May 2nd, 2003 5:00 AM
By: Ivanhoe Broadcast News
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system, which normally targets and destroys substances foreign to the body such as bacteria, mistakenly attacks normal tissues.
In MS, the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. Multiple sclerosis affects 350,000 Americans and is the second most frequent cause of neurological disability beginning in early to middle adulthood.
Eric Small isn't your average retired schoolteacher. At age 73,
he feels he is in better physical shape than many people much younger than him.
As a yoga devotee, he can effortlessly twist and bend his body into odd shapes. He instructs some of Hollywood's rich and famous in the practices of yoga. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his 20s.
Since that time, Small has been one of the nation's strongest advocates for the use of yoga as a treatment for MS.
"The yoga is the medicine. My drug of choice is the Hatha yoga practice,” Small said.
He takes no traditional medications to control his disease. Other than occasional fatigue and minor memory problems, he is symptom-free.
Not satisfied with self-treatment alone, Small has made the commitment to teach yoga to other multiple sclerosis patients. He has taught yoga classes for the Southern California chapter of the MS Society for 15 years. He now spends two days a week teaching a class at the Marilyn Hilton Multiple Sclerosis Achievement Center at UCLA. Patients gather for a highly anticipated session of stretching, breathing and meditation. Many of them are wheelchair bound.
UCLA officials say it is one of the most popular activities at the center. Eric has trained instructors to run similar classes in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Boca Raton, Fla., Ashland, N.C., and Philadelphia.
He has started 16 yoga classes in the Southern California area and plans to start more. About 650 MS patients nationwide count themselves as his students.
Small insists yoga has not only kept him relatively healthy, but
says he "wouldn't be here" without it. Doctors, however, are reluctant to ascribe such lofty attributes to yoga when it comes to MS. They point out there is no medical evidence to suggest that yoga reverses, or even arrests, the effects of the disease. However, they do agree it enhances the sense of control a patient has over his or her body, and it can improve breathing, comfort, and overall well-being. Students not only seem to enjoy the curriculum, they are also able to interact with other MS patients with similar and different challenges. This, too, can provide a therapeutic benefit.
Stephanie Fisher, Director
Multiple Sclerosis Achievement Center at UCLA
1000 Veteran Avenue
Suite 1162, Box 714722
Los Angeles, CA 90095-7147
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