Welcome to Season 5 of Living Well with MS, the Overcoming MS podcast where we explore all topics relating to living well with multiple sclerosis (MS). In this episode, we are pleased to welcome founder of ‘The MS Stage’, Megan Evans.
Welcome to Living well with MS. This podcast comes to you from Overcoming MS. The world's leading multiple sclerosis healthy lifestyle charity, which helps people live a full and healthy life through the Overcoming MS program. We interview a range of experts and people with multiple sclerosis. Please remember, all opinions expressed are their own. If you enjoy the show, please leave a review. These are quick to do and really help us. And now here's your host, Geoff Alex.
Geoff Allix 00:34
Welcome to the latest edition of the Living Well with MS podcast. On this edition, I'm joined by Megan Evans. Megan is the founder and creator of The MS stage and The MS stage method. She is a former personal wardrobe stylist turned empowerment coach who's helping women around the world with MS become friends with their symptoms through mindfulness practices she created with meditation, movement and storytelling. So Megan, welcome to the Living Well with MS.
Megan Evans 01:01
Thank you so much for having me. I'm so thrilled to be here, truly.
Geoff Allix 01:07
And so to start off with, could you tell us a bit about your personal MS journey up to the point where you decided to develop The MS Stage?
Megan Evans 01:18
So I was diagnosed 19 years ago with MS. I was diagnosed at 24 years old. I lost feeling on the left side of my body and was told I'd likely end up in a wheelchair one day. And that's when I looked at my mom and said "No, I won't. I'm not going to end up in a wheelchair" and we walked out of this man's office. At that moment, I only had one lesion so they couldn't even fully diagnose me with MS, but he thought it might be, and we walked out of his office and I decided to go on a alternative journey with MS. I went to a homeopath. I did acupuncture, I changed my diet right away. And this was way before that was even a thing. This was almost 20 years ago when me going gluten free. That was just because I had done a lot of research and going gluten free was like back then nobody really knew what that was. Luckily, I was in my first move from New York to LA when I was diagnosed. So once I got to LA like a month later, after I had recuperated, they're more open minded and they were more sort of advanced in health and wellness. And so I was able to go into that and not be seen as super weird. But I was only 24. So it was it was a lot of unknowns. And how I created this is five years ago I had a really bad MS exacerbation, I lost feeling from the neck down. And during those first 14 years of living with MS, I was doing very well but I had ups and downs and exacerbations. But I was not willing to say "I have MS." I would only say "I was diagnosed with MS" because I didn't want to own the label. I didn't want to take it on as part of my identity. So five years ago, during that exacerbation, I realized after deep meditation work and therapy. And my doctor telling me "Megan, it's time for you to get on an MS drug" because I had resisted the drugs for 14 years. And I finally through all the deep emotional work that I did, I discovered that I really needed to accept my diagnosis that I had been resisting it for a long time. And the acceptance was like that one key to unlock the true healing. And when I did that, I went down this journey of deeper work that really involved mind, body and spirit. And through that I learned all I created different methods for myself, which I now teach at The MS Stage.
Geoff Allix 04:13
So your background's in theater and dance and you worked as a celebrity publicist, and a professional stylist so how was that and how did that work with you transitioning to someone who has MS?
Megan Evans 04:26
I was a celebrity publicist, when I was originally diagnosed, and then I went into talent management and bounced between New York and LA for 14 years in that world and then started my own business as a personal wardrobe stylist and I started that business because I didn't want to work with only famous people. I wanted to work with real people who needed help, feeling confident in their bodies, and in their wardrobes and it felt very connected to me. Clothes are the first you know, like your when you as soon as you walk in the door, right people notice you and what you're wearing and how you feel with what you're wearing, what you have on makes an impact. And that you know, in those first three seconds people notice and get a, get your presence and notice you and get a vibe from you. And so I was really passionate about empowering people in confidence in their wardrobes. And I did that for over 10 years. And I was working from my hospital bed five years ago, shopping for clients from my hospital bed. And my family looked at me like what are you doing? This is insane. Like, this is not you know, this, yes, I know you love what you do. But this is not important right now, like your health and your well being is the most important thing. And so I really had to stop everything. And I loved what I did. I was incredibly creative, doing what I did, but I transitioned that I realized during that bad episode five years ago, that I wanted to get back what was really calling me was getting back to my roots in theater and dance, and I grew up acting. And then I majored in college in drama-dance and wanted to be a director and choreographer, and was a dancer and directed plays and musicals. And, and created actually my own senior thesis project, which was born out of improvisation. And it's been really interesting, because I've used all the tools like I don't believe that I believe in everything happening for a reason. So every job I've had that's led me to the next job and led me on a path to the next thing I'm supposed to learn. And it's all now combined, sort of in The MS Stage, it's like my theatre and dance background. That's why The MS Stage is called The MS Stage. It's it's women are presenting themselves in a new way in their own way on on their own stage, right, like finding themselves again, their true essence in this program. And all the things I've done over the years, the style, the getting women in touch with their bodies through clothes, you know, all the elements that I've done for 20, whatever years of my life, have all now come full circle in The MS Stage.
