Power of Movement fundraiser raises $170,000

For six months, Karissa Schmidt was plagued with pain in her hips and lower back. At 25, she was taking six to 10 codeine-infused painkillers a day.

She could no longer go to movies and playing sports was out of the question. She said that she tried a variety of treatments to combat the pain, including acupuncture and deep tissue massages.

Desperate for help, she dragged herself to 114 appointments over a three-month span. Finally, in the fall of 2012, she was given a diagnosis.There is no known cure for arthritis. However some who suffer from the disease say that they have found pain relief in practicing yoga.

Photo by Lisa Hallet 

Schmidt was suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that typically attacks the hips, spine, lower back and shoulders.

Schmidt is one of an estimated 4.2 million Canadians affected by arthritis and autoimmune diseases, which are the most common chronic health conditions in Canada, according to a report by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Finding pain relief through yoga

Although there is no known cure for arthritis, many people who are affected by it, including Schmidt, have turned to yoga to alleviate the pain.

“Yoga has helped to relieve the muscles and increase my strength, energy and flexibility,” Schmidt said.

According to Yoga for arthritis: a scoping review, published by the National Institutes of Health, the elements of yoga, including stretching, balance and the ability to modify the postures and pace, are beneficial for people affected by arthritis.

The study said that yoga also has psychological benefits because of its emphasis on breathing, stress management and meditation.

Yoga fundraiser raises $170,000

Schmidt took part in the Power of Movement fundraiser on March 3 put on by the Arthritis Research Foundation. It’s the largest yoga fundraiser in Canada, dedicated to increasing awareness and raising money for arthritis research.

More than 70 yoga-enthusiasts gathered in the centre court of Eau Claire Market for a one-hour session led by three Calgary yoga instructors, raising nearly $7,000 for the cause. The event ran in 13 other cities across Canada on the same day, raising a total of more than $170,000.

Kim McNeil, an independent yoga teacher, was one of the instructors at the event. She said that she has seen the benefits that yoga can have for people affected by arthritis.

“When you have arthritis, you get into the cycle of experiencing pain so you stop moving, so you experience more pain,” she said.

McNeil said that this inactivity can lead to stress and depression, but yoga allows people to move again in a safe, gentle way.

A younger face for arthritis

According to the Public Health Agency’s report, arthritis can affect people of all ages, from toddlers to people in their “prime working lives.”

Karissa Schmidt, 26, and Brad Schaefer, 46, are both affected by different types of arthritis. They took part in the Power of Movement fundraiser to increase awareness and raise money for arthritis research.

Photo by Lisa Hallet Brad Schaefer is one of those people. Fifteen years ago, at the age of 31, he was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and at the age of 37, had his first hip replacement. He said that it’s rare to be that young and have a joint fall apart so quickly.

“Arthritis is not for the little old lady sitting in the rocking chair trying to knit,” he said. “There’s a new face to it and it doesn’t mean that we have to stop living, but we have to modify what we do.”

Like Schmidt, Schaefer said that he has found relief from practicing yoga, saying that it has been his “saving grace,” not only physically, but mentally as well.

“It quiets your mind,” he said. “When you’re living with this degree of pain, you’re willing to try anything. “

He added, that yoga allows joints to expand when many other exercises compress them.

For both Schaefer and Schmidt, one of the hardest things about the disease is other people not understanding the pain.According to Yoga for arthritis: a scoping review, published by the National Institutes of Health, the stretching, balancing and ability to modify postures makes yoga valuable for those affected by arthritis.

Photo by Lisa Hallet 

“People are very quick at judging when they can’t see something.” Schaefer said.

“Even if someone looks completely normal, it doesn’t mean that they’re not in horrible pain,” Schmidt added.

Moving forward

Schmidt said that she plans on staying as active as possible. “I’m going to try different things and see where my limit is,” she said.

Schaefer said that he won’t let the disease define him or take over his life.

“I don’t let it stop me. If I do, I would just be sitting on my sofa at home, turning into that little old lady knitting and I don’t want that.

Life is too amazing, no matter what you have. As long as you can still put two feet on the floor, you’ve got it made.”

lhallet@cjournal.ca