Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis

by Linda Foster,  E-RYT500

The practice of yoga originated in the distant past, but it’s completely relevant to daily life in the twenty-first century. As Western science has begun to acknowledge, yoga’s repertoire of stretches, twists, and postures accompanied by conscious awareness of your body and mind may be more than an “exercise routine.” In a recent study, people with MS who practiced yoga experienced, among other effects, a reduction in MS-related fatigue and depression.

Yoga uses unhurried movements, slow stretching, and breathing to reduce stress and release muscle tension. This allows you to address your individual needs and proceed at your own pace. If you’re having a bad day, you can modify your program and do something less intensive. On better days, you can challenge yourself to enhance your yoga capabilities.

Yoga can be beneficial to people with MS as long as they find the appropriate class, teacher, or video.
• Start slow and simple.
• As you progress, working toward advanced poses will help you gain strength and confidence.
• Restorative poses are very slow, relaxing, and refreshing postures.

There’s no right or wrong way to react after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis—everyone responds in their own natural way. It might reassure you to know that many people with MS have been able to successfully manage their symptoms. With the right support system, information, and treatment, you may be able to manage your MS successfully, too. It all starts with the right information.

How can someone with MS find the right type of yoga, the right class, and the inspiration to try it?

Different Yoga Styles

Some programs emphasize detail of alignment by holding poses (such as Iyengar); others run positions together in sequences (Flow and Ashtanga). Some are meant to be aerobic; others stress meditation. A teacher of one mode may not say that there are other kinds of yoga that might be more suited to your needs.

You’ll have to learn to ask questions.

All styles have qualities in common:
1. They use breathing techniques to focus the mind on the body (“union”).
2. They are individualized, non-competitive, and adaptable.
3. They emphasize alignment, which benefits posture and balance.
4. They educate about where muscles are and how to strengthen and stretch them.
5. They release tension so the body feels more energized.
6. They teach relaxation techniques to reduce stress.

Now for some background information about yoga: The word yoga has its roots in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. Literally, it means to “yoke” or to “unite.” It was created thousands of years ago to help practitioners feel “whole,” uniting mental, physical, and spiritual aspects.

Today, the yoga practiced in the West consists of poses, called “asanas,” and breathing techniques, called “pranayama.” Modern yoga is also deeply influenced by modern science—all of the things that have been learned about the body in the past one hundred years. Indeed, yoga-like postures, stretches, and positions are used today by athletes, in rehab programs, and in physical therapy. Today, in many classes, the spiritual aspect is left to the individual.

Yoga for MS? Yes, give it a try! But, as with any exercise program, check with your physician first.

To get the most out of a yoga class:
1. Look for an instructor who has experience teaching people with MS. If you can walk without assistance, try a regular class, but ask what will be expected and explain your condition. If the instructor doesn’t really listen or provide individualized attention, this is the wrong place.
2. Ask about an instructor’s experience. The Indian names don’t mean nearly as much as the length of time the person has taught.
3. If you use a cane or walker, try a class for seniors. Or try a class offered for people with special needs, such as arthritis. Many yoga stretches and poses can be done sitting down. Again, take the time to explain your MS to the instructor before taking a class.
4. Although groups are great, beware of peer pressure during class. If something doesn’t feel right, stick up for yourself, and stop. Sometimes your mind may be holding your body back. But your body may also be giving you signals to stop, which your mind wants to ignore! So, when in doubt, stop. If you feel pain, STOP!
5. Have realistic goals. Yoga won’t cure MS. But it can help you live more comfortably in your own body.

With MS, it is important to be proactive. Stay connected with others who are walking your same path. Give yoga a try. (And bring your spouse—he/she needs it too!)

Chair Yoga classes are a perfect place to start and are regularly offered at New Day Yoga & Wellness in Chippewa Falls on Fridays, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. If you have any questions or would like information regarding the Chippewa Valley MS Support Group, please contact Linda at 715-861-5545.

Resources:
National MS Society
My MS Yoga, Baron Baptiste, Dr. Elliot Frohman

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