Yoga uses physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation and meditation to try and reach the best state of physical and mental health.
Yoga is a popular and safe activity for people with MS. As a form of exercise, yoga has comparable benefits to activities like pilates or swimming, in terms of improving balance, core strength and flexibility. However, with yoga, there are also elements of relaxation and mindfulness, which have been shown to improve stress and depression.
Yoga is normally presented as a series of classes led by an instructor, who can correct your posture and body alignment. You can also practise at home and use videos to learn from.
There are several forms of yoga, each focusing on slightly different aspects of physical and mental wellbeing. A recent newspaper article explains the different types, so you can look for a class that suits your needs. You may find that your local MS Therapy Centre has appropriate classes.
Here's yoga instructor Ali Morton leading a yoga exercise class for people living with MS.
An accessible yoga workout with Jody Barber, a neuro-physiotherapist and yoga teacher, who has spent many years working with people with MS.
Yoga and MS
There have been many studies into the benefits of yoga in MS. However, they are not always specific about the type of yoga and the exercises performed. People taking part in these studies cannot help but know what they are doing, and some of the benefits seen in yoga may come from having a supportive mentor, a sociable group or be general benefits that could be gained from any form of exercise.
One study on the benefits included data from seven projects involving a total of 670 people with MS. Although there were variations in the studies, they did show evidence for short-term effects of yoga on fatigue and mood. Other studies have suggested that yoga can improve spasticity, thinking and walking ability, but the evidence is less good.
Even if the evidence for a specific benefit of yoga in MS is not found, you may well enjoy joining a yoga class, and it is likely to benefit you in some personal way. If you have mobility or balance issues, you may find yoga an accessible form of exercise. You can work with your instructor to adapt the poses and actions you perform if necessary.
Finding an exercise that you enjoy and can do regularly is an important way to manage your MS symptoms. Regular exercise can slow the progression of disability by expanding your physical and cognitive reserve.