Geoff Allix 07:41
And what does the six week program entail? And why is that different from other MS communities and MS systems if you'd like?
Megan Evans 07:53
Yeah, support groups, I mean, I felt during my whole journey with MS when I was young, especially when I was first diagnosed. Back then I felt when people were like, "oh, you should join a support group." But to me, in my mind, a support group meant it was going to be depressing, it felt like I was going to walk in and only see people that were much older than me in walkers and wheelchairs, who had had it for a long time. It just I have felt that there's been a lack of the type of support that I'm providing with these groups. I felt like there was a lack of that. And that's what I wanted to fill with the MS stage. And what we do is we meditate with music, we move our bodies with our symptoms, we get to know our symptoms on a deeper level by naming them literally learning what their character is, what their character and our play and our story is what it's there to teach us to show us what lessons we can learn from it. And I literally lead women down this path to turn their symptoms into their superpowers. And it becomes really empowering and instead of it becoming a depressing journey with MS it becomes an empowering journey with them as they learn to that MS can be actually be a gift in their lives that it can send them down a path a new path possibly of really being present in their lives and being true to themselves. And understanding like what it is they still love to do and and what and focusing on what they can do instead of what they can't do.
Geoff Allix 09:40
And does dance and movement come into that as well. How does that become part of that?
Megan Evans 09:46
Yeah, absolutely. So we do an exercise I created called the switch exercise. And with that we move it's a bit of like a somatic technique, but we move our symptoms have different emotions. And it's not just our symptoms, we also move whatever emotions we're feeling that week. So if we're frustrated from the day, we move frustration, and we switch it into ease. So I choose songs for the group, and they move improvisationally. They let their body speak and move through them, what that what they need to move. And so frustration gets to turn into ease, anger gets to turn into love. Resistance turns into acceptance. So it's a beautiful practice. And it's really learning to get in touch with their emotions and learning to switch from the negative to the positive. They also do movement alone, and I don't do that right away, I wait till usually week for four to five. And then they're witnessed dancing one song alone with their symptom, and seeing what comes up for them. This is after they've already named their symptom, they've discovered the character of their symptom. they've researched, like not research, but found, say, like, created like a vision board type thing around their symptom, and what the character looks like. And so once they've discovered all that, then they can learn to dance with their symptom instead of fighting up against it, they become friends, and they dance with it. So it's a really powerful practice when you're witnessed by other people.
Geoff Allix 11:27
Your symptom is that is it, all your symptoms is one character, or you've got multiple different?
