Yoga, Multiple Sclerosis & Neurological Conditions

By Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, CYTmary with yoga students

Yoga can be a helpful practice of self-care for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological conditions (such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lyme’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease). Yoga practices such as gentle postures, seated breathing practices, hand movements, guided relaxation, sound, and meditation can be adapted to help people with neurological conditions manage symptoms and maintain function.

Benefits of Yoga for MS and Neurological Conditions
• Strengthen major muscles in lower and upper body
• Maintain fine motor movement (fingers, hands, toes, feet)
• Improve balance
• Strengthen breathing
• Increase energy
• Improve mental alertness and focus
• Improve sleep
• Manage stress and anxiety
• Manage difficult emotions and lift mood

Yoga Practice Tips
People with MS or other neurological conditions should have a yoga practice tailored to their unique symptoms, needs and interests. Individualized yoga therapy or group therapeutic, gentle, beginner, foundations or chair classes are often more suited to people with MS than general or advanced yoga classes.

Classes that incorporate chairs, wheelchairs, walls, counters or other props are especially useful for people with mobility, balance or vision problems. Find a teacher or Yoga Therapist who can adapt and individualize yoga practice for your needs and interests.

Following are a few practice tips for MS and other neurological conditions:
• Progressively strengthen upper & lower body over time. Don’t overexert.
• Practice balance postures with the support of a chair, counter or wall if needed.
• Do slow movements coordinated with the breath as you move in & out of postures.
• Be gentle with stretching as you stay in a posture, especially if you have trouble sensing what is happening in your muscles. Breath smoothly as you stay in a posture!
• Do posture adaptations that mobilize fingers, hands, feet & toes.
• Learn breathing practices (pranayama)
• Choose and adapt postures to unwind upper body tension if you use a cane or walker.
• Avoid “hot” yoga or physically aggressive yoga practice if you have MS.
• Avoid quickly-paced yoga practice if you have vision or balance issues or MS.

Breathing Practice for Energizing – Segmented Inhale
1) Sit in comfortable position with your back slightly forward from the chair seat. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders and jaws. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose.
2) Establish a smooth flow in your breath through the inhale and exhale. Gradually increase the length of both inhale and exhale, keeping your inhale and exhale equal in length, for at least 6 breaths.
3) The next step is to divide your inhale into two parts with a slight pause in between the two segments of inhale. Here’s a possible way to do it:
Do ½ of your inhale in 3 seconds, focusing on expanding in the chest area.
Pause for 2 – 3 seconds.
Do the second part of your inhale in 3 seconds, focusing on expanding in the belly area.
Smoothly exhale.
Do the segmented inhale for 6 to 12 breaths.
4) Finish by gradually reducing the length of your inhale and exhale for 4 – 6 breaths. Notice the effect of the practice for energy, mood, and mental alertness.

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT, CYT is a certified Viniyoga teacher and Yoga Therapist who does individualized Yoga Therapy, group therapeutic classes, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training at 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center (www.5koshasyoga.com) in Wausau, WI.

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