Surround yourself with kind, joyful people. Their positive energy will impact you. It is contagious. My favorite yoga teachers are integral to my positive outlook and mood. They have a certain glow and speak with authenticity about yogic philosophy. When I feel down, taking their class can be very healing. When I am upbeat, being around them feeds my optimistic energy bank.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mindy Eisenberg.
Mindy Eisenberg, MHSA, C-IAYT, ERYT-500 is the Founder and Director of Yoga Moves MS, a nonprofit 501(c (3) with the mission of improving the quality of life for individuals with MS, Parkinson’s Disease, and neuromuscular conditions. She is the author of Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body, created for individuals with MS and neuromuscular conditions and Adaptive Yoga Cards, daily yoga moves for all ages and abilities. Mindy has provided yoga therapy to individuals with mobility challenges for over fifteen years and thrives on building a strong, mighty community for her students and families. She is a Qualified Mindfulness-Based Stress reduction teacher. Her experience as a health care administrator at the University of Michigan Medical Center contributes to her ability to bring the Yoga Moves philosophy of healing and the importance of the mind-body relationship to the health care arena. Mindy has a Bachelor of Science from Northwestern University and a Master of Health Services Administration from the University of Michigan.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Though one might expect that I had a grand plan to create a yoga for MS program, I truly didn’t…one existed, but no one told me about it. The path to where Yoga Moves MS is now was more organic than a stepwise process. I firmly believe that we all have a purpose on this earth. If we are open to possibilities and pay attention, we will find synchronicity.
My mother had progressive MS. Since I was a little girl, I did not know how to help her feel better. She lived much of her adult life in bed or in a wheelchair. As time passed, her muscles and bones contracted into a fetal position. While she was becoming more stagnant, I loved to move. She encouraged me to take ballet beginning in pre-school. My father provided me the opportunity to continue my dance studies in high school and in my early college career. Fast forward eighteen years, after I completed yoga teacher training, my son’s teacher asked me to conduct a yoga class for her support group at a leading institute for MS in Michigan. This hour provided the seed that grew into seven weekly adaptive yoga for MS classes. Serendipitously, I met a special individual at an MS Society presentation who was planning a yoga for MS fundraiser called Yoga Moves MS (YMMS). We swiftly merged and planned the YMMS annual YMMS ‘Party with a Purpose’ for several years. These fundraisers have been instrumental in bringing people together to support our adaptive yoga classes. They created further impetus to build community and empower individuals to make a difference. Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body serves as an umbrella for Yoga Moves MS because ‘Any Body’ with a neuromuscular condition is a welcome member of our community.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
One of my favorite stories took place during one of my evening adaptive yoga classes. This particular student with MS, who ironically also happens to be a neurologist, gave me an incredulous look when I asked my students to spread their toes. She had been telling herself that she could not move her toes, and that her teacher was ridiculously enthusiastic. A few months later, I saw her smiling in a spinal balance pose, and asked her why she was so gleeful. She said, “I moved my toes.” That student taught me to believe in my students, before they believe in themselves, and that possibilities can become reality. It meant a lot that this student, a physician and scientist, was also an important data point. Yoga increases neural pathways. Neuroplasticity was experienced and celebrated.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am not sure I would call it a mistake, but I did use a lot of energy doing things the hard way by myself. When I first began teaching adaptive yoga, I took on the role of teacher and assistant. It was rewarding, exciting and exhausting all at the same time. I lugged yoga supplies to my car, brought them into the building, set them up, taught class, massaged feet, and cleaned up. Good thing I was highly energetic, and eager to help my students! It was a relief when other teachers joined the YMMS team and we found a place to house our supplies in the different building locations. This same pattern occurred with the fundraising role until I got smart and asked for help from my team of instructors and students. The mantra is, “do things the easy way!” Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Numerous family members, friends, YMMS instructors, students, and donors have supported the growth of YMMS. It takes a village to build a community.