Megan Evans 11:35
You can name multiple symptoms. So like, I have my left leg, who her name is Roxie. And my left foot's name is Grace. And Roxie came to me, which is how I really came to the idea of naming symptoms, because I one day was meditating myself. And I said, what would it be like to name my symptom? And it was really strong in my meditation, and I said, Well, what's your name? I asked her her name. And I got this really strong sense that she was a woman that her name was Roxie. And I thought, Roxie, why on earth is your name Roxie? And when I finished the meditation, I thought, "I don't know anybody named Roxie." Like why Roxie? And then I realized that one of my favorite characters in the musical Chicago is named Roxy, that Renee Zellweger plays her in the movie version of Chicago. And I said, that's perfect. I knew exactly why I named her Roxie. And her, she wants to be called Roxie. And so now I can have this relationship with her. And if she's dragging, then I tell her to come on, we got this and we keep going. And our bodies, listen, our cells listen. So if we're talking to them positively, giving them encouragement, they want to do well for us. So the more we talk to them, and give them encouragement and speak to them in a positive way, they will get better, they will begin to behave. And I have seen it, I've done it as happens for myself. And it happens with my students. It's incredible what is possible, because I think there's so much negative self talk and a lot of anger. People are mad at their bodies, they're frustrated with their symptom. They don't, you know, why can't you work for me, you know, they're, they're talking down to them, rather than talking positively. Like they're your friend encouraging them, because they want to help you. They're trying so hard. And that's what turning their symptom into their superpower. That's what that is. It's learning what it is there to teach you. Because there's always a reason, there is always a lesson that they're trying to show up for you. They're trying to say, "Whoa, hold on a second." This is what and then if you ask them, What do you need from me? What how can I serve you today? They will answer they will answer you, and they will give you advice on what they need from you.
Geoff Allix 14:05
I think the mind body connection is it's like people sort of think oh, that's just that's crazy thoughts. But it's not because in science placebo effect is known about and they have to check test all drugs against placebo. And that's because placebo works. So they know that they know if they give you fake drugs, then you actually people will get a bit better. So the mind is amazingly powerful. In the end, you just think what if you're testing all of these really strong drugs against someone being essentially given sugar water or given like a drip of saline or something that really doesn't do anything to their condition. Because they know that that will have an effect. So it is it's not just hocus pocus. It's it's scientifically known about.
Megan Evans 14:55
Exactly. I mean, it's like for instance, somebody goes into the doctor. Let's say they have cancer and they're they're given four months to live. Well, they believe that and they go to tell everybody, "well, I only have four months, and I'm going to sign this. And I'm going to do that and whatever and I'm going to," then that's probably what's going to happen if they truly believe that right? But if they don't believe that, and they say, "No, I'm going to live, I'm going to keep living, I'm going to live a good life." And I'm not saying they may not get sick eventually, but I guarantee you they're gonna live longer than four months, you know, like, it's just what happens. I mean, that's been shown to happen. So yeah, it's really powerful. And the shifts that I witnessed with students have been just remarkable.
Geoff Allix 15:43
And have there been any studies around dance and creativity with MS?
Megan Evans 15:50
I wouldn't say specifically with MS actually wrote some things down, I have, there's a ton, if you go to my website, I have a whole research page of studies. Well dance and movement I did write this down have helped cognitive ability, fatigue, coordination and balance. Those who have shown creative pursuits can help ease symptoms in general, getting in touch with themselves and their symptoms, storytelling to get them in touch with being more present and sharing their story. From a drama and improvisational experience, those have been shown to, and there's studies about that. And meditation reduces symptoms and enhances well being. So those studies about all those things. And all of that is on my website, there's a whole page of research studies that I link to, because I want people to know.
Megan Evans 16:43
They'll be in the show notes, check it out.
Megan Evans 16:44
It's, it's not just Hocus Pocus, like what you said. Yeah. And I know from my own experience of witnessing women, in my groups, and what has happened with their lives has been incredible.
Geoff Allix 17:00
And so what sort of success stories have you had? And for people who've been to your program?
Megan Evans 17:05
program? Yeah. So I mean, some women have literally gotten new jobs have quit their job and gotten new jobs, because they've discovered they don't like what they're doing anymore. Some one woman started exercising again, her goal was to make herself a priority. She realized when she signed on for the program, that she had not been making herself a priority anymore. And she has a daughter. And so she was focusing all her energy on her daughter and her job. And as soon as she did the program, she started exercising again, and recently was somewhere I think she was like at a Disney World type place. But she lives in Australia. And she walked 11,000 steps. And I was like, what, because she has issues with her leg or did. And so she's gotten a lot better. I had one student who got invited to rock climb, and had been rock climbing at different MS groups, and never knew that she'd be able to do that, again. I've had a student discover she wanted to learn how to swim, she's always wanted to learn how to swim. So she she learned how to swim. I mean, just amazing things that have happened in their lives, and just their presence and understanding who they are again, has been super powerful. And it's a grief process. I think a lot of women especially newly diagnosed or everybody, I can't speak for men, too. But I would think so, it's like when you're newly diagnosed, you go through this grieving process, or when your your body begins to maybe your body has gotten worse, or you've progressed, you go through the grieving process of "I don't understand why I'm like this. Now, I used to be able to do this, this and this." So this program really helps focus on focusing on what you can do instead of what you can't do. And by making that mindset switch, you actually begin to be able to do more than you thought was possible.
