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Yoga and MS

The New Year is a time to invest in “New Year’s Resolutions” that include goals toward an improved quality of life and a commitment to health and fitness. Achieving these goals may be more enjoyable than you had imagined if you explore the opportunity to participate in non-traditional forms of exercise. This month’s column examines yoga for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and the effect it has had in reducing the secondary condition of fatigue.

People with MS often experience fatigue, which can, in some cases, be an extremely limiting secondary condition (Branas et al., 2000) leading to impairments in health-related quality of life (Merkelbach et al., 2002). Fatigue is common in the legs and may appear as constant and persistent tiredness, or can be triggered by physical exertion and improve with rest for people with MS (Shannon, 2007).

Yoga can be beneficial for people with disabilities, including people with MS, through both the physical postures and breath work involved. Poses can be modified or adapted to meet the needs of the individual. The NCPAD fact sheet titled “Yoga for Individuals with Disabilities” (found at http://www.ncpad.org/exercise/fact_sheet.php?sheet=345) contains information about chair yoga which was developed for people with arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Osteoporosis, and stroke. Overall health benefits of yoga include improvements in the following:

Digestion: Bending and stretching poses help move and stimulate the digestive system;

Cardiovascular and Cardiopulmonary Function: Specific types of yoga can be a good form of aerobic exercise;

Lymphatic Circulation: The lymphatic system relies on muscle activity and body movement for its circulation, therefore physical activity and stretching aids in lymphatic circulation;

Muscular Strength and Flexibility: Regular yoga practice can strengthen the muscles and increase overall flexibility.
Oken et al. (2004) found that a 26-week program of Iyengar yoga was effective in reducing fatigue for people with MS. Sessions were 90 minutes each, and modifications were made to the Iyengar yoga class in order to assist participants with spasticity and balance problems in performing the movements. All poses were supported with either a chair or with the individual lying on the floor or leaning against a wall. Nineteen poses were included in the class, and the sequence of poses was scheduled to minimize the need to change positions frequently between standing and sitting. Each pose was held for approximately 10 to 30 seconds with between-pose rest periods lasting 30 seconds to 1 minute. Instructors emphasized breathing for concentration and relaxation during each session, and each class concluded with a 10-minute deep relaxation with the individual lying on his or her back. Progressive relaxation, visualization, and meditation techniques were also part of each session.

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