There are those who helped from my inner circle, including many family and friends. My kids have been supportive of my dedication to the cause, and very generous with their mother’s time. Without the emotional and financial support of my husband of 36 years, I could not afford to build a non-profit. We give each other the space to pursue personal interests and dreams. I think that is one of the secrets to marital success.
Dr. James M. Voci is the Chair of Yoga Moves MS. A leading neurologist, Dr. Harold Rossman of Blessed Memory referred me to him. This was really the beginning of the growth of YMMS in southeastern Michigan. Dr. Voci thinks BIG, and connected me with other successful leaders. His ideas and ability to think strategically, together with idealism, is a perfect mix. His patients are very fortunate to have them as their physician and YMMS is lucky to have him as a leader in our community. He experienced firsthand how yoga improved migraines and he has a really big heart. He is a healer in more ways than he knows.
The students are the main reason that our community is so vibrant. They have a strong desire to help each other. They are cheerleaders and develop meaningful bonds. When a student is absent from class, they often check in with that person to make sure that they are okay. We have students who enjoy making connections with potential referral sources which expands our community reach. A student, who is an occupational therapist, learned how yoga therapy complements occupational and physical therapy from her experience with us. Through word of mouth, she is a strong advocate who shares information about YMMS with colleagues, physicians, and other patients. Another student loves to connect with leadership from other non-profits who complement our mission. Other students plan gatherings outside of class for lunch or dinner, or more serious events to memorialize and grieve the loss of a student. We are all connected in this web of life.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Our focus is Adaptive Yoga For Any Body, more specifically individuals with neuromuscular conditions. Yoga therapy principles can be adapted for those with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, and more.
YMMS classes may be the student’s only connection with human beings, outside of the medical community in a week or longer. We understand and accept students just as they are. This is a safe and creative place of connection, empowerment, peace of mind and kindness.
When I first became a yoga therapist, there were very few of us who specialized in adaptive yoga for MS. Looking back, we were pioneers. The profession of yoga therapy was in its infancy or even pre-birth phase, with no certification. Thankfully, more yoga instructors and therapists are interested in specializing in specific conditions and causes. Accessible yoga is a movement to make yoga available to everybody. The International Association of Yoga Therapy created an accreditation process only a few years ago which increases professional standards, research and overall credibility.
Interest in adaptive yoga is growing from clinicians such as physicians, physical and occupational therapists, and nurses. They have a greater appreciation for how yoga therapy fits into the integrative and holistic health care continuum. I developed an Adaptive Yoga Teacher Training that is attended by clinicians, exercise physiologists, and yoga teachers. With more people educated about adaptive yoga and therapy, more are seeking training. I receive several inquiries a week.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
*Note — I added 7 as there are just too many to offer!
- Meditate daily, in the morning if possible. It sets the tone for the day. Mindfulness has changed the way I experience the world. Make space for it in your routine, and be patient. Allow the practice to sink into your body, mind and soul. It took about six months for meditation to become an integral part of my self-care. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is purposely designed as an eight-week program to give students a solid foundation.
- Karma Yoga refers to being of service to others without attachment to the result. Tikkun Olam is a term in Judaism that refers to repairing the world. These two concepts from two different cultures sum it up. When we dedicate time towards a personal cause with passion, it is a natural way to build optimism and hope. It reminds me that we are not alone and connects us to something bigger. Volunteering with and for others is an important part of living. As our kids were growing up, as a family we participated in activities with intention so that they could “feel the good” in helping others. This is one of the reasons I am so dedicated to Yoga Moves MS. Our students gain great joy in helping each other in class and in contributing to the success of our annual fundraiser.
