Chair Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis
MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. 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.
Despite yoga’s popularity, there has been only one quality study of yoga and people with MS. The study from the Oregon Health Science University* (see below for study information) looked at the effect of yoga and aerobic exercise on cognitive function, fatigue, and mood in 69 participants assigned to conventional exercise, yoga, or nothing. After six months, both those who did yoga and conventional exercise showed decreased fatigue as measured in two fatigue measurement tests.
Yoga is an example of "mind-body-spirit" medicine. It involves the combination of movement, breathing, and mental focus to influence health.
In scientific terms, yoga positively influences the brain, which positively influences the immune system, hormones, and involuntary functions such as blood pressure and heart rate.
Yoga is also a form of exercise. Exercise in general is known to provide numerous health benefits for people with (or without) MS. Exercise improves muscle tone and cardiovascular heart health, and, of special interest to people with MS, increases the production of proteins in the brain ("growth factors") that stimulate nerve growth.
Despite this limited evidence from research, people with MS who practice yoga have been enthusiastic about its benefits. Surveys suggest that people with MS have used yoga most frequently to treat stiffness, to help relax, and to improve balance.
Contraindication: Avoid vigorous styles of yoga and difficult postures if you have fatigue, heat sensitivity, or impaired balance; a serious lung, heart, or bone condition; significant spine problems, such as herniated discs; if you have had surgery recently; or are pregnant.
From Healthy Living with MS, Recreational Resources:
Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD, neurologist, and Tom Stewart, JD, PA-C, certified physician assistant, are both at the Rocky Mountain MS Center in Englewood, Colorado, which hosts the MS-CAM program. For more information about CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine, go to www.ms-cam.org.
Copyright © National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2006
For additional information: Mutliple Sclerosis Mayo Clinic
For those whose MS has made mainstream exercise prohibitive, chair yoga is a good answer. It will strengthen your physiology, especially your nervous system, and improve your mental alertness, coordination, circulation, energy, flexibility, and general mobility.