HOUSTON -

Exercise has always been a part of 44-year-old Jo Anna Steele's life.

The active wife and mother of two was a tennis player, but one night about two years ago she went to bed with a slight backache, and when she woke up her whole life changed.

"I woke up with a charlie horse all over my body and in 10 minutes, I was paralyzed from the waist down," Jo Anna said.

The diagnosis was neuromyelitis optica, or NMO.

It's an autoimmune disorder, often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis.

Jo Anna's immune system was attacking her spinal cord.

Doctors feared she wouldn't walk again, but Jo Anna does walk with a cane and says she is getting stronger every day thanks, in part, to the power of pilates.

Experts said pilates works the body as a system, so muscles aren't singled out, but we are addressing the muscles and how they move.

Getting Jo Anna's muscles to remember how to move together is vital.

To me, it strengthens me and stretches me and I feel I need that.

Every week, a pilates instructor works with Jo Anna to build her flexibility, balance, and strength by using breathing techniques and concentration on core muscles.

For Jo Anna, the mind-body connection she gets from pilates is helping her defy the odds.