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Yoga for students with Multiple Sclerosis
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Forum Posts: 31
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April 27, 2015
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March 15, 2008 - 8:32 pm
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Namaskar Everyone,

Here is a little more about teaching students who have MS. Hopefully, you will make the best use of this information by helping students who have Multiple Sclerosis.

Students, with Multiple Sclerosis, can expect to feel benefits from regular yoga practice. Fatigue, pain, numbness, weakness, and lack of coordination, plague sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Yoga can alleviate these symptoms with regular practice, and help students find their bodies again.

Yoga has been practiced for centuries - to holistically balance four elements of our existence. Our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health are addressed in the practice of Yoga. Historically, the vast multitude of diseases has shown a profound and wide imbalance of these elements. MS is a disease of the Central Nervous System.

This auto-immune disease breaks down nerve insulation (myelin) in the cerebral and spinal nerves. In turn, this causes confusion within the nerve communication, and signals get crossed or blocked. The result is a body and mind that can become completely disabled.

The good news is that in recent studies, the benefits of yoga have shown promise. In fact, the National MS Society has several chapters that hold regular yoga sessions. Study participants experienced lower levels of pain, more coordination, and higher energy levels.

MS can be very unpredictable. Different symptoms can affect different sufferers and at varying levels. Fatigue and stress are the most disabling for the highest majority of MS patients. Regular, physical activity is absolutely essential to maintain quality of life for sufferers of MS. Yoga is an excellent, low impact activity that has a high level of success in fighting stress and fatigue.

Another benefit is yoga's adaptability to meet the needs of the individual. Yoga postures can be modified and altered for differing levels of ability. Some with MS lead fairly able lives, while others spend most of their days in wheel chairs. There are a variety of terms used to define the levels of Multiple Sclerosis, such as:

1. Relapsing/Remitting (RRMS)

2. Secondary Progressive (SPMS)

3. Progressive Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (PRMS)

4. Primary Progressive (PPMS)

These might be considered the main four categories, but there even more terms used, because multiple sclerosis can attack in a variety of ways. For yoga instructors, this means pursuing continuing education, recognizing differences, and becoming creative with props, modifications, and assists.

When they are available, yoga teacher assistants can assist those who cannot hold a pose, themselves, by physically helping them into position. This in itself has become an art form. In this way, the student will gain the maximum benefit from yoga practice, despite their daily struggles.

Yoga instructors, who have students with MS, can use a wall, counter top, walker, or parallel bars, to assist with balance, and to give their students a physical reference point. Depending on the level of physical ability, a hands-on assist may be required.

Often, the nervous system ds not successfully relay all the necessary information to the body. A physical assist helps with coordination and balance. As students progress with yoga postures, nerves are further stimulated, stress is reduced, and symptoms of MS are lessened.

Yoga breathing (pranayama) exercises will reduce stress and enable relaxation. No matter what level of ability yoga students with MS have, they can benefit from the different methods of pranayama.

Some theories, about how MS attacks the nervous system, state that high stress levels may cause further lesions of the nerve insulation (myelin). By preventing and relieving stress with regular yoga practice, MS sufferers may suspend the progression of the disease.

Other benefits that yoga can provide are flexibility and strength. Damaging lesions to the central nervous system are aggravated by muscle atrophy. If nearby muscle tissue, that is otherwise healthy, becomes weak, the disease progresses at a faster rate. Yoga postures strengthen, and increase, muscle tone throughout the body, resulting in a higher degree of immunity and physical integrity.

By stretching the muscles, and holding the poses, the muscles gain strength and release their tension (lessening spasms). Regular yoga practice also improves circulation and improves oxygen absorption in the brain. This means the brain is getting more of what it needs to perform. Increased circulation directly correlates with improved nerve function, body awareness, and overall well being.

Students with MS should consult with their doctor for advice about which level of exercise is appropriate for their particular situation. Remember that breathing, in and of itself, is a physical exercise. Competent yoga instructors must stay informed, current, and be aware, when teaching students who have disabilities.

Teachers should guide students to focus on symmetry and precision while practicing yoga techniques. Students can build strength by holding postures for 30 seconds to a minute, if possible.

The synchronicity of movement and breath are extremely important. Through regular practice, for 15 to 30 minutes minimum, students with MS will see a great improvement in their range of movement and energy levels. Make certain to encourage your students to practice yoga at home.

If you have been diagnosed with MS, find a competent yoga teacher, who has experience with teaching students who have MS. Start making a daily habit of practicing yoga, right now. You have nothing to lose, and quite possibly, everything to gain.

Om Shanti,


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