Myasthenia Gravis, the Monstrous Gargoyle

To me, my elder brother is my best friend, my playmate, my language tutor and my “partner in crime”. Our childhood was spent at the see saw, building sandcastles at the beach, playing soccer at the void deck, playing eraser wars and turning the house upside down. My brother grew up just like any active young teenage boys who enjoyed playing sports like soccer, basketball and badminton. He occasionally dances and performs at school events.

However, in 2005, he came home one day from school, telling us he felt very weak, his tongue felt numb and his left eyelid was drooping. A trip to the doctor revealed that he had contracted Myasthenia Gravis (MG), an autoimmune disease which causes weakness in skeletal muscles due to an error in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. The doctor mentioned that his overactive immune system was the culprit that wrecked his system instead of the thymus gland in majority of the diagnosis. The antibodies, which were supposed to protect him, interrupted the communication between the nerve and muscle at the neuromuscular junction and prevented his muscles from contracting. The medication prescribed included corticosteroid which limited the antibody production, but also caused him to gain weight. The changes in his appearance sent his mood spiralling downwards and his confidence dived. He could no longer do his favourite sports to keep himself in shape as he tires easily.

The concoction of pills stabilised his condition, but in 2007, his immune system turned its back on him again. His condition relapsed when he was working for an events company, slogging till wee hours most of the time. This time round, his condition worsened with Dysphagia. MG weakened his jaw muscles and he needed more effort to chew and swallow his food. He was eating porridge and the liquid from the porridge actually came out from his nose! His facial muscles were affected as well and he felt awkward smiling or expressing himself. He had to undergo plasmapheresis to filter and replace his blood with intravenous fluid. He has since left for a better job where he has more time to rest and recuperate.

Occasionally, he does light exercises at home such as sit-ups or walks our pet dog together at the parks to keep himself healthy. Since I took up YTT in April, I thought Yoga could probably be an alternative workout and a remedy against this Monstrous Gargoyle. I browsed some articles online and suggested to him simple yoga poses he could start doing. It was not easy to convince my brother to do yoga with me because he thinks it’s an exercise for girls. But I am proud that he has at least started on some simple breathing techniques like nadi shodhana. For the benefit of those with MG, the following are some simple breathing techniques and restorative poses activate your parasympathetic nervous system:

Symptoms and Muscles that are affected

Yoga poses/Breathing techniques

Ptopsis – Dropping of eye lids due to weakness in levator muscle

 

Let’s do some eye yoga!

  • A common technique that I always see at the end of yoga classes – rubbing your palms together until you feel some heat and place it on your eyes gently. This helps to sooth the eyes and relieves them from computer-induced eye strains.
  • Or what I call the seduction method – just blink your eyes quickly for 20 or 30 times to strengthen your levator muscles.  

Facial paralysis due to weakness in facial muscles. Can also result in weakness to tongue and throat (dysphagia) that will affect chewing and swallowing.

  • You have to strengthen your throat chakra!
  • Yoga poses which activates this chakra include prasarita padottanasana, seated poses like Janu Sirsasana and my favourite Halasana and Matsyanasana.
  • Create that ocean within your throat with ujjayi breathing.

Weakness in arm and leg muscles.

Serious cases include weaknesses in respiratory muscles.

 

 

 

This are simple restorative poses I shared with my brother to strengthen your body muscles and keep your respiration healthy:

  • Cat and cow pose, light twisting actions like threading needle. Dolphin plank and side plank to strengthen your biceps and rectus abdominis.
  • Downward facing dog helps to strengthen the arms and brings energy to the body.
  • Prone poses like Bhujangasana and Supta Baddha Konasana with a block between your shoulders. These poses helps to increase your flexibility and activates your heart chakra (chases away your depressing emotions and gives you confidence!)
  • Breathing techniques like nadi shodhana or if you feel lazy, just sit cross legged and rest your hand on your knees in gyan mudra and breatheeeeeeee. These breathing techniques help to channel energy to your body and releases fatigue, which is often experiences in MG.

Hopefully, my brother can move on from nadi shodhana to some simple restorative poses soon and be my partner in yoga!

Junni (Apr to Jun TTC 200 hrs)