- Our bodies were meant to move…find a routine that you like and exercise at the very least, three to five days per week. For me, exercise is necessary to spur creativity and amplify productivity. My yoga practice keeps me in alignment, internally as well as with the external world. I build my schedule around yoga. While I realize that everyone can’t build their schedule around exercise, I do believe everyone can make time in their schedules to move their bodies three to five times a week. My mind and body inform me when I miss a day that they are cranky and achy. My husband and kids even tell me when I need to practice based on my mood. This is the mind-body connection. Emotions are intricately interconnected to the physical body.
- If you are an animal lover, pets are the best. They need us and we need them. My mother loved dogs and I had several pets growing up. When she could no longer take care of a dog, she found a cat that required less care. My daughter pressed my husband and I to adopt a dog at the age of 11. Even though I knew it would be my responsibility, I acquiesced. Garfield, our Daisy dog, added so much fun and love to our lives. My friend who is a veterinarian used to say, “a pet makes a family complete.” As another option, I love fish and the sound of water. It can be very relaxing and peaceful to gaze at them. They require relatively less care and do not ask for much in return.
- Read an inspiring book, article, quote or poem regularly. Staying up on the news is important but finding inspiration and learning from others is key for spiritual development. I keep some favorite books and a journal by my nightstand.
- Surround yourself with kind, joyful people. Their positive energy will impact you. It is contagious. My favorite yoga teachers are integral to my positive outlook and mood. They have a certain glow and speak with authenticity about yogic philosophy. When I feel down, taking their class can be very healing. When I am upbeat, being around them feeds my optimistic energy bank.
- Hug a tree. Get outside, enjoy, and align with nature. There is something mystical about trees. They have so much to teach us. They are firmly rooted in the earth and yet reach skyward. We have an old “Mama” Oak tree in our yard. When I look at her, I know she has so much to say if I mindfully listen in shared silence.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I do not need to reinvent the wheel. The self-care movement is already in motion with holistic health care, mindfulness, meditation, and of course, yoga. They may not cure disease, but they make coping with symptoms and life’s challenges easier. Holistic care complements traditional medical care, it is not a replacement.
We need to ensure that health care is available to all, and this includes holistic alternatives. Our country has a lot to learn if we look at international morbidity and mortality statistics. For all of our intelligence and technology, our statistics must change. Our system manages health problems with pills and procedures in lieu of investment in preventative care. The United States has the lowest life expectancy at birth among comparable countries according to the Health System Tracker.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1.) Meet with successful leaders and choose a mentor. Learn from their depth of experience, ask questions, and feed your creative juices.
2) If you are fundraising, there is an art to silent auctions. Learn it. Guests at our ‘Party for a Purpose’ love them, but they can be overwhelming. We figured out how to tackle the beast, but auctions require a lot of time and organization skills.
3) If you do not like the focus on you, you had better get ready for that kind of attention if you are the leader. Organizations and movements need a leader and members will refer to you. You are the face of the organization. I love being part of something bigger than myself and have had to ease into the fact that the attention is on me.
4) Make a plan. Once you create a valuable organization, cultivate leadership in others so that the organization can survive and thrive with or without you. At some point, you and the organization will be ready for the next chapter.
5) The fruits of division of labor are real. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek out others with skills that complement your toolbox. With a strong cause, they will be there for you. Human beings have an innate desire to help others. Your family and friends will thank you.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health and suicide prevention is at the top of my list. Depression is an epidemic. No one family is untouched by it. I lost my sweet father to suicide back in 1991 at the age of 52. My family was shocked to the core. He was a jovial, charming, energetic man, and an old-fashioned physician that would visit patients at their homes. He was a mensch, and was generous with his family, friends and community. He was also very good at hiding the signs of deep depression. At that time, I was uneducated about suicide and did not have a clue about the mental anguish that he was going through. It is my hope in sharing this personal story, that I can be a part of breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and help raise awareness about the importance of having expanded health insurance to cover mental health therapy. Education and awareness can change lives if we know what we are looking at and how to act.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
IG: @yogamovesms; FB: https://www.facebook.com/YogaMovesMS/
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!