Surrendering Control?

As I have repeatedly noted, yoga has helped me enormously in managing my multiple sclerosis and staying in tune with my body’s abilities.

But sometimes it helps me recognize and come to terms with my body’s occasional LACK of ability.

I love the Friday-morning “yoga for strength” class offered at my local studio. I can count on the teacher (my favorite!) to challenge me--in the most loving and supportive way possible. I get a strong sense of empowerment from rising to her challenges, and starting the day by, say, rising carefully and with control into a headstand.

But the other morning, nothing went right. My head wasn’t fully in the game; my mind kept drifting away, thinking thoughts that had nothing to do with what was happening on my mat. I started strong, holding a plank position for a very long time with relative ease. But things went downhill from there. At one point our teacher had us try squatting, our bottoms resting on one heel, one knee crossed over the other, our elbows crossed in eagle arms. Everybody in the class managed it with aplomb – everyone, that is, but me. I actually toppled over, making enough of a thump that my teacher had to ask if I was okay. “My body just can’t do anything right today,” I told her.

“Then maybe you should listen to your body and back off,” she suggested.

I am not one to back off. And despite her encouragement to do so, I took the opposite tack, powering through the next few postures, proving to myself that I was in control. Things mostly went better, and by the time we hit savasana at the end, I felt a lot better about myself and my practice.

But I’ve been thinking about that experience ever since. Would it have been better to do as my teacher suggested, to not press so hard, to surrender control for a change?

I don’t know the answer. And I don’t know how my experience on the mat might translate to my experience with MS. I do know that those of us with MS are not fully in control of our condition or the effects it has on our lives. Is it better to acknowledge that lack of control and learn to accept it? Or to fight on, trying to retain as much control as we can for as long as we can?

You tell me.

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Jennifer LaRue Huget, Blogger

Jennifer LaRue Huget was diagnosed with MS in 2001. A freelance writer and children's book author, she lives in Connecticut with her husband, two teenage kids, and two brown dogs. Her website is

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  • Avatar
    sarahma4199  Jul 3, 2014 3:18 PM
    Very interesting question... It seems the proper response would be that it is circumstantial. It would likely be based on risk of further injury. For instance, if I were in your circumstance, I would have backed off since you'd, if done incorrectly or when your body is not fully present, it could be extremely damaging. If swimming on the other hand, it is so low impact, I would probably push...
  • Leah Klein   Jul 3, 2014 3:35 PM
    Not just in yoga class, but in life, I think you should respect your body's limitations. We all grow up hearing stories about the value of perseverance and pushing oneself to the limit, but I find that when I push myself I get crabby at the least and injure myself at the worst. We've all seen those "inspirational" stories about MSers who climb mountains or run 10k's, but really, if those things are that difficult, you're better off doing gentle exercise and keeping your equanimity and safety. I'm 30 years into this journey, and I've learned to focus on activities that I can still enjoy.
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    Iris1  Jul 3, 2014 4:06 PM
    After living with MS for over 12 years, I have learned (and keep relearning) to do my best to listen to my body. In 2012, my Neurologist told me to try and walk more to keep my left leg strong enough to keep mobile. I started off in May 2012 using a walker on wheels and barely made it around the quarter mile lake in front of our house. Today, I just walked 2 miles on a beautiful 77 degree day. I had to go slower today due to my decreased energy level & the humidity, but I made it! Walking has helped me get physically stronger, helped my mood, enjoy the gifts of watching wildlife and neighbors out working in their yards, etc. My best advice is to take each day as it comes - the challenges and the gifts!
  • Eli   Jul 3, 2014 4:10 PM
    I think you have hit a major question in how we deal with our MS. I was going downhill fast for several years before I got into physical therapy. Within a couple of weeks things started getting easier for me. I tried Pilates and it helped tremendously. My wife finally managed to talk me into trying yoga, and that was beneficial, and much to my surprise it was fun. For the past 12 years I have tried to push myself to my limits everyday. My progression has ever so slowly reversed. It hasn't been easy but I shudder to think what kind of shape I would be in if I had just let this disease roll over me. I think it is critically important to keep active and push oneself to one's limits everyday. If you are having a particularly bad day, back off a bit; but get back at it the next day. When exercise heats me up and I find myself melting away I take a cold shower to revive myself.
  • Jane Gould   Jul 3, 2014 4:11 PM
    It is a good question. I was diagnosed with RR MS in 2001, and soon began yoga. I quickly fell in love with it and became a teacher. In 2007 I did my MS Yoga Teacher Training, and was blessed to study with the great yogi, author of Yoga for MS, Eric Small. That allowed me to begin teaching others with MS.
    However, this last couple of years I have witnessed my body get weaker and weaker and my yoga become more and more gentle - partly, because I always "listened" to my body. Now, I suspect, I listened a little too much and got into a slow cycle of not doing hard, tiring poses which over time led to me doing very little actual exercise.
    To combat this, which had resulted in me virtually not being able to walk; I purposely began doing something strenuous and hard - CrossFit. My coaches modify to suit my ability, and in just three months I have seen an improvement
  • Jane   Jul 3, 2014 4:15 PM
    Cont:....and my walking has improved.

