Guest post by: Sarah Bily
My mother was diagnosed with progressive MS when she was only 34 years old. At the time, I was a teenager and I witnessed her transition from being a very active woman to having to use a wheelchair. As the disease progressed, her mobility decreased. She had multiple strokes and seizures and experienced speech problems, depression, severe arthritis, pain, and weakness. During the last five years of her life, she was a quadriplegic with very limited mobility.
I loved my mom dearly and I often felt unable to help her. As a result, I became a fitness instructor and worked as a nurse’s aide in a long-term care facility. Eventually, I became a yoga instructor and a therapist because I wanted to learn how to help people like my mom. My passion for helping others grew and I started working with people who live with physical and cognitive conditions.
When the pandemic hit, I wanted to continue to keep my mother’s legacy alive and do my part to help others. That’s when I began offering free online yoga classes to communities. I reached out to the MS Society and other organizations as I offer live online specialized adaptive yoga, meditation, and breathwork classes. Through these online specialized classes, I was able to reach people in their own home at their own pace and capacity, while removing barriers of accessibility that existed prior to the pandemic.
After the MS Society shared my story, people in the MS community began attending my classes. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response, I realized that a more permanent solution was necessary to provide people with a wide variety of accessible online, live, and taped classes. People who gave up practicing yoga due to their MS found that they could do it again and shared how these classes have changed their lives mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Today, I continue to help serve people living with MS and other diseases like my mom. I’m continuing to offer free live online classes over the summer in collaboration with two other instructors. These classes include yoga, boxing, and strength training. Anyone can participate in these classes, whether approaching the class from the floor, chair, or standing. I’m in the process of launching a “Specialized Adaptive Therapy Studio” for September with a wide variety of taped and live options to access remotely. A special discount will be offered for access to this studio membership until August 30.
What people in the MS community are saying about Sarah’s classes:
“I started yoga 15 years ago as it was highly recommended by my neurologist. In the last several years, it has been increasingly difficult for me to get out to the classes due to my MS, especially in the winter. I’ve spent a lot of money on classes I couldn’t do and tried programs on DVDs and TV, but because of my limitations, I found that I couldn’t keep up with classes that were meant for the masses. Sarah’s classes are adaptable to all ability levels. She has the ability to teach a class of individuals with different needs. We also benefit from gaining a sense of community and belonging that so many of us lose due to the abilities this diagnosis takes away from us. This program not only addresses physical health, but mental health and well-being.” – Donna M., Fort Saskatchewan, AB
“Sarah is a wonderful instructor. She can adapt everything she is doing to teach as many people as possible. Her warm and friendly personality draws you in and makes the classes very enjoyable. She is very encouraging and positive. Sarah’s classes are invaluable to me. Yoga is recommended for MS because of the stretching and gentle movements. It enables me to get exercise and helps with my mental health. I find that it is really helping me with my challenges.” – Rob F., Courtney, B.C.
“I started doing yoga in 2010 but due to the spasticity in my legs, I was unable to do the standing yoga positions. I couldn’t find a consistent long-term class for people with limited abilities until Sarah came along. Sarah has so many different options for each pose that I am able to do an entire class, whether it’s a good or bad day. It has been wonderful to be back doing yoga! My legs are getting stronger, I’m experiencing less spasticity, and feeling more flexible with each class. Thanks to Sarah, I’m getting back a part of me that I lost a long time ago. She is helping people from Newfoundland to British Columbia who are in need, mentally and physically. She is not only offering exercise, but a space for companionship with others who understand me and my challenges.” – Crissy W., London, ON