maybe it’s time to shi your exercise to a different modality.”
With yoga, for example, there are many styles and levels of yoga classes, including some tailored specifically for people with MS.
“You have to really be aware of what sort of exercise is the right fit for you and find something you enjoy and will do consistently,” says Garcia. “And from there, you can explore different options.”