    Please check out my blog:
  • Stanley B   Jul 3, 2014 4:35 PM
    Context: male, 57, diagnosed 1998

    I used to be on the side of fighting through it until muscle strains from my barbell workout led to me spend more days healing than working out. I listen to my body now. Lol
  • Angela   Jul 3, 2014 4:51 PM
    Last Friday, I took a Pilates megaformer class that I know to be really intense. I'd last taken one in October of last year (or March of this brain doesn't remember which), and was sore for an entire week following to the point where sneezing and coughing and everything else hurt.

    During the class, I began to get overheated and could not manage to control the megaformer. It seemed like such a letdown because I'd made it through the entire class the first time I tried it. Of course, that first time was not in the midst of a heatwave in June after I'd walked about 4 miles to get there, LOL.

    I was determined not to give in or to give up, but after falling into the pit and banging my shin, I nearly passed out. I signaled for my cooling equipment, which I'd let the proprietor know about before class, put it on, and went to lay down.

    That should have been the end of the story, right? Wrong. I thought I had been sufficiently recovered and tried again, only to have to give in and realize that I couldn't do the entire matter how determined I was. I had no choice but to listen or to face even worse humiliation.

    Yet, I realized that in taking care and listening to my body when my mind and spirit wanted to press on, I was actually doing what I would encourage others to do if they were caring for themselves or for someone else's property (use caution and wisdom). I've given myself permission to do this for myself.

    And, for the remainder of the classes in my package, I'll wait until the winter months before going least, that's what I'm planning right now.

    Be gentle with yourself, treat yourself with compassion, and know that there is always another day to hit your practice.

