Does yoga help multiple sclerosis?
Yoga provide some benefits to mind and body, according to a new review of studies in people with MS (Frank & Larimore. Front Neurosci 2015;9:133). The following is a summary of some of the individual studies that have been done.
Pain: A study of women with MS reported that chronic pain was better after three months of yoga classes (Doulatabad and colleagues. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med 2012;10:49-52).
The used focused on slow-motion exercising (Hatha), breathing exercises (Pranayama), and focussing the mind through meditation (Raja).
MS fatigue: A 6-month course of yoga (90 minutes/week) was as effective as regular exercise in improving MS fatigue and boosting vitality (Oken and colleagues. Neurology 2004;62:2058-2064). A separate study found that yoga reduced fatigue somewhat, and significantly improved mental focus (Velikonja and colleagues. Clin Neurol Neurosurg 2010;112:597-601).
Depression: A neurology clinic in Switzerland used yoga as part of an 8-week mindfulness program of counselling, exercise and homework assignments (Grossman and colleagues. Neurology 2010;75:1141-1149). At the end of the course, people said that they felt less depressed, anxious and fatigue, and the benefits lasted for six months.
Bladder symptoms: A small study in Germany found that yoga (breathing, muscle control, and relaxation) was helpful in relieving bladder symptoms (Patil and colleagues. Complement Ther Med 2012;20:424-430). There were significant improvements in incontinence, urinary frequency, and post-void urine (the amount left after you’ve tried to empty the bladder) among people who completed the yoga course.
Walking: One study found that an 8-week course (24 sessions) of yoga was as effective as treadmill training in improving balance and walking endurance in young women with MS (Ahmadi and colleagues. Iran Red Crescent Med J 2013;15:449-454). Yoga was also associated with improvements in mood and fatigue.
Quality of life: A study of 61 people with MS (60 women, 1 man) in Iran found that yoga and exercise (3 sessions a week for 12 weeks) were equally good at improving overall quality of life (Hassanpour-Dehkordi & Jivad. Med J Islam Repub Iran 2014;28:141).
The general principle of yoga is to use exercise, mindfulness and relaxation techniques to bring mind and body together and promote well-being. Westernized versions tend to promote the physical health aspects of yoga rather than self-awareness, spirituality and personal insight.
While the studies listed above are small and not always rigorously done, the overall conclusion is that yoga may provide some benefits in coping with MS, and it will enable you to remain physically active if regular trips to the gym doesn’t appeal to you.
Here’s a quick guide on the different types of yoga that are commonly used:
- Hatha yoga emphasizes poses and breathing and is a gentler form of exercise.
- Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga are more physically demanding.
- Iyengar yoga focusses on correct poses, and you can use props to support yourself.
- Kundalini yoga combines poses and breathing.
- Bikram yoga (“hot yoga”) is done in a heated room. This is generally not advised for people with MS because the heat may worsen your MS symptoms.
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