DVD presents yoga for disabled

A new yoga DVD especially for multiple sclerosis patients was released June 18 and is available locally. Tiffin yoga instructor Chuck Burmeister and a Columbus-area teacher, Jennifer Gebhart, teamed up with their respective students to make “Real Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis.”

Gebhart is an instructor at Yoga on High in Columbus, where Burmeister took his teacher certification. He now teaches at the YMCA and other locations in Tiffin. Burmeister has devoted himself to yoga because it helped him to reclaim his life after his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

“I know what it has done for me and I know what I can do for other people, even with people in wheelchairs,” Burmeister said. “They love it and they keep coming back. They come because they want to.”

Gebhart does not have MS, but she has been teaching yoga to MS patients for 10 years. Having majored in political science at Ohio State University, Gebhart had a desire to help people in some capacity. She first got interested in yoga 14 years ago when she was pregnant with her daughter.

“I just did a pregnancy yoga DVD at home. Then, after having her, I actually won a gift certificate for a yoga class. So I took the class and fell in love with it and kept going,” Gebhart said.

After some consideration, she decided maybe she could help people through yoga. Gebhart practiced yoga for three years at Yoga On High before training to become an instructor. She has been teaching at sites in the Columbus area. This summer, she taught at some children’s camps.

During her teacher training, Gebhart was required to assist other instructors in various classes. She chose the multiple sclerosis class and immediately saw its therapeutic value. The supervising instructor was leaving the studio, so after graduating from her training, Gebhart took over the class.

Now, Gebhart has about 25 yoga students with MS. Burmeister assisted Gebhart when he was training to be a yoga instructor. In November 2011, Burmeister and Gebhart were having lunch together during a break at a workshop.

“She looked at me and said ‘You and I need to write a book together,’ because of my MS. She teaches two MS classes a week, so she deals with that weekly. I said, ‘I think a video would be better, because people with MS really don’t want to struggle with a book. Part of the body might be disabled,'” Burmeister recalled.

Before starting the project, the partners reviewed other yoga videos that were supposed to be suitable for MS patients. They discovered not much was available. They thought one DVD was totally inappropriate, with positions and movements that most MS patients could not manage. Gebhart said it would probably just discourage them.

“The reason we chose to do this video in the first place was, there are other MS videos out there, but with the type of people we have in this video, there’s no way they can do it. They’re too disabled,” Burmeister said. “We wanted it gentle with options, and I wanted the caregiver chapter because sometimes … it’s harder on the caregiver than it is on the person with the disease.”

Both agreed to look for a place and people to do the recording. When Burmeister informed his Tiffin classes about the project, one of the students suggested someone at Heidelberg University, where she worked, might be able to help produce the DVD.

That student was Pam Faber, who sent emails to find students and staff willing to participate in the filming. Burmeister said working with them proved to be more challenging than he expected. A meeting finally took place in the spring of 2012, but recording did not begin until fall, when classes resumed.

In the meantime, Burmeister got started on the opening chapter, which features him in street clothes doing a five-minute yoga practice. He demonstrates and names the basic poses and movements in a simple manner to emphasize that no special clothing, athletic ability or equipment is needed to get started.

Next, he enlisted Julie Wilhelm, a physical therapist, to be featured in a segment of the DVD. Wilhelm, who is the niece of Burmeister’s wife, Carol, agreed to a taped interview in which she reviews how yoga can help MS patients.

“I gave her the questions a month ahead,” Burmeister said.

Wilhelm explains how yoga can improve balance, breathing, posture and spasticity. The discussion even includes bladder control, which makes exercise difficult for many people, with or without MS. Those using the video do not need a medical dictionary to understand the interview. It is clear, concise and accurate.

As the arrangements progressed, Burmeister and Gebhart invited students to participate in the video. Several of Gebhart’s MS students committed themselves without hesitation.

“They were all excited and dedicated. No one called and canceled. They all showed up,” Gebhart said.

Most of her MS students are not able to drive, so they depend on friends, relatives or public transportation to get to class. Gebhart said a few travel by a specialized bus for the handicapped. After a recent class, one student said she left the studio at 5:30 p.m. and was on the bus until 9 p.m. In addition, the effects of MS vary from day to day. Patients may not be able to do every movement, but Gebhart said they do what they can manage.