    Be well!
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    Lisa2621  Jul 3, 2014 4:58 PM
    Let Me start off by saying THANK YOU*!*!*!*
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reaching out. It is something I've been struggling with since diagnosis... (when to surrender control AND reaching out, lol). It got worse after moving out when I was 18 years old. However, over the last 3 years, I've come to the realization that, (in my personal MS/snowflake) it's not about surrendering control as much as, it's about adapting your life to keep control. (as much as possible) This is also part of the whole "planning for the unexpected". The good/bad news is that we all DO kinda know what COULD happen....why not try to plan and prepare for the unexpected time(s) that it does or doesn't happen? a cooling vest or other accessible items to help with heat sensitivity and preventing associated symptoms? a rocker knife or other accessible devices for every day activities to save strength and help prevent worsening of MS symptoms and disease progression...
    just saying these things in hopes that they help. I truly wish I had realized this while I was "pushing through". I would have still pushed through, don't get me wrong, yet I feel I would have pushed in a more "responsible" manner, I would be a lot better off today. I'm working on it though! :-)
  • Michelle   Jul 3, 2014 5:20 PM
    I think, taking in my limited experience in the, and everything I have read- that it will be different for everyone, and you have to do what's best for you. It seems that it might even change where one month you need to stop and another you need to push on.
    I know for me, right now, if I push it too far- I'll be worse and take several weeks to recover from just over doing it one day. But that said, I still have to keep mobile and somewhat pushing myself everyday, or I will get worse- and somedays, its a finer line than others...
  • Michelle   Jul 3, 2014 5:20 PM
    I think, taking in my limited experience in the, and everything I have read- that it will be different for everyone, and you have to do what's best for you. It seems that it might even change where one month you need to stop and another you need to push on.
    I know for me, right now, if I push it too far- I'll be worse and take several weeks to recover from just over doing it one day. But that said, I still have to keep mobile and somewhat pushing myself everyday, or I will get worse- and somedays, its a finer line than others...
  • Nancy   Jul 3, 2014 5:49 PM
    I had a similar experience in my gentle yoga class this morning - with one significant difference. I was unable to hold my balance and maintain form. When the teacher asked if I was OK, I responded that my MS was challenging me. I gave the victory to MS today - grrrrrrrr! I wish I could have a redo. I can only now say - MS, you won this battle but you did not win the war!
  • Avatar
    marshina  Jul 3, 2014 10:16 PM
    Having the great fortune to live in San Francisco, heat is rarely an issue. Menopause was quite challenging and I started with Zoloft to ease the hormonal change. At 68, I'm still active as the slow progression took it's toll. I use a mobility scooter to get where I need to go. Still able to walk a bit with a cane, the arthritis of my knees has added more challenge. Knowing knee replacement wouldn't work as I am fully aware I cannot do the repetition that is necessary to heal. Of late my neurologist has given me an anti-inflammatory to take one daily. It's pretty close to a miracle as the pain as become under control and I can walk more comfortably. A blessing for sure. I say, respect the disease and don't tempt the fates. A simple walk is good enough. How I wish I appreciated it more when I never had to think about putting one foot in front of another.
  • sam   Jul 4, 2014 12:00 AM
    What does my wife who lost her voice and cant move her body at all after getting ms do to control her condition nobody talks about bed ridden ms patients
  • koucla1  Jul 4, 2014 7:34 AM
    Feeling a smidge like an 'ole timer here, I have to admit that my thought is and always has been you never know how far you can go until you get there! MS has been my companion since I was 19 and when I was diagnosed I was 21 and told that I may "never" walk again! Well THAT wasn't going to happen. At the time I had never heard of PT or yoga or even foods that could possibly help me through this problem (didn't have PC either) ,there were no drugs or MRI's or even much hope. I just "knew" I'd walk again and so I pushed the limits..I crawled,fumbled,taught myself to drive,stand up,and WALK. So should we listen to our bodies..or our hearts. I think ,now that I'm 60 years old and have seen the advancements made in the treatments of MS (been through many of them) my question still is What made it possible for me to walk (not gracefully) again? The doctors will give all kinds of plausible explanations but I truly believe it happened because in my heart ..I knew.
  • Kim   Jul 4, 2014 7:56 AM
    I've had MS since 1998. I ran several triathalons and have done yoga regularly also. I try hard to keep myself in the best shape possible, while staying in touch with where my body is at on any given day. I do take it easier some days. If I'm feel very fatigued or my balance is poor. I look carefully at any risk I might be putting myself in. I took a full year training for my first triathalon. So that I could take my time and build up my strength, endurance, and some speed so as not to be ridiculously humiliated. But my intention was to have the experience. And to get my body in top physical condition. So my advice is keep going, don't stop. But don't let you anger or ego cause you to push yourself into a spot where you end up getting hurt and pushing yourself backwards. Always moving forwards. Even if doing it slowly.
  • Avatar
    allanmiller  Jul 4, 2014 10:01 AM
    It's about you, not the MS. MS is inky a part of you. However, we have to find the balance between challenges and injury, and it's a very fine balance. I use a cane outside and I surf the counters and furniture inside. I use a mobility scooter loaner at the art gallery and wheelchair assistance Shirley Robertson airports. Every situation calls for different accommodations. I use a drying mat on the counter for dishes rather the an a dish rack. So I won't break things. I use a beer glass with a handle for soft drinks or iced coffee. So it's always about adjusting.

    Finally, I'm asking my friends and relatives and spouse for help when I need it. This way I can enjoy the things I can do and put my energy into them. As I tell my nephew, "It's all about the love." Asking for help gives others a chance to express their love and caring for you.
  • bobo   Jul 4, 2014 2:53 PM
    I'd suggest taking one day at a time. If something is too much for your body, listen! Each of us has our own version of MS and that version varies hour to hour. Push when the body says go, and back off when your body says no. Tomorrow is another day and you may be able to hold that yoga pose as long as desired. However, keep a sense of humor if you do tumble. MS requires laughter when we lurch or the body does something unexpected. Cheers.
  • Avatar
    msvideodiary  Jul 4, 2014 4:18 PM
    I agree with Alanmiller , every situation calls for different accommodations.

