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Adaptive yoga can reduce some symptoms of MS, as well as relieve the anxiety many people with MS feel.
At age 63, Charles Zuccarini had never set foot in a yoga studio. He had certainly never considered trying yoga to help with symptoms of primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), with which he was diagnosed in 2002. However, about four years ago, he found himself at a yoga class.
“A friend who was big into yoga convinced me to try it. I was skeptical because I didn’t see how yoga could help my MS,” Zuccarini says. “But I went in a skeptic and left a believer.”
Zuccarini attended a class at Yoga Moves MS, a Michigan nonprofit organization founded by the yoga instructor Mindy Eisenberg. The adaptive yoga classes Eisenberg teaches are focused on helping those with MS and other neurological diseases.
Eisenberg says yoga has the potential to lessen several physical symptoms of MS and may contribute to improved strength, flexibility, posture, balance, focus, circulation, digestion, elimination, and pelvic floor health and to decreased tension, fatigue, and spasticity.
Zuccarini can attest to this. He experiences numbness, tingling, and swelling on the entire right side of his body and walks with a limp. “After I go to class, I feel better. I can walk better, am more flexible, and it helps me with my balance,” he says.
In 2012, eagerness to help my yoga students with chronic pain led me down the mindfulness path. Little did I know then that it would become a vital part of my being. As I delved into the literature on coping with pain, mindfulness studies kept cropping up and caught my attention. Jon Kabat-Zinn had obviously done his homework when he developed a stress reduction program over 30 years ago at the University of Massachusetts. My intrigue grew as I read how mindfulness and meditation have the potential to rewire, reshape and mold the brain to improve our physical and emotional health.
It took 2 ½ years of being on the wait list to finally attend an MBSR Professional Education and Training with the two pioneers, Jon Kabat –Zinn and Saki Santorelli. The training was filled with 160 professionals from around the world, including physicians, therapists, military officials and governmental staff, patients with bone marrow cancer, VA staff, educators and principals of schools, corporate administrators and leaders, and yoga instructors and therapists. [Read more…] about Caught by Mindfulness
Yoga Moves MS at MS Consortium 2016
The scientific community is becoming more—well, flexible—when it comes to attitudes about yoga and its role in alleviating symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Until recently, the effects of the practice on MS had never been subjected to rigorous scientific inquiry, and therefore it couldn’t be recommended. But a recent pilot study conducted at Rutgers University is changing that with promising preliminary outcomes. And the study’s participants seem to be at least as excited about the results as the researchers, if not more so.
“After nine years, I was finally able to feel the sand underneath my feet at the beach near our house on the Jersey shore,” reported one participant in a follow-up survey. Another said she was able to get up from her seat unassisted for the first time in 11 years.
Such comments echo a large volume of anecdotal evidence that’s accumulated over the years that supports yoga as a powerful tool for helping people with MS live safer, healthier and happier lives. “And the scientific research is beginning to catch up,” says Dr. Allen C. Bowling, a neurologist and author of Optimal Health with Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide to Integrating Lifestyle, Alternative, and Conventional Medicine (Demos Health, 2014).
Not just a bunch of posers
Susan Gould Fogerite, PhD, director of research for the Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the School of Health Related Professions at Rutgers, gathered 26 experts, including neurologists, psychologists, physical therapists and yoga instructors, as well as people with MS who practice yoga. Together, they created a progressive series of 90-minute, twice-weekly gentle yoga classes. Fourteen women who had either relapsing-remitting or progressive MS, ages 34–64, completed eight weeks of the classes.
The researchers took baseline and post-study measures of mobility, coordination, fatigue, and mental and emotional status. They found that after the program, the women were better able to walk for short distances and for longer periods of time, had better balance and fine-motor coordination, and were better able to move from sitting to standing. The women also reported that their quality of life improved in key areas, including perceived mental health, concentration, bladder control, walking and vision, with a decrease in pain and fatigue. All of these improvements rose to the level of “statistical significance,” an important benchmark of scientific credibility.