Geoff Allix 19:17
And one thing that'd be great. Is it possible that you could run through an exercise with us? It would be very interesting to see. Yeah, meditation or something that you do.
Megan Evans 19:29
Yeah, let's do a meditation. I'm going to um, I would just ask everybody if you're driving, that you save this and come back to this podcast, once you've stopped the car, and are in a safe place, and I would love for everyone to be able to join this to do this on their own because it's it's a good practice. So let's do this together. Geoff, I would ask that you close your eyes Start by taking a deep breath and and release it's getting you really grounded if you have any thoughts pop in just let them keep going, let them keep passing by like clouds in the sky noticing what you notice Take another deep breath and release.
Megan Evans 20:41
We call on the guidance of the highest truth and compassion to work through you today to let you see what you're meant to see, discover what you're meant to discover. Hear what you're meant to hear, feel what you're meant to feel. Just in a really relaxed state take you on a journey of loving your body
Megan Evans 21:13
And begin to see your body as your friend.
Megan Evans 21:34
Take them by the hand guide your body to your favorite place.
Megan Evans 21:46
Imagine that it's nighttime. The sky is full of stars, the two of you gaze up at them together in awe and wonder.
Megan Evans 22:11
Now watch as you and your body begin to make your own constellations together.
Megan Evans 22:24
Finding your own kind of secret language with your body what is that language? What does it sound like?
Megan Evans 22:44
Maybe you have inside jokes or certain words or phrases that only the two of you understand just as you would your best friend. What are they saying to you right now?
Megan Evans 23:07
Ask your body what it needs from you.
Megan Evans 23:16
Take a moment and listen.
Megan Evans 23:28
Now you're going to take your body by the hand and this time show them your favorite street. Moving to your own beet. Imagine that on the street there's a picture of you and your body on your journey with MS in every shop window.
Megan Evans 24:00
As you walk down the street your whole journey is displayed to you. Just take a stroll feeling confident.
Megan Evans 24:21
When you get to the end feel how far you have come together. You've practically traveled the world together. You've had highs and lows together. You've dug up buried treasures you've helped each other write your stories.
Megan Evans 24:57
You always know you have each other's back no matter what. No one has ever seen a love like this.
Megan Evans 25:14
Let the feeling of that healthy loving relationship with your body begin to seep into every cell from the bottom of your toes to the crown of your head.
Megan Evans 25:32
Watch as that love flows all the way down from the bottom of your toes through your heels, through your ankles, your calves, your quads all the way into your pelvis, your stomach up to your heart, your chest, your neck, your face, all the way into your top of your head. The love is flowing from your body through the MS and back to you. No one has ever seen a love between friends the way you and your body love each other right now.
Megan Evans 26:36
You're gonna hold on to that moment. Take that moment and begin to wiggle your fingers and toes coming back into your body, gently opening your eyes to the room and notice what you notice.
Megan Evans 27:12
Normally, I would say to journal what you so for anyone listening I would tell you to journal what you felt what you saw how your body feels. What you noticed what your body said to you what your MS said to you, whatever came up for you, I would write about it.
Geoff Allix 27:35
I found my body didn't look like me. So I looked like me and then my body in my mind didn't look like me, which is a bit...
Megan Evans 27:46
What did it look like?
Geoff Allix 27:48
Kind of a more amorphous, so body shaped but not like with distinct features.
Megan Evans 27:55
Did it give you a message?
Geoff Allix 27:59
It just about like being healthy really. Just said that I needed to. Yeah, carry on. Commit to healthiness.
Megan Evans 28:10
Wonderful. So um, yeah, anything else? I also heard in your in your background? Birds.
Geoff Allix 28:21
Yes, I'm in a garden office. So yeah.
