Yoga can be effective in improving strength, flexibility, balance, gait, anxiety, depression and concentration. So can an integrative yoga lifestyle program help people with multiple sclerosis cope with such issues? Investigators from the department of physical therapy at California State University, Sacramento, and The Expanding Light Retreat, Nevada City, California, wanted to find out.
Twenty-four people with MS participated in a 5-day intensive group training, followed by 17 weeks of home practice, during which participants were asked to practice at least three times per week and to keep a journal.
Subjects were assessed on aspects of functional ability, mental health and quality of life. Researchers gathered quality-of-life data based on the Multiple Sclerosis Quality of Life Inventory at three intervals: 1 month prior to the intervention, immediately before it, and 4 months later. Since subjects traveled to the site for the initial intensive training, physical data was collected only twice: immediately before the intervention and after 17 weeks of home practice. Physical measures included functional strength, balance, walking speed, endurance and respiratory capacity.
Postintervention data analysis showed that participants had significantly improved in functional strength, balance and peak expiratory flow and showed a trend toward improvement in mental health and quality of life.
“Everyone in the study felt some kind of improvement, especially an increased sense of personal empowerment,” study author Maitri Jones, RN, E-RYT-500, Ananda yoga therapist at The Expanding Light Retreat, told IDEA Fitness Journal. “When we practice yoga, not only as physical exercise, but also as a full-body energy and mind experience, then all benefits are enhanced.”
She added, “This study gave participants a multicomponent Ananda yoga practice that used asana, energization, affirmation, relaxation and meditation in addition to classes in neuroplasticity, stress management and life-style management, which make up the bigger picture of ‘yoga’ as a way of life.”
Limitations of the study included its small sample size, the lack of a control group, and the fact that initial data on physical measures could not be collected 1 month prior to the intervention. Researchers recommended doing a large randomized, controlled study; time-equivalent longitudinal assessments; and randomization to various components, to determine which aspects of the program provided the most benefits.
The exploratory study appeared in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy (2013; 23 , 27–38).