Exercise: Yoga and Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Vicki Health Guide April 07, 2010
  • Living well with MS can't exclude exercise.There was a time when my daily routine included walking for miles and playful activities like horseback riding, skiing, and dancing, but then I began to have trouble balancing and walking, so my life changed. I was familiar with yoga, and that fit right in as my abilities changed.


    When or if abilities begin to fade, exercise options also begin to change.
    Exercise is important to health, and even MS doesn't mean the end of exercise. As abilities begin to decrease, yoga has something important to offer for those of us with MS.

    About a year ago, Merely Me asked me about MS and wheelchair exercising. Then, I had been using an Amigo scooter for about 15 years, and regularly exercised in the chair. Her article is MS Community and Exercising
    . That exercise routine included yoga.

    The purpose of yoga is to unite the mind, body, and spirit. Yoga helps you become aware of your posture, your body alignment, and your movement.
    All of this is vital for MSers who have so many mobility problems in their lives. When you practice yoga, you can become fit, energetic, happy, and peaceful.

    Why is yoga a good exercise for people with MS? Yoga is so many different things to so many people. To me, it is a valuable physical exercise. Yoga is based on centuries of development. There are, of course, the poses that everyone recognizes as yoga, but there is also the understanding that leads to acceptance and inner peace.


    Here are several relaxation poses.


    Someone who is very good at yoga may be able to perform one of a group of postures that are done in a single, graceful flow. These flowing movements make the best use of breathing, stretching, flexibility, and building strength.
    Many of these flowing movements have names, just like the postures have names. They may differ from one teacher to another, but they are generally quite similar. Here is an example of one popular movement, the Salutation to the Sun.

    I have recently found a yoga teacher who specializes in yoga for MS. I asked Jenny Alterman for her thoughts, and she wrote the following for me which I found very inspirational:

    "I have always thought of my students as multi-level beings, containing both suffering and non-suffering parts of the body and mind, the way I want to be thought of by others. When working with someone, I see them as more than just a physical body. We are emotional and spiritual beings with different moods, energy levels, needs and desires. This is where yoga is so beneficial. We are not limited to the physical constraints. We can use breathing techniques, meditation and guided relaxation to promote a healthy mind and spirit to achieve freedom and flexibility beyond the muscles and bones.

    "When working with MS it is important to respect the other person completely. We must understand the effects not just on the body, but on the mind as well. It’s hard for people with MS sometimes to face themselves in the mirror and not get depressed about their circumstances. This I believe is the most crucial part of the practice of yoga. Lifting the mood, accepting the body as it is and maintaining a healthy outlook. This can be the greatest obstacle to overcome for both the yoga teacher and student. However, this is not just limited to folks with MS, anyone can suffer this way. This surrendering is the turning point of many, and even though it is hard for all involved, I cherish every time I witness it. It means someone’s path has made a turn in a healing and healthy direction and that no matter how bleak the future seems, the mind and spirit can always shine a light to guide the way.
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    Yoga offers much for everyone, but for a person with MS, there are special benefits. Yoga covers the philosophical, emotional, mental aspects as well as the body. There are routines for breathing, stretching, massaging, agility, flexibility and meditation. What more could any exercise routine possibly offer?

    Next, I will go into more detail about why yoga is an especially good exercise program for MS.

     

  • NOTE: This is part of a series by Vicki Bridges on Yoga and MS.  For the other parts of the series, please check out Yoga and Breathing for MS and Yoga and Stretching for MS.

    Links:
    My earlier exercise article
    Benefits of Yoga
    Merely Me's
    MS Community and Exercising
    The Path of Light Through MS - the rest of Jenny's story
    RescueYoga, Jenny's site
    Can't Do Yoga? Think Again
    Wikipedia yoga post

    Can Yoga Help MS