Yoga and Breathing for MS

Community Member

Today I am going to talk about yoga breathing. I am definitely no yoga expert, but I have experienced the benefits. Breathing exercises are beneficial to everyone, but especially to those of us with MS. We may not be able to stand or even sit, but we can learn some simple breathing exercises, and I believe we can significantly relieve some of the problems we encounter on a daily basis. After learning the basic technique, we begin to incorporate it into our regular breathing.

Yoga has been developing for thousands of years, and although details differ among the various schools of yoga, the basic concepts remain the same. Learning to breath correctly through Yoga is probably the shortest path to a healthy new experience. Yoga offers the essential basics for proper breathing from which we can all learn and benefit.

We have all been breathing for our entire lives. Why should we make an effort to learn a new way to breathe? We do this because practically "none of us uses the full capacity of our respiratory systems."* Yoga breathing exercises can soon become part of our regular day. Breathing right with one full yoga breath is a building block for powerful breathing techniques and can contribute greatly to our health and well-being. Inhaling through the nose warms and cleans the air before it gets to the lungs and is passed on to purify the blood stream on the way to deliver oxygen to our organs. Exhaling through the nose or mouth removes toxins from the body. I am recommending two specific yoga breathing exercises: Complete Breath and Alternate Nostril Breathing. Even if you never do anything else with yoga, at least give these two simple exercises a try. There may be varieties in these exercises. You may be instructed to hold your fingers in different ways or inhale and exhale through your nose or your mouth. It's all breathing and the deep breathing is especially what is important.

These breathing exercises are done in a relaxed mode, never straining, but inhaling as much as possible and exhaling until there is no air left.

Complete Breath According to yoga philosophy, deep breathing connects the physical with the mental, releases stress, reduces muscular tensions, and results in a calm mind. When learning or performing the complete breath exercise, a posture in a sitting position is recommended. Pillows under the neck, lumbar, or knees might be helpful, because comfort is important.

There are varieties for the complete breath, but the basic principle is to inhale and exhale as completely as possible. During the process, you're exercising your entire respiratory system including the airways, lungs and respiratory muscles.
Realize that breathing includes several sections of your body between the collarbone and the diaphragm. Muscles near the lungs expand and contract (tighten) to allow breathing. These muscles include the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, abdominal muscles, and muscles in the neck and collarbone area. When inhaling, place your hand on your upper chest, the front of your ribcage, the side of your ribcage, and then your stomach to feel when the air lifts each area. Later, when proper deep breathing becomes familiar, you might exhale while vocalizing a vowel. You will feel vibration where the air is leaving the body. All of this is enhances relaxation and reduces the effects of stress. Alternate Nostril Breathing

The second type of breathing exercise I'm recommending is alternate nostril breathing. At first it sounds kind of funny, but it really works. One yoga teacher said, "If you teach your children anything, teach them alternate nostril breathing." She was essentially suggesting my children have a method for quickly reducing stress and enhancing their well-being. I was taught to close one nostril, breathe into the other, slowly, then wait for a short time, perhaps counting to eight. The next step is to close the other nostril and breathe out. Some people prefer not to hesitate between the two nostrils. While methods vary, deep breathing is still a beneficial part of the exercise as much as the balance and calmness afforded by alternating nostrils.

So there it is. Two simple breathing yoga exercises that can be practiced even when you are not able or ready to do the postures. NOTE: This is part of a series by Vicki Bridges on Yoga and MS.   For the other parts of the series, please check out Sit and Stay Fit with Yoga and Yoga and Stretching for MS.

Notes and Links:

Alternate nostril breathing

Yoga breathing, the building block of breath control