Ten years ago, Nancy Henry was an operations manager for a New York-based bank. She had 38 people working for her. But during a particularly stressful merger, she became worn down, started having trouble seeing out of one of her eyes, and began having trouble walking and balancing. She thought that she had some kind of flu.
It turns out she had Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and most often causes debilitating fatigue and a host of neurological problems ranging from severe muscle spasms to difficulty walking to cognitive impairment.
Lucianna says that by stimulating the mind and the meridians, MS patients can achieve better health.
But Tuesday, the 59-year-old Rutherford resident, no longer in a high-powered job, wowed a group of 13 fellow MS patients at Temple Israel and Community Center in Ridgewood by doing something that, for most of us, is relatively simple. Sitting in a chair stationed next to the wheelchair that she uses part-time Henry lifted her left leg and rotated her foot in a clockwise circle.
It’s something that she couldn’t do six years ago, when she still had to wear a brace on her lower leg to prevent what she calls break foot a condition that caused her foot to curl downward in spasm, acting like a brake when she tried to walk and it’s something that her doctor told her she would never be able to do.
But that was before she started taking a Tai Chi class offered by the New Jersey chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She was proof to the group, to her classmates, that if they paid attention, they could see results.
Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese system of therapeutic movement, is similar to yoga, says the class’s instructor, Roy Lucianna. It is based on the theories of acupuncture that say that 1′ meridians run through the body, and the health and stimulation of those meridians which start and end in the toes, head, and hands is integral to the health of the entire body.
While acupuncture stimulates the meridians through the use of needles, Tai Chi stimulates those meridians through movement, to strengthen a person’s "chi," or life force.
"The chi runs through the meridians, like blood runs through the veins," said Lucianna.
Typical movements are designed to stimulate the chi and open up the meridians that correspond to different internal organs.
Lucianna, who also brings into the class the art of Chi Kung, another medical movement system, says that the class for MS patients, which he has been teaching for about 10 years, is designed primarily to work the lung meridian. One exercise, for instance, involves basically folding the arms inward, then pushing them outward while wiggling the fingers, which opens the chest.
"The lungs are the first line of defense in the immune system," he explained. "It’s where external pathogens enter the body. A lot of people with MS cannot walk freely, and internally, the diaphragm is connected to the lower skeletal system. It’s why people who are bedridden are susceptible to pneumonia. Walking helps you breathe.
He has modified many of the exercises, which normally involved standing, so that they can be done sitting in a chair or on the floor.
"We’re actually stimulating the nervous system by using our minds," said Lucianna. "We do a lot of that."
While Henry admits to being a skeptic when she first enrolled in the class, about a year in, she realized that she was able to stand in the "horse stance," a semi-squatting position, without a spotter something all of her physical therapy could not get her to do, and she became a believer.
And now, she can even wiggle her foot.
For more information, call the MS Society at (’01) 967-5599.