Yoga can help improve flexibility, balance, and muscular endurance in those with MS — and help relieve stress and anxiety.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, leading to nerve damage, disability, and a range of physical and mental symptoms.
MS can cause muscle weakness, spasticity, balance problems, fatigue, pain, and cognitive impairment, among other challenges. While there is no cure for MS, various treatments, therapies, and lifestyle approaches can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. One such modality that has gained increasing attention is yoga.
Yoga is a mind-body practice that consists of body postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation exercises. Research conducted by BMC Neurology shows that these practices help improve flexibility, balance, and muscular endurance in those with MS and help relieve stress and anxiety. Yoga has numerous advantages, and individuals of all ages and strengths can practice it.
Benefits of yoga for MS patients
Although there is no cure for MS, there are several ways to deal with its side effects and enhance one's life quality, including yoga therapy. Some potential benefits of yoga for individuals with MS include:
- Improved balance and coordination
MS can impair coordination and balance, making it difficult to carry out daily tasks. Yoga poses (asanas) improve strength and stamina while increasing mobility and strength.
- Improved sleep
MS can also interfere with sleep schedules. Yoga may help improve sleep duration and quality, which benefits overall health and well-being.
- Pain management
Yoga can help relieve discomfort and stiffness, particularly in the neck, back, and hips.
- Fatigue reduction
Fatigue is a common MS side effect that can be challenging to manage. Research by the International Journal of Yoga shows that a regular yoga practice may help reduce fatigue while increasing overall energy levels.
- Improved breathing
Pranayama, or controlled breathing, is essential to yoga practice. It increases oxygen supply to the body, which is especially advantageous for individuals with MS who may struggle with respiratory and breathing methods.
- Mood improvement
MS can contribute to depression and other mental health conditions. Yoga has been found to improve mood and overall psychological health.
- Reduction of stress and anxiety
Anxiety and stress can adversely affect MS symptoms, so finding ways to control this is critical. Yoga has been found to decrease stress and anxiety while boosting overall well-being.
What type of yoga is best for MS?
When practicing yoga for MS, it's essential to choose safe, effective, and appropriate poses for your level of ability. Listed below are some yoga styles which could benefit people with MS:
- Hatha Yoga
About: A delicate, slow-paced style of yoga that focuses on body postures and breathing techniques
Best for: Beginners and individuals who have mobility impairments
- Chair Yoga
About: A type of yoga that, as the name suggests, is done while seated in a chair
Best for: Those with a limited range of motion or who have problems getting up and down from the floor
- Restorative Yoga
About: Focuses on relaxation and stress relief through slow, subtle movements. It supports the body in every pose with props such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks.
Best for: Those who have limited movement or chronic pain
- Yin Yoga
About: Entails holding body posture for extended periods, usually between three and five minutes.
Best for: Those with difficulty moving (since the poses can be executed with props and support to make them more comfortable)
- Gentle Yoga
About: A slower, more delicate form of yoga
Best for: People of all skill levels and those who have physical limitations or chronic pain (since it focuses on stress reduction and relaxation)
5 best yoga poses for MS patients
- Mountain pose (Tadasana)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides, focusing on grounding through your feet and spine lengthening.
- Tree pose (Vrikshasana)
Place one foot on the opposite thigh or ankle inside and stand with your feet hip-width apart. If necessary, grab a chair or a wall for assistance.
- Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)
Lie down on your back with your legs pressed against a wall, using a pillow or blanket for support if necessary.
- Cat-cow stretch (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
Start on your hands and knees, then switch between arching and rounding your back.
- Child's pose (Balasana)
A soothing stretch for the hips, thighs, and lower back. Proceed on your hands and knees, then sit back on your heels and stretch your arms forward, your forehead resting on the ground.
There are excellent YouTube videos for those with MS to begin practicing yoga:
Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis with Sherry Zak Morris
Sherry Zak Morris, who has been teaching yoga to individuals with MS for over 20 years, is featured in this series of videos by Yoga Vista Academy containing a variety of yoga sequences and alterations tailored to those living with MS.
Gentle Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis by Yoga with Adriene
This yogic breathing practice is appropriate for people of all levels, including beginners. It is intended to alleviate fatigue and balance problems that individuals with MS frequently experience.
Chair Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis by Yoga for the Peaceful features
A chair yoga sequence is included to help people with MS improve their stability, physical power, and adaptability.
Yoga for MS with Dr. Elliot Frohman
Dr. Elliot Frohman, a neurologist and yoga practitioner, is featured in this National MS Society video. He leads a gentle yoga sequence tailored to people with MS.
Yoga for MS and Neuromuscular Conditions
Yoga Journal presents a sequence led by yoga therapist Jivana Heyman in this video. The series consists of graceful movement patterns and breathing exercises to help folks with MS and other neuromuscular conditions.
Although there is no cure for MS, yoga can help ease the symptoms and improve the quality of life. When practicing yoga for MS, starting slow and listening to your body is essential. If you have any pain or dizziness, stop and rest. As with any new exercise routine, check with your doctor before starting. Yoga can be a great way to reduce stress, increase flexibility and strength, and improve balance.