Improving MS Symptoms with Yoga

Can sun salutations slow SPMS?

Did you know that around one in 10 adults are regularly practicing yoga? It’s becoming increasingly popular, with studies showing a whole multitude of benefits both mentally and physically. What’s particularly fascinating are the potential benefits for people living with a chronic condition, including MS.

Stretching your body – and mind

For starters, the whole point of yoga is that it encourages flexibility, something all of us lose as we get older. And unlike high-impact forms of exercise which can be physically punishing, yoga is all about working with your body (the word yoga, comes from the Sanskrit for ‘union’ as the combination of deep stretches and focused breathing exercises are designed to unite body and mind) to leave you feeling both physically and mentally restored.

What’s more, doctors are on board with the benefits of yoga, dusting off their mats as we speak. Medical experts have long known that yoga can reduce blood pressure, improve flexibility and boost serotonin levels, but there’s mounting evidence it could be an extremely helpful therapy in the management of MS, too.

Yoga therapy for MS

Recently, researchers from Rutgers’ School of Health Related Professions in New Jersey, America, studied the effects of an eight-week yoga programme in 14 women with MS aged between 34 and 64. The women, all of whom had moderate disability, were taught techniques and exercises designed to improve their posture and stamina, as well as promote relaxation and mindfulness, for 90 minutes twice a week.

And here’s the thing, all of the women found it easier to walk for longer at the end of the trial, as well as showing improved balance and motor coordination. But the classes also had a few other unexpected benefits, too – the researchers noted that improvements in bladder control, and vision, were also reported.

Beating stress (and inflammation)

Many of these surprising side effects are likely to be down to the relaxing benefits of yoga. By slowing the breath and encouraging mindfulness, sessions switch the body from stressy ‘fight or flight’ mode, to relaxed mode. This causes the brain to release feel-good hormones, calming both the nervous and immune systems. Of course more research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms, but it certainly seems that yoga could be an important tool for reducing inflammation in MS if this is the case.

One thing we do know for sure is that yoga can improve your mind as well as your body. The women in the study above, for example, all reported improvements in their mood and concentration, while another study concluded that regular yoga sessions had a significant impact on depression and anxiety in MS. There’s also evidence that frequent downward dog sessions can reduce fatigue, and even lessen perception of pain in MS, substantially improving quality of life (that was certainly the case for women who took part in a 3-month clinical trial of pain-managing yoga techniques, anyway).

And the best thing about yoga is that absolutely anybody can do it. Anybody. So even if you’re not particularly mobile, there are postures that will work for you – in fact, many of them can be performed lying down. Sure, you might not be performing headstands at sunrise just yet (give it time!), but regular stretch sessions could make a big difference to your MS symptoms, and even help to slow the build-up of disability in progressive forms of the disease.

But, hey, don’t just take our word for it. Speak to your doctor or physiotherapist and sign up to a class near you. Bring it ommmmm!

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Birgit Bauer
Written by
Birgit Bauer
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