Improving MS with Pilates – Gilda’s Success Story

My name is Gilda Akin and I am a 44-year-old woman suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

If you are unfamiliar with MS here is a brief explanation of the disease:

The part of the nervous system that is designed to keep your body healthy mistakenly attacks parts of your body that are vital to everyday function.  The protective coverings of nerve cells are damaged, which leads to diminished function in the signals sent from the brain and spinal cord.  MS affects all patients differently. I was lucky to be diagnosed at a young age and took a proactive approach to stay as healthy as possible… 20 years ago my first MS attack left me with a numb-like sensation in my left hand… and because of my proactive approach, I went an extremely long time between relapses. I am a dance teacher by trade, focusing my whole life on teaching others the joy of movement and have owned my own dance studios both in Massachusetts and Texas. Not everyone gets to live their dream and I was lucky enough to be one of these people for over 20 years. Dance was my everything. I started taking classes at three years old, teaching my own classes for other dance studios by age 15, studied dance in college and have been lucky enough to be a faculty member at some of the most prestigious dance studios on the east coast…inspiring children to love movement and dance from their hearts….Living the dream, right?

Doctors can’t predict when an MS patient will have another relapse or what exactly causes a body to attack itself. In my case, three years ago I had a severe relapse resulting at the end of life as I knew it and forcing me to find a “new normal”.  My MRI showed 10 small lesions on my brain and six large lesions at the very top of my spine snaking down my vertebrae. The result was the loss of all normal functions and feelings from my torso down. When I’m standing and move my head I lose my balance and sometimes fall. I have painful neuropathy in both of my feet and require a walker to walk any kind of distance. But probably the most heartbreaking difference in my “new normal” is my loss of ability to teach dance.  My body no longer allows me to jump, twirl, run, walk in a straight line without stumbling, raise up on my toes and about a million other things I did on a regular basis to perform my career.

I fought and fought to try to make my way back to my “old normal” but inevitably I had to come to terms with the fact that dance is no longer an option for me.

This is so hard for me because my mind is not broken at all but my body has betrayed me. But I’m a stubborn woman and I keep trying to live a fuller life!

I tried walking on a track… yes with a walker like a 90-year-old woman, but I still gave it a go… and failed since I am unable to walk far. I joined a generic gym, tried the rowing machine, as well as riding the bike. My legs were exhausted with the effort it took to operate the machines and I was embarrassed to be seen so weak in front of so many strangers and quickly quit.  I tried yoga, but the holding of poses was impossible to accomplish with my broken core and poor strength.  I needed to move because no movement meant I was always achy and in pain. Both mentally and physically, I was lost.

Then, while out with my family one night we passed a sign for Club Pilates. I called, briefly explained my situation and was told to come try the Intro class. I was not very optimistic. I assumed it was just like yoga. I was self-conscious that people would be staring at my shortcomings like in my past experiences, and was ready to fail – again. I arrived early to give the instructor my spiel and was surprised to be greeted by the owner as well.

They assured me that I was in good hands at Club Pilates, with the ability to work at my own pace, and I was safe in a judge-free zone.

The instructor, Alyssa Miller was patient and an excellent educator and I instantly felt safe in her class. She explains her exercises so well I quickly had the confidence to try other classes. And with the help of the Reformer, I was moving and stretching in a way I thought was lost to me!  Let me say it again…..I was capable of moving! I instantly signed up for Club Pilates unlimited program and started taking classes every day!  The Club Pilates staff embraced me and my situation. They have taken such good care of me and my unique needs.

What happens to me matters to them and I feel so comfortable in class.

When we discover an exercise or move that is too challenging for my body, the instructors find a modification. I feel included. I feel like I belong. All I want is to be like everyone else, and the fact that my Pilates development matters enough to the Club Pilates staff to find ways for me to get stronger and be included is incredible. Whenever I accomplish something that was initially challenging, the staff and other class members celebrate with me! I’m part of a community.

I wouldn’t say it’s just Pilates that helped me so much….it’s Club Pilates, their philosophy and class layout.

Club Pilates incorporates the Reformer in every class which allows me to perform exercises laying down, taking the stress off my body. I can’t stress enough how Club Pilates is my true happy place! It doesn’t feel like a place I go to just for exercise.

In daily life, I am so much more “aware” of engaging my core. I find myself tightening my stomach to climb stairs or get in and out of the car.  Something people take for granted is the ability to get dressed standing up!

Four months ago I had to sit to do everything.

Now I can stand to put my legs through pant legs and the feeling is AMAZING! I have to sit to wash my hair… I’ve lost the ability to stand and change focus…..move my head side to side or look around…BUT I can now stand (and hold the wall, but still I’m on my feet!) and rinse my hair with my head tilted back! These all sound like such small things but I’m so grateful to pilates and what I’ve learned in class because these small things improve my quality of life!

I have been a Club Pilates member now for almost four months and I have participated in over 100 classes.  My son says I now have arm muscles! My core is noticeably stronger, too. I no longer need to sit when showering or getting dressed.  Even my neurologist noticed an improvement in my walking speed and hip flexor strength. With Club Pilates, I feel like I have found a new home. I am so grateful to Julie and her club pilates team. And who knows? Maybe with enough training, I will be able to dance again someday or even become a Club Pilates instructor!!

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