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Yoga and MS: Your Guide

Posted on March 23, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Amit M. Shelat, D.O.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

Staying active is an important part of life, especially for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Physical activity has a wide variety of wellness benefits for people with MS. It can help support overall mental well-being and physical health and improve quality of life. Some people living with MS find that practicing yoga helps improve their mood and physical well-being. Yoga unites physical poses with breathing exercises (known as pranayama) and mindfulness to help promote strength, acceptance, and feelings of peace.

The Benefits of Yoga for MS

Much of the research available on multiple sclerosis and yoga suggests that yoga is helpful for people diagnosed with MS.

Some research has suggested that yoga may help reduce fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis. One 2004 study found that six months of yoga reduced fatigue in people with MS as successfully as aerobic exercise.

Yoga may help improve spasticity, cognition problems, and mental health in people with MS.

However, the results of various studies on these benefits are conflicting, and evidence is limited. Additionally, researchers propose that the benefits of yoga seen in people with MS may not necessarily come from the practice itself but also related factors. For example, the social interactions associated with group exercise or the yoga teacher serving as an encouraging mentor are all helpful components.

Experts also believe that yoga may help people with MS reduce or manage the tension and stress in their lives, such as coping with injections and MRI machines.

Physically speaking, yoga may help people with MS gain and maintain the strength and alignment necessary for everyday activities like sitting, standing, changing positions, and even going to the bathroom.

Tips for Practicing Yoga Safely With MS

Make sure to practice yoga safely and find the type that suits your needs. Most yoga studios offer various styles and levels of classes. Finding the right class for you is very important.

Talk To Your Doctor First

Before you begin any kind of exercise regimen after an MS diagnosis, talk to your doctor. Get a basic physical evaluation and talk about any symptoms you’re experiencing. Only start yoga after your doctor or neurologist gives you the go-ahead.

Your doctor may recommend particular yoga studios, practitioners, and asanas (yoga poses). As any form of exercise can elevate your body temperature and temporarily worsen MS symptoms, your doctor may also recommend ways to keep yourself cool while practicing yoga. Follow any medical advice you’re given so you stay safe and get as much out of your yoga practice as possible.

Watch as MS expert Dr. Aaron Boster shares how you can learn yoga moves online.

Find a Yoga Teacher Who Understands MS

Talk to your doctor about finding a yoga instructor or yoga therapist who works with people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. These yoga practitioners will have experience modifying movements or making adaptations so that they work for your body and needs. If in-person classes are hard to find in your area or they are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, videos might help with yoga practice.

MyMSTeam members agree that finding the right yoga teacher is important. One shared that it makes a huge difference to practice yoga “with a very understanding yoga teacher.”

Find the Right Type of Yoga

There are many different styles of yoga, including Iyengar yoga, yin yoga, and more. Each one is slightly different, and you’ll want to find the one that works best for you.

Some people recommend certain types of yoga over others. One MyMSTeam member wrote, “Doing my restorative yoga is a lifesaver. If you ever have to find a gentle beginners’ yoga, I recommend it.” Another explained, “Yin yoga is different from the other types of yoga I’ve tried — it's floor work. You assume a pose and hold it for extended periods of time, letting gravity do the work. You rest in that pose and breathe. I have found my perfect match.”

Adaptive yoga, in particular, may be a good fit for some people with MS. Adaptive yoga modifies the practice to make it accessible for everyone, regardless of their current physical abilities.

Many MyMSTeam members also like chair yoga, which involves practicing yoga poses and breathing exercises while seated. As one member wrote, “The class I go to is a chair yoga class. I love it. Sometimes, it’s easier to relax into it than others, but there is always stretching involved, and that feels so good.”

Experts recommend that some people diagnosed with MS avoid hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga. Hot yoga involves practicing in a room heated as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As some people with multiple sclerosis experience heat intolerance, their MS symptoms may worsen in these conditions. As one member advised, “Just don't do hot yoga. It’s not good for MS, as I learned the hard way before I knew I had MS.”

Know Your Limits

Some people diagnosed with MS find that yoga causes them discomfort. As one member wrote, “If you have MS, then stretching your muscles is as exhausting as contracting them.”

Discomfort doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t do yoga, but it does mean that you should plan ahead and know how much discomfort is too much — in general, stretching should not cause pain. Note that discomfort is different from pain. It’s okay if you experience some muscle fatigue while doing yoga, but you should stop if you experience pain. You may have to avoid certain poses or certain types of yoga.

You should also stop if you feel your MS symptoms getting worse. Remember, you can always come back to yoga later when you’re feeling better.

Get Support Today

MyMSTeam is the social network for people diagnosed with MS and the people who care for them. Here, more than 164,000 members come together to get advice and share stories of life with MS.

Are you interested in learning more about what it’s like to practice yoga after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or do you have other questions you’d like to ask people with the same diagnosis? Start the conversation in the comments below or by posting on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Amit M. Shelat, D.O. is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Physicians. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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