There is significant interest and growing evidence that there is a link between yoga and Multiple Sclerosis improvement. Other forms of meditation show improvement as well. Yoga and MS has not been researched nearly enough. But before discussing what research and evidence is available, let’s first define yoga.

It is an ancient Indian approach that primarily focuses on breathing, meditation, posture, and mindful awareness. When practicing yoga, the person puts the body into a series of pre-defined positions that are stationary. These positions have been researched and are designed to create body alignments that utilize a balance of isometric contractions followed by relaxations. And while there is an important relaxation component to yoga, a great emphasis is placed on controlling the positioning and breathing simultaneously to increase the concentration. So it is meditation at its core, but a very controlled and focused meditation.

Most experts that agree on the positive effect of meditation, yoga, and MS recommend that it be done twice a day. And the more times a day it can be fit in, the greater the effect seems to be. Yoga and Multiple Sclerosis are often at odds with each other though, because of the competing time demands of disease treatment, depression, work, and fatigue. But just like all of the alternative therapies that have shown to help MS, it only works if you do it. The bottom line is that you have to make the conscience effort that you will do it and stick to it.


So what does the evidence show about yoga and MS?


A 2006 Systematic review of the efficacy of meditation techniques as treatments for medical illness showed clear evidence of the benefit of meditation for patients with epilepsy, menopausal symptoms, mood and anxiety disorders, autoimmune illness, and emotional disturbance in cancer patients. Given the proof often needed in the medical community, meditation is probably helpful in even more conditions than allowed to be claimed in the study. (1)

In another study involving a survey of 1980 MS patients in Oregon and Washington, 30% said they had participated in yoga classes. Of that group, 57% reported that the connection between their participation in yoga and Multiple Sclerosis improvement was “very beneficial”.

In another 6 month randomized clinical trial studying yoga and MS, benefits to energy level and fatigue reduction were demonstrated. The group was divided into 3 sub-groups. One group did Yoga, one did exercise, and one was put on a “waiting list” as a control. After 6 months, both of the groups assigned to activity showed improvement while those on the waiting list showed none.


How does it help?


Yoga allows the patient to engage mentally with their disease in an active way. The exact reason is not known, but it appears that any physical activity will increase the benefit to MS patients. Anything that reduces stress will improve the outlook for the MS patient. And the comparison in cost to yoga and MS drug treatments to reduce anxiety are definitely coming down in favor of yoga.

Yoga slows the mind. Without getting too technical, if the mind brain frequency recording can be slowed from the normal 12 cycles per second to somewhere under 4 cycles per second (which can be achieved with practice) the brain goes into what is known as the delta wave pattern. This is the state of a deep, dreamless sleep, and if done with awareness, as happens with yoga and meditation, an intense feeling of “oneness” is experienced. Getting into this state not only can cause emotional difficulties to surface and be dealt with, but can be very healing too. And this oneness is the ultimate goal of the yoga and MS connection. You should discuss it with a knowledgeable practitioner, or another MS patient who has had success with it.  It’s not for everyone, but it just may be for you. And there are no side effects whatsoever to be concerned with.

  1. Arias AJ, Steinberg K, Banga A, et al. Systematic review of the efficacy of meditation techniques as treatments for medical illness. J Altern Complement Med 2006; 12:817-832