Yoga and MS    

Forty years ago, yoga teacher Eric Small was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Today he’s a vibrant testament to yoga’s power to alleviate this often crippling disease.


By Loraine Despres

Photography by Bill Reitzel

     Hearing that yoga might be able to mitigate the crippling effects of multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, I seek verification in an unlikely place. I don’t go to a hospital or a sterile research institute, but to a sprawling, Spanish-colonial house once owned by a Hollywood film mogul.

     As I stop my car in front of the giant succulents that line the entrance to what is now the home and yoga studio of Eric Small, a sight-seeing van slows and the tourists, ever on the alert for movie stars in this exclusive neighborhood, crane their necks and stare. I imagine their eager question: “Is she somebody?”

     Suppressing the urge to wave graciously, I walk into the side garden with its trees and fountains and enter the yoga studio, once a movie screening room. Wheelchairs, walkers, and canes line the walls, and instead of the usual murmur of students stretching and bending as they wait for class to begin, these men and women are sitting quietly on chairs, exchanging information on the one thing they have in common: multiple sclerosis.

     Eric Small, their yoga teacher, is a special inspiration to them. Tall and lean, with muscular arms and legs, he is capable of physical feats most men in their 60s wouldn’t dream of attempting: back bends, handstands, splits, and twists. But he, too, is dealing with MS. Forty years ago, when he was a 21-year-oldcollege student, he woke up one morning and couldn’t get out of bed. “My legs and arms wouldn’t work,” he says. “I felt as I had been strapped down. Then my involuntary breathing stopped.” Fortunately, his fraternity brothers found him and rushed him to the hospital

     At first the doctors thought his paralysis was due to polio, but after a battery of tests – and analysis of a medical history that included recurring attacks of fatigue, loss of balance, and blurred vision – he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He’s reluctant to talk about his symptoms, but admits that his condition was so severe that for a while he was put on a breathing machine. NEXT Page ->


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