Gentle Yoga: Breathing, Relaxation, and MS

  • When I signed up for a six week session of Gentle Yoga classes, I didn’t realize that September is National Yoga Month.  What perfect timing for my newest activity...gentle yoga.

    In prior years, the National MS Society’s local chapter has worked with Fairfax County recreation centers to offer MS-friendly yoga and water classes.  Although I live in Fairfax County, the locations and timings of these classes were never convenient for my schedule.

    A few weeks ago, I received an NMSS email which listed new adaptive yoga classes offered by the hospital system in Arlington County.  The two weekly classes mentioned in the email would fit my schedule perfectly and were to take place less than 3 miles from my house.  So I went online to see about registering.

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    What I discovered was a full range of classes including a Gentle Yoga class which looked more attractive.  It was 90 minutes, instead of 60 minutes.  I assumed that this class would also not be quite so “adaptive.”  I didn’t hesitate too long before snatching up one of the remaining four spots.  I’m glad I did because the class sold out and we had our first session yesterday morning.

    I really liked my previous yoga instructor, but for some reason I was not interested in going back to his class.  The last few times I did go, I felt limited and unable to keep up although I definitely gave myself the freedom to not push myself.  I just felt not as capable as I wanted to feel.

    When I arrived for the Gentle Yoga class yesterday, the instructor had us sign the typical release form to partake in the exercise class.  I wondered if the instructor was going to ask if each person had any special health concerns.  I waited to find out, rather than offer up the information that I have multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

    The instructor did not ask us any health questions, but I did notice that as different students entered the welcome area, she knew details of each previous student’s concerns.  One woman said that she wasn’t sure if she could do the “downward dog” on that day.  Another person mentioned an ankle which had been injured.  I was just quiet and observed the persons who arrived for class.

    As class began, “Sam” the instructor gave us a idea of the type of things we would be doing.  She takes a very traditional yoga approach and made it clear that this class was not one focused on pushing ourselves to our limits.  We should never feel pain.  If there is pain, then we’re not doing yoga.

    Sam started that class with breathing and awareness/relaxation exercises which were surprisingly hard for me to do.  I’ve lost a bit of body awareness I guess.  Just mentally telling a muscle to relax was difficult.  I needed to actually move and tighten muscles before they would let loose a little.  Gravity was not enough to “sink” into the floor.

    Besides starting with lots of relaxation (which I hope to get better at), we went through some gentle stretching.  I discovered that my hips are extraordinarily tight right now, as are my hamstrings and thighs.  I don’t know how much of that is the MS and how much is lack of exercise and activity.  Doesn’t really matter too much right now.  I’ll just let my body take it’s own time in “sinking” into the stretches and poses.

  • One thing which I should mention is that it was really nice to let my body remember some of the movements of the Sun Salutation.  We did a shortened version of the traditional 12-pose sequence which left me feeling capable and strong.  Upon leaving the class, I did notice that my walking was easier and the length of my gait had increased.

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    I’m already looking forward to next week’s class.  Yesterday’s class was so relaxing that I kept falling asleep during the afternoon.  Good thing I didn’t have any obligations or appointments.

    Obviously my body has built up a great deal of tension which will take some time to release.  Perhaps next week’s class will be more restorative.  I’ll need it after having been in Philadelphia for three days for the 2011 ePatient Connections Conference at a representative of HealthCentral and empowered patients at large.


    I'll let you know how it goes.  Also I believe that next week Sam will be introducing a meditation session to the class.  That should be nice.


    Other posts on MS Central which discuss yoga:
    Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis - by Vicki
    Exercise: MS and Yoga - by Vicki
    Yoga and Meditation for MS - by Vicki
    Yoga and Breathing for MS - by Vicki
    MS and Exercise: Yoga for MS - by Mandy
    Can Yoga Help with Your MS? - by Chris

    Additional Resources:
    Yoga Program Developed for People with MS

    You Can Do It Yoga for MS
    Welcome to the Yoga Journal - NMSS


    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.


Published On: September 16, 2011