My work as a carer for a man with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has made me aware of many
challenges in living with this particular disability. There are several types of MS and theyhave varying symptoms, but some common ones are chronic fatigue, muscle spasticity, pain, mobility problems, and decreasing proprioception. These symptoms worsen with time, inactivity, stress and poor diet, until the MS patient gradually becomes no longer able to perform regular tasks that most people take for granted. Lack of activity leads to disuse of muscles, which makes spasticity worse and shortens tendons, making movement even
One of the best ways of that I have seen to subdue the effects of MS symptoms is yoga specifically taught for MS patients. The classes are conducted with all the students lying flat on thick mats on the floor, which helps them to ease their bodies into the yoga postures. This form of yoga gently persuades the muscles to work with gravity (rather than standing postures, which work against gravity) and better supports stretching and strengthening poses, as well as helping to alleviate stress and improve balance and coordination. The students are instructed to work with their own bodies and to go as far as they are able but never to push themselves into pain or discomfort. Going slowly and with their own breath allows them to focus on different muscles that need attention according to the person’s own individual symptoms.
One of the most unforgettable cases I have seen was when I was helping one of my clients who uses a walker because he has trouble bending his right leg. Usually I assist him with stretches, one of which is having him lie prone on a cushion on the floor while I bend his right leg back at the knee. On this occasion, he had just finished doing some stretches lying flat on his back. When he turned over on his stomach I asked him to bend his left leg at the knee, which he did, and then I asked him to bend his right leg, which he did completely without aid. This was unusually amazing, as he had done the same stretching routine often, but had never been able to flex that right leg without considerable help. He was also excited about this progress, and has begun telling more people about the benefits of the yoga classes and exercises.
Seeing this great example of success from these classes and regular practice has made me realise how much yoga helps people, especially those suffering from a debilitating disease like MS. As a senior carer with a good understanding of the challenges facing people with MS, I urge those with the disease to attend the free classes provided by the MS society, as well as call upon the NHS to emphasise the benefits of these classes to patients with MS. Having more attention drawn to MS yoga classes will not only provide sufferers with a healthy way to manage their symptoms (as well as build body awareness and strength), but as classes grow will provide work to yoga teachers and can potentially save money as regular yoga practice may decrease the need for some medications, which are costly and frequently have unwanted side effects. This is an area of study that deserves more focus in the future, but for now I encourage everyone interested to visit the MS society website at http://www.mssociety.org.uk to find and drop in on classes in your area.
Alternatively contact the Special People North office and hopefully we can point you in the right direction.