Previously, a 2004 Oregon Health Sciences University study found that six months of yoga significantly helped relieve fatigue, and improved strength and flexibility and other quality of life measurements among 69 people with MS. Other smaller studies in the past 10 years have found improvements in anxiety, depression, bladder function, pain, spasticity, weakness and walking among people with MS who practice yoga.
Dr. Fogerite attributes the benefits seen in research, in part, to the mind-body-spirit aspect of yoga. Yoga’s calming, focused method of breathing and mindfulness, along with its acceptance of the body’s limitations, works in tandem with the strength, balance and flexibility training that come with the actual poses, she says.
Drs. Fogerite and Bowling both say more research is needed to discover the mechanics of how yoga works for people with MS, but Dr. Fogerite suspects that the slow, mindful repetitions of the movements in yoga may help “recruit” brain cells next to the cells damaged by the disease—in essence rerouting the network needed to connect for a particular function.
Yoga for every body
For people with MS who practice yoga, the research validates what they already suspected. Eric Small, a Los Angeles–based senior certified Iyengar yoga instructor, says his practice completely transformed his life.
“Had I gone along with my diagnosis and the recommendation to go home, do nothing and stay out of the sun, I would have been long gone,” says Small, who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 1953 when he was 20 years old and there were no available medical treatments for the disease. “But here I am at 81, stronger and more able than I was before my diagnosis.”
Small, who is co-author with Dr. Loren Fishman of Yoga and Multiple Sclerosis: A Journey to Health and Healing (Demos Medical Publishing, 2007), notes that people don’t have to be especially flexible or strong to do yoga. “Even for a student in a wheelchair, there is a way to do Iyengar yoga,” he says. Adapted yoga poses can also be performed while lying down in bed. “For people to understand that there is something they can do to improve their state, that’s really the most important part. People gain a sense of freedom, independence and confidence knowing that they have tools that can help manage symptoms.”
Mary Ann Braubach, 56, diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2003, began adaptive Iyengar yoga after a particularly bad relapse, working from her wheelchair with Small. “It’s extraordinary how much yoga has helped me. It’s really strengthened my body,” says Braubach, a resident of Brentwood, California. She adds that her practice also has improved her balance and spasticity, ultimately enabling her to forgo her wheelchair and use a cane for mobility. Yoga has also helped her manage stress, she says. “They call some of the poses ‘restorative,’ and they really do restore your body,” she says.
Going with the flow
As you begin practicing, pay attention to your body, and be very careful as to how much you push yourself, warns Dr. Bowling. “For people with muscle stiffness and spasticity, it’s important to be very cautious about how much to stretch their muscles,” he says. “Err on the side of underperforming, just until you see how your body handles it.” As with all physical practices, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first.
How long and how often you need to practice yoga before you begin to feel benefits depends on you, says Small, who underscores that yoga is not a “quick fix,” and consistency is key.
You can take elements—like a few minutes of yoga-style breathing—and do them throughout the day as needed: at home, in your office or even barefoot on the beach.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Momentum, the magazine of the National MS Society.
Yoga Moves MS has been chosen as one of the charities for Art Van Charity Challenge. This will run from April 4th, 2017 at NOON until April 25th, 2017 at NOON.
The 9th annual Art Van Charity Challenge is underway where Midwest charities raise money, awareness and donors through a three week fundraising competition. Focusing on charities committed to women, children and human services in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, participating organizations are vying for $180,000 in grand prizes to help further their missions.
The Challenge launches on Tuesday, April 4th at 12pm ET and runs through Tuesday, April 25th at 11:59:59am ET.
The best part of the Art Van Charity Challenge is that even if your organization don’t win any of the grand prizes, your organization keeps the money raised during the campaign.
To help propel us to the top of the leader board and earn one of the prizes click here.
HELP YOGA MOVES MS!