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The POWER of oMS

Local yogis turn passion into action for MS patients

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In 2012, Cheryl Russell and Megan Weigel, two working mothers in Jacksonville Beach, discovered they shared a vision based on their passion for yoga and appreciation of its positive effects on health.

When Russell and Weigel met at a multiple sclerosis support luncheon in 2011, neither anticipated the effect they would have on one another. "It was the first event I went to after my diagnosis. I told somebody I wanted to teach people with MS yoga ... and she said 'You need to meet Megan,'" Russell explains.

It turned out that each had dreamed of creating a yoga program for patients with multiple sclerosis.

A year later, the two ran into each other again at a Baptiste Power Vinyasa yoga session; it was then they started the journey to create yoga classes for MS patients in earnest and their brainchild, the ever-growing oMS Yoga, was born.

The two talked to the founder of the Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, Baron Baptiste, and told him their wishes about starting a yoga program solely for those with MS. Russell says their declaration to each other on the day they reached out to Baptiste was this: 'If we say this to Baron, there's no turning back.' And they haven't-oMS will celebrate its five-year anniversary in November.

"The name is a combination of the phrase "omm" and the symbol [representing] "omm," which, when flipped, looks kind of like the letters O, M and S put together," Russell said.

oMS Yoga offers four classes a week in six-week intervals at one of four locations, including Big Fish Yoga, MBody, Dragon Dance and HotSpot. Classes follow the Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga methodology, as the women believe it suits those with MS and allows them to participate freely. Weigel provides medicinal knowledge of the disease and Russell offers the support and empathy of a fellow MS patient.

The women weren't met with many obstacles on their journey to create oMS Yoga. They applied for a grant through the North Florida chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2012 and within the same year received the support and funding to get oMS Yoga off the ground.

"There was a need for something like this here. It just all sort of happened," Russell said.

oMS Yoga's classes are offered in a safe and judgment-free environment. Russell and Weigel said they endeavor to create a place of community, where people with MS can feel at home. "A lot of people with MS can't go to a traditional class," explained Russell, later adding, "One of the coolest things to come from this is the sense of community that has come from the classes. [We've] really established this community of oMS yogis ... If someone isn't there, [the attendees] will say, 'Where is so-and-so?'"

Today Russell and Weigel say they have well exceeded their original expectations. oMS Yoga currently hosts classes all over Jacksonville and has started a sister program in Philadelphia, with the help of their friend and fellow yoga teacher Sherri Bittner.

In coming years, the two hope to continue to expand and create more programs for MS patients.

"Our biggest challenge is funding. [People] want to take our program and reciprocate it, but we don't currently have the money," said Weigel. Russell chimed in, "Everything that has happened has been through people just coming to us."

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