The ancient practice of yoga has long been touted as a wellness modality.

Yoga loosely translates to “union,” or the yoke connecting one to God, and can be traced back 5,000 years to the Indus-Sarasvati region in Northern India.

For centuries yoga was practiced as medicine and as a spiritual path.  

Modern medicine is catching up.

On more than one occasion yoga has been clinically proven to provide healthy results. An increasing amount of clinical studies focus on yoga as it specifically benefits those with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Read more: Get the facts on multiple sclerosis »

Different benefits for different conditions

With a snowflake disease such as MS, where no two patients’ symptoms are the same, yoga and its varying disciplines may provide relief to a large number of people.

Fatigue, weakness, balance, falling, pain, and mood swings can all be symptoms of MS, and have all been recently put to the test with yoga.   

Yoga works by combining movement, rest, and stress reduction while cultivating “prana,” or life force energy, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

In traditional practice there are postures, Pranayamas (yoga breathing), and meditations, each one with a specific purpose.

One exercise to help combat fatigue, called Dirga Pranayama, focuses on providing nourishing, calming, and relaxing benefits using breathing exercises. The result is a recharged battery for the practitioner. 

In conventional medicine, a yoga program was designed specifically for MS patients to test the benefits on fatigue, walking, and quality of life. The positive results persuaded supporters to proclaim yoga to be a safe and feasible form of therapeutic exercise.

Read more: Telemedicine helping multiple sclerosis patients »

Yoga vs. conventional exercise

Yoga and conventional exercise recently went head to head with a group of sedentary adults in a study comparing these two options as ways to increase strength.

The concluding data suggest that regular yoga practice is just as effective as stretching and strengthening exercises in improving functional fitness.

Anyone who has practiced yoga can understand the strength and flexibility that can be developed. The iconic picture of an instructor contorted into a pretzel or performing a handstand tells that story. And soreness in infrequently used muscles reminds the student.

Yoga takes minimal equipment and space, and can be adapted for different levels of health and disability.

It can also be performed in a small space and adapted to people who are bedridden or in wheelchairs. The added fact that yoga can be practiced at home, in a studio, or on the road makes it readily available to a large group of people. 

Yoga shows positive results in clinical studies as a standalone or complementary therapy.

Personal trainer and wellness coach Loa Blasucci uses yoga with all of her clients. But her clients with MS seem to really benefit, she said.

“They love it,” Blasucci told Healthline. “Yoga brings peace to the body, which allows for gentle stretching that feels good rather than forced.”

Read more: New drug shows promise for treating multiple sclerosis »

Pain, balance, mood swings

Yoga offers many ways to develop relaxation skills, which have more benefits than just creating a sense of calm for the student.

Teaching the body to relax has been found to help reduce chronic pain and aid with insomnia, both of which rank high on the MS symptoms list.  

People with MS who experience balance issues are familiar with falls and the bruises to match. As the disease progresses some patients have more difficulty walking and may rely on canes or wheelchairs. Yoga helps to slow down this disability by improving balance confidence, balance performance, and functional mobility, all of which can help reduce falls.  

Mood swings and issues with cognitive well-being are also major symptoms of MS. While popular solutions have been to take antidepressants and other medications, yoga offers another option.

Proving beneficial for helping overall mood symptoms, anxiety attacks, depression, and nervousness, yoga could reduce these symptoms in many people with MS. 

People with MS can even find benefit on hot days by learning how to employ Shitali Pranayama, which roughly translates from Sanskrit into “controlled, cooling breath.” 

Yoga integrates well with conventional medicine, helps with a variety of symptoms, works with all levels of illness and disability, and can be performed at home with little or no equipment.