    I hear fellow MS'ers tell me to accept my limitations all the time but rather than give up, like you I want to do the thang that's giving me trouble. I have learned to not entirely give up on it and not entirely plough on regardless.

    Also, I consider tomorrow and if I won't need to do much then I'll borrow some energy from tomorrow for the thing today if it's nice enough.
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    refusetoquit  Jul 5, 2014 8:44 AM
    LIBERATING.............that's what I felt THE day I let go (let go and let God)...........never understood the word until then. WOW, the 'monkey' off my back was lifting. I MADE's not giving up, it's living smarter. On to my next WONDERMENT, .........why am I 'happy', I can't walk?

    Life IS what you make it. I still get down, BUT, have faith in myself and know I have no control how life is to be............REFUSE TO QUIT understanding I'm doing everything I can control.

    Thanks Jennifer for your insight,,,,,,love it!
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    refusetoquit  Jul 5, 2014 10:48 AM
    Sam, your comment stands out to me .........those unable to move ......I may be there some day and think, after all I've come to know so far, MOVEMENT is key. IF it was turned around and I was ABLE to care for a person with MS, the one thing I'd do to help, is move that person FOR them............starting with the toes.......manipulate them, TOUCH every area......give their brain a chance to connect with areas again. BEND the leg for them.......move the arm's......lift gently, slowly as not to strain as much as just MOVE them. SUCH a treat it would be to feel movement even if they're unable to do it.

    I read a book of Dr. Weil long ago, and what still stands out to me, is MOVEMENT. He talked of a tribe that their daily exercise is walking in place...lifting the feet..........MOVEMENT. This gave new meaning to exercise for me. I pushed through all sports knowing 'that feeling' and as I declined found myself 'not doing' because I no longer could 'PUSH IT'. Thankyou, Dr. Weil for the simple story..........movement, blood circulation is key..............all the rest is our ego.
  • tellnhelen  Jul 5, 2014 8:18 PM
    Thank you for the post and all the comments here. They are great help to me. I've decided to get a hospital bed. It's time. I COULD continue to struggle in and out of bed OR I could adjust the bed to meet my needs. Thanks in part to your posts here I have decided that getting the hospital bed is NOT giving up but it is a means to continue living well.

    Besides, I'll sleep better after all the exercising (LA fitness,water aerobics, and physical therapy) I been doing lately.

    Once in a while these posts really help!
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    refusetoquit  Jul 6, 2014 2:54 PM
    Well, tellnhelen, lol, let me share........I DIDN"T want to let go of my house, my Salon, and move home for help............I DID'NT want my dog, cat, or wheelchair on their carpet .................I DIDN'T want them to get rid of their couch s I get a hospital bed. (bedroom's downstairs that I can't get to) Family visits and the kid's are on the bed playing with the 'trapeze' for aid in turning over. (You'll love the sidebar's)

    THAT'S LIFE......ENJOY IT HOW YOU NEED and do on the side what you can, WHEN you can............movement, blood circulation.........I'm maintaining umtil a cure.You made MY day, by the way, mentioning a hospital bed...............I put a normal mattress on it....HAVE A GOOD ONE!!!
  • capitolcarol   Jul 10, 2014 10:42 AM
    Some of these comments are so uplifting and helpful. I try to get moving as much as possible. I do my physical therapy exercises every day and walk as much as I can. I do want to go to the gym to take for example, a yoga class, but unfortunately, I have to go down quite a few steps, walk to the bus stop, ride the bus, and then hop off bus and walk to the gym. I am trying to walk using my cane a little more every day.
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    msdz84  Jul 20, 2014 3:40 PM
    Is anyone aware of/can suggest a device to assist me with my posture? I was diagnosed with MS in 1991, was one of the first to start on Beta Seron (and switched to Techfidera ten years later due to liver complications), Thanks to early detection and expert medical care, the progress has been slow. I have heard of a string activated device that encourages straight posture, but cannot find any further information. Has anyone heard of this or have other recommendations? Many thanks.
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    clparker13  Jul 20, 2014 5:47 PM
    A friend introduced me to SPX Nutrition and it has helped me gain energy and curb my appetite, immensely. The NutriThin is a blessing. I am 32 years old and was diagnosed with MS at age 25. My fatigue kicks my butt, but I actually took my first spin class in 7 years two weeks ago. I highly recommend it.
    The cool thing is they pay you to lose weight, too :)