Keeping MS on Its Toes: A Journey of Strength and Resilience

Opening Up About My MS A Transparent Account

Openly Sharing My Experience with Multiple Sclerosis

By Mariska Breland, as told to Camille Noe Pagán

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) may not have been the most pleasant experience, but it certainly hasn’t brought me down. Despite the initial devastation, I’ve managed to find my footing and even turn it into a life’s passion. So, grab your yoga mat and let’s dive into the story of my journey battling MS and how I’ve built my life around helping others with neurological conditions.

It all started in 2002 when I received the dreaded diagnosis. But the truth is, I had been experiencing symptoms for years before that. Numb fingers and feet would come and go, playing peek-a-boo with my peace of mind. Oh, the joys of mysterious sensations! But it wasn’t until a peculiar pins and needles feeling in my left thigh that my doctor suggested shingles. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t shingles.

Living life to its fullest, I embarked on a freelance adventure in Washington, DC. Little did I know, my vision had alternate plans for me. Suddenly, I couldn’t focus properly, and every time I glanced to the left, it was like watching a quirky double feature. Cue the ophthalmology visit, where the doctor dropped a bombshell: “You probably have MS.” And when tears flooded my eyes, this vision specialist felt the need to remind me, in less than comforting tone, that MS isn’t a death sentence. Well, thank you for that uplifting reassurance!

Luckily, another doctor came to the rescue, a neuro-ophthalmologist with a heart of gold. She took me under her wing and said the words I needed to hear: “Most people with MS are still walking years after their diagnosis.” As a young woman in her prime, the thought of losing my mobility terrified me. That’s when I knew it was time to take control and put up a fight. Armed with hope and determination, I found myself at Georgetown, diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).

Now, let’s backpedal a bit. Before receiving this reality check, I was interviewing for a job desperately needing better insurance. I mustered up the courage to inquire about their insurance plans—subtly hinting at my need for a specific MS drug. The employer, who couldn’t legally ask me about my health, blurted out a questionable analogy, “Well, I can’t ask you about your health, but I just want to make sure we’re not buying a lame horse.” Ah, the lengths we go for insurance! From that moment on, I decided to hold my tongue about my MS.

But once I started bruising from my medications and abstaining from alcohol on nights out with friends, keeping my secret became as tricky as doing Pilates on a tightrope. So, I embraced openness and authenticity as my new best friends. Whenever someone quizzically eyed my blue and purple marks or questioned my sobriety, I simply replied with a straightforward explanation. Transparency became my superpower, and surprisingly, it made navigating through life with MS a lot easier.

One might think that being around others with MS would be a comforting experience, a bond of shared understanding. But at first, I avoided them like the plague, afraid that their symptoms might somehow rub off on me. Silly, I know! Eventually, my perspective shifted, and I realized the power in connecting with those facing similar challenges. After all, who better to lean on than someone who’s walked a mile in your wobbly shoes?

Enter yoga. Shortly after my diagnosis, I jumped headfirst into the practice. I had read about its benefits for MS and, lo and behold, began feeling better almost immediately. A revelation! Long gone are the days when doctors cautioned against pushing myself—now we know better. Careful, yes, but pushing the boundaries with regular exercise can help manage symptoms and keep them at bay. Who would’ve thought?

But yoga was just the beginning. I dived into Pilates to build strength, deciding to get certified as an instructor in 2005. Apart from the perk of a rock-solid body (cue the compliments), I reveled in the satisfaction of feeling whole—no longer defined by a “broken” body. As I trained and honed my skills, I started noticing something fascinating. Repetition and sensory feedback can spark incredible compensatory mechanisms in the brain and body—helping to tackle disabilities head-on. It was time to share this revelation with others.

Fueling my newfound passion, I delved into the science of neurological conditions. In 2013, I crafted the groundbreaking Pilates for Neurological Conditions training program. Shortly thereafter, my business partner and I opened The Neuro Studio, an oasis of support and guidance. From disease-specific training to symptom-specific programs, we sought to empower both patients and fitness instructors alike. To date, I’ve proudly shared my knowledge with over 700 instructors—synergizing our efforts to help those with MS, Parkinson’s, and other neurological conditions.

Sadly, in the vast realm of medicine, the significance of exercise in preventing MS-related symptoms and disability often falls on deaf ears. Physical therapy for MS patients is rare and usually cursory at best. But before you slump into despair, fear not! Exercise may not be a magical cure, but it sure packs some powerful punches. By diligently working on balance and strength, you can combat pesky symptoms like leg weakness, foot drop, and balance issues. It’s your secret weapon against the relentless march of MS.

So here I am—a self-proclaimed reluctant advocate. I’ve come full circle, from avoiding others with MS to crossing paths with hundreds of them. My life’s mission now revolves around helping people with neurological disabilities reclaim their strength and lives. Let this be an invitation—a gentle nudge—for you to join me on this journey. Together, we can keep MS on its toes and face every day with resilience and unwavering determination.

Mariska Breland, Co-owner of, Researcher, and Creator of Pilates for Neurological Conditions