By Jennifer Jordan
Yoga is known to improve health overall, with every aspect of it enhancing something, mind, body, or spirit. But, overall health aside, yoga is becoming known to be particularly helpful for relief from specific diseases. One of these diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a bit of a medical enigma, with no concrete causes and no concrete cure.
The course of MS is unpredictable. The four categories used to classify the clinical course in a person with MS are: Relapsing – remitting, Primary-progressive, Secondary-progressive, and Progressive-relapsing. In the absence of a resolution, several treatment options must step in to relieve the burden MS places on so many lives. Physical activity is extremely important for individuals with MS, and yoga is now recognized as an excellent means of MS management.
What is MS?
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defensive immune system attacks and destroys the fatty tissue, the myelin surrounding nerves in the brain and spinal cord. These myelin sheaths perform the same function as insulation around an electrical wire. Without the myelin insulation, nerve impulses from brain to body can short out and become confused, misdirected, or be completely blocked. Symptoms can include numbness and/or tingling in the extremities, weakness, lack of coordination and/or balance, gait difficulties, slurring of speech, blurred or double vision, bowel and bladder dysfunction, vertigo, and heat intolerance.
While no one knows for certain why some people get MS, there is some speculation to its cause. Because those who have family members with MS are at a slightly increased risk, there is speculation that it may be somewhat genetic. There also seems to be a link between where a person lived as a child and getting the disease as an adult. Those who grew up in colder climates, farther from the equator than other geographical locations are more likely to get it, suggesting that it may possess an environmental link. The risk also increases for those people who are of Western European ancestry. And, along these lines, the risk is greatly higher for women than men, with MS infecting three times more females than males.
How Yoga Helps?
Yoga is an excellent means of MS management whether the individual manifests little or no outward signs of the disease, or whether they spend most of their time in a wheel chair. Physical activity is extremely important for individuals with MS. The benefits of yoga postures, breath exercises, and meditation may include increased body awareness, as well as a release of muscular tension, a practice that will help keep muscles from atrophying and relieve spasticity. Yoga may also increase balance and coordination, flexibility and strength, control over fatigue, increased tolerance to heat, improved circulation and breathing, improved organ function, enhanced alertness, better management of stress and on overall feeling of well-being.
In 2003, the specific link between MS help and yoga was researched in a study conducted by the Oregon Health and Sciences University. In this study, the researchers worked with 69 MS patients, having some of them participate in yoga, some of them participate in other types of exercise, and some of them participate in no exercise at all. The researchers concluded that those who participated in yoga and exercise classes had a significant improvement in fatigue, a cornerstone of MS progression.
Because MS may have progressed beyond a person’s ability to participate in other forms of exercise, yoga is a good choice, with a certain adaptability and versatility to it. For instance, to help balance, poses such as The Mountain and Warrior can be used with the help of a wall where The Tree and The Eagle poses can be used with the help of a chair. Many poses are restorative, helping the person performing them to feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
Yoga can also benefit MS in several other ways. One way is the empowerment yoga provides, empowering people to make wise choices about other factors that can help MS. One of these factors is healthy eating. Because it’s important that those with MS eat meals that are healthy and well-balanced, a person’s choice in diet can greatly affect the degree to which MS is debilitating. Yoga has a way of filling a person’s mind and body with constructive emotions, allowing them to want to do everything they can to relieve the symptoms of the disease. It makes people self-aware, helping them to realize what actions need to be taken to keep MS in check and helping them to want to perform those actions.
Another way yoga helps is by perpetuating a positive attitude, something that can prove helpful even where modern medicine fails. Yoga helps people to look inward, focusing on the positive emotions they have within them and giving their inner being the ability to heal. This takes the focus off the disease of MS, causing it to loosen its grip in the process. It also helps people to relax, be less stressed, and to believe MS is a disease that they can keep in check. In keeping with the belief that “he who thinks he can and he who thinks he can’t is right either way” yoga makes people more optimistic when it comes to their disease, and their life in general.
About us: TWISTED is a medical yoga studio at the Center for Osteopathic Medicine in Boulder, Colorado. Twisted integrates osteopathic medicine, hatha yoga and mindfulness practices to teach optimal balance between physical, mental, and emotional health. It aims to educate and help people to live a healthy life from the inside out. Rehabilitation programs offer a comprehensive treatment regime for the whole being, empowering each person one breath at a time to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential.
Jennifer Jordan is senior editor of www.yogatwisted.com. Specializing in articles that not only teach yoga techniques, but also teach techniques on fulfillment and enrichment, she aims to educate students proudly enrolled in the school of life.
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