“There’s so many things amazing about working with this group of people … They make it to class, and when they leave, they have a smile,” Gebhart said.

An elderly MS patient, Charles Wallace, appears in the caregiver segment of the DVD. Gebhart said he has been coming to yoga classes longer than she has been teaching. He drives himself to class in a specially equipped car.

Burmeister, who assisted Wallace in Gebhart’s class, said the retiree is able to stand, but MS prevents him from moving his legs. Going from a standing position to the floor is especially difficult for Wallace, so an assistant helps him to move his legs during classes.

In the DVD, Wallace poses as a bed-ridden patient as Burmeister demonstrates how a caregiver can help a client with MS. Another MS patient, Mary Longanbaugh of Tiffin, also agreed to be filmed for that segment. Other Tiffinites who appear on the DVD are Maria Anderson, Steve Joswiak, Beth Tippie and Linda White.

Gebhart said making the DVD was “a lot of fun and a lot of work.” Each chapter with her students was filmed in one take. She would do a run-through with them before the cameras rolled to make them aware of what was to be included. Everyone who participated received a free copy of the DVD.

“I’m so glad I have Chuck as a partner with us because it might not have come to fruition without him. He definitely makes up his mind. No matter the obstacle, we’re going to get it done,” Gebhart said.

Although the filming process was slower than Burmeister would have liked, he persisted while trying to remain calm. For the chapter on “Floor and Standing Exercises,” Burmeister did not film anyone with MS. The DVD finally was finished just before students went home for the summer. Tim “TJ” Wasserman, who did the filming and editing, was able to use one chapter of the DVD as his senior project at Heidelberg.

“I think TJ did an awesome job on editing. Then Rachel Ferguson designed the case and all that. I gave her ideas,” Burmeister said. “I love this cover.”

Ferguson, a Heidelberg graduate, met Burmeister while he was teaching a power yoga class. When he heard Rachel talking to a friend about graphics, he asked if she could design a DVD cover. Without hesitation, she said yes, and she told Burmeister two relatives on her father’s side had died of MS.

“She was very motivated. She said, ‘I want to do this,'” he recalled.

Ferguson even painted a background to use for the cover art. Afterward, she signed the painting and gave it to Burmeister. He said the National MS Society is looking at the video to possibly write a review for their magazine, “The Motivator.” Burmeister said he also is writing an article about the project to submit for the magazine.

Burmeister is especially pleased with the chapter which shows caregivers how to help move patients’ limbs to improve flexibility. Gebhart said some of her students have difficulty remembering what to do at home. If their caregivers come to class with them, they can help the client to recall the exercises.

“The caregivers can also help them so the caregiver can be empowered with a way to help this person feel better,” Gebhart said.

Burmeister said yoga has allowed him to live a relatively normal lifestyle without any medication for more than two years. The activity also reduces depression and increases one’s productivity. Burmeister said people with permanent damage from MS may have less dramatic results, but they will have some improvement if they do yoga consistently.

“It’s not going to cure you, but it’s going to give you a better quality of life. It works for me, because I never progressed to that point … where the damage got permanent. But I have to do it,” Burmeister said.

Although Gebhart would have liked to include a chapter on relaxation (shavasana) and meditation, she said the DVD is very thorough, covering aspects other videos overlook. It also is a good way for anyone who has been inactive to ease into an exercise program.

“Our purpose in making the DVD is to help people, especially people who don’t have access to yoga classes, and also to help people practice at home. They receive huge benefits by having a daily practice, even if it’s only 10 minutes,” Gebhart said.

Now, she is hoping to get her family more involved in yoga. Her daughter has attended a few classes, and her son, age 8, enjoyed a kids’ class he took at Yoga on High. He wants to take it again.

“My family needs yoga. That’s one of my goals this year,” Gebhart said.

“Real Yoga for MS” can be purchased in Tiffin at Frameworks, Phat Cakes, the YMCA and Brenda’s Hair Place. It is available online at amazon.com, etsy.com and eBay. Tiffin-Seneca Public Library also has a copy to borrow.

Burmeister’s website, www.yogachuck.com, has a sidebar with information about the video and how to get it. Yoga on High in Columbus has copies for sale, and Gebhart has a blog with a link to obtain the DVD.