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Sharp Health News

Facing ALS with grace, dignity and yoga

April 11, 2018

Facing ALS with grace, dignity and yoga

Cynthia Mendolia, exercise specialist at the Sewall Healthy Living Center, helps Jean Landon perfect her yoga practice.

Jean Landon has taken yoga classes throughout her life, but the yoga she now practices at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital is giving her new life.

Landon, diagnosed in 2015 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease — has found that the center’s simple yoga classes have helped her to remain strong, independent and hopeful.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain and spinal cord, which are responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. The progressive degeneration of the neurons affects the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movements, such as those needed to talk, chew, walk and breathe.

Landon first noticed that something was wrong when she had difficulty performing basic daily activities, such as putting on her shoes or walking without tripping or falling. She broke her leg as a result of one such fall and convinced her doctor that they should explore the reason behind the developing challenges. The shocking diagnosis was ALS.

“This may not be the life I envisioned, but I am determined to make the best of the path I am now on,” she says. “ALS is not something I can control, but I can control how I react to it.”

While the lifespan of a person with ALS is greatly diminished by the disease and no cure is known, Landon believes that she has already beaten some of the odds. It has been nearly three years since her diagnosis — her voice remains strong, she continues to drive and still lives a mostly independent life with the love and support of her husband, two adult sons, grandchildren and close friends. A new wheelchair has also increased her ability to get around to her everyday activities and destinations.

She is determined to maintain her health and mobility with simple yoga classes and by performing yoga and breathing exercises at home every day, and continuing what she calls her “mental exercises” — participating in a book club and Bible study group.

“Yoga is about accepting where your body is each day and being in the moment, which can be a challenge with ALS,” she says. “I am trying to stay in good shape for as long as possible, and the yoga classes help with my flexibility, balance, strength and mindfulness. I also really love the camaraderie and support the class provides.”

Keeping herself fit has also allowed Jean to continue traveling. She has been to Hawaii, Africa and Ireland since receiving her diagnosis, and has plans to take a Scandinavian cruise in the near future.

“I’m not wild about what’s happening to my body, but I ask myself what I can do with what I’ve been given and make the most out of every day,” she says. “People tell me they’ve seen my posts on Facebook about my travel adventures and think to themselves, ‘If Jean can do it, so can I.’ If someone can benefit from my challenges, then my challenges become more tolerable for me.”

Landon faces these challenges each day with grace, dignity and humor, setting an example aptly summarized by a quote she adds to each email she sends: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

For the news media: To talk with exercise specialist Cynthia Mendolia about yoga for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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