Megan Evans 28:25
I think it was amazing. It's they started as soon as we started the meditation. I just got chills. As soon as we started the meditation, I could hear them chirping and I went, "Oh, wow. Yeah, they're tapped in too." Say no animals. No, it's amazing. Yeah, we're so connected to nature. Sometimes we don't even realize it. But they started chirping as soon as we started meditating, and I thought, "Oh, good. They're there to support him on his journey." So I was I was, I was now they stopped when we stopped. I was imagining when you were walking down the street, I thought like in the in the meditation, I thought, Hey, there he is. And the birds are following along him. That's how I felt. And I lead the meditation with music, because it really helps drive I believe drive the visualizations deeper into your cells. Because our cells love music. And so when they hear the empowering music and the positive melodies, then it they feel good too. And so then you can visualize something on a deeper level, and your cells come out happier. So I'm a I'm a huge believer in music in that way.
Geoff Allix 29:43
That was that was brilliant. Thank you very much for that.
Megan Evans 29:45
You're so welcome. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
Geoff Allix 29:49
So to wrap up, is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners?
Megan Evans 29:53
Yeah, I'd love to draw a card for you. Yeah, so this is something that I do at at the end of every class that I teach. The program is based around. If you know Joseph Campbell's work, he was a mythology, mythology. He was a professor of mythology and religion. And I use his work The Hero's Journey, as the framework of, of each class and helping women get from, you know, where they are now to, they're returning to themselves. And that's the simplest way to describe it. But this card deck that I love is by Kelly Sullivan Walden. And it's called the Hero's Journey Dream Oracle Card Deck. And I use it to draw a card after every class because I feel like it's exactly what every time I draw a card, it's always, I always close my eyes, and I just draw the card and it's exactly what ever the people need to hear what it helps like solidify what they've just learned in class. So I'm drawing this card for you and all your listeners. "For This, You Were Born: foster your intention for incarnating in this dimension." So I'll read this to you. And it's the number 22, which is a it's the highest power number, excuse me, the highest, most powerful number, it's a master numbers 22. So that isn't going unnoticed either. So what this is a quote from Joseph Campbell, it says "we must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." And the message is "you are alive with infinite possibilities. Every cell of your body sings and shouts a full throttle yes to life. Before you were born, you had a reason a strong desire for wanting to experience the human realm. You joyously raised your hand and stood on your tippy toes to volunteer to partake, your soul smiled wildly as you traveled from the angelic realm where all is love, hold and perfect into the realm of humanity. Through the challenges that come your way. Remember, all you need to do is ask and you will be instantly refueled by love and support from your soul family. They are always at the ready. Your job is to remember to remember, as you awaken each morning, revisit your passionate intention for this lifetime. Remind yourself for this I was born, gather your energy, creativity, talent and will. So no part is left behind as you cross a new threshold of adventure. The mantra is 'vulnerability is one of my greatest strengths.'" I could not have planned I did not plan that card. I could not have planned it any better. That came that came to you and all your listeners for a reason. I would tell everyone to Yes. You are living. You know you remember every day remember to remember. I love that.
Geoff Allix 33:18
That's beautiful. That's very good. Yeah. Sorry, who's that by?
Megan Evans 33:25
By Kelly Sullivan Walden is this is the Dream Oracle Card Deck. And then Joseph Campbell was the the man who who did the wrote the book The Hero's Journey.
Geoff Allix 33:42
Yeah. Okay. So with that, yes, and the extra interactivity as well. I'd like to thank you very much for joining us, Megan Evans,
Megan Evans 33:53
Thank you so much for having me. And if this episode resonated with you, and you would like to get started on your own meditation journey to turn your symptoms into your superpower, you can head to my Instagram @theMSstage, and sign up for my free three day meditation journey that also includes journaling prompts. You can also book a free discovery call with me to help you discover the name of your symptom and its character and give you some actionable steps to take to start living with ease. And I will also be giving listeners a 15% discount. So listeners of the Living Well with MS podcast. So your listeners will get a 15% discount on when they mentioned it when they come to book a group with me.
Geoff Allix 34:41
The links will be in the show notes. Thank you very much for joining us.
Megan Evans 34:48
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Living Well with MS. Please check out this episode's show notes at overcomingms.org/podcast you'll find useful links and bonus information there. Have questions or ideas to share? Email us at podcast@overcoming ms.org or you can reach out to Geoff on Twitter @GeoffAllix. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks again for tuning in and see you next time for tips on living a full and happy life with MS.
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