Yoga and ALS: the Gentle Healer

I had never heard anyone say “exercise is bad for you” until my grandmother was diagnosed with ALS. We called it Lou Gehrig’s disease at the time, after the famous baseball player whose decline into the disease while playing for the Yankees brought it to the public eye.

untitled The ALS Association defines the disease as a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.” It is always fatal; treatment comes down to pain management and prolonging the life of one’s muscles and motor neurons. When a person has ALS, their muscles stop being nourished, shrink, and eventually this causes a hardening or scarring of the muscle. Movement gets very challenging. The disease also affects the motor neurons that communicate between the spine and brain, eventually resulting in the person being unable to control his or her own muscle movements. This progressive degeneration leaves many late-stage ALS patients completely paralyzed.

People with ALS walk a fine line when it comes to managing their bodies. Intense exercise has actually been shown to accelerate the loss of muscle function.

In general the health benefits of exercise are so undeniable – it combats serious diseases, boosts energy, controls weight – that it’s hard to imagine a scenario where it can be harmful. But it makes total sense that a muscle struggling to get enough nourishment couldn’t sustain an intense workout. It would be like asking a starving man to run a marathon.

That’s not the end of the story though. Studies do suggest that moderate aerobic exercise like yoga and stationary cycling can boost levels of nourishing brain hormones and reduce inflammation, factors that affect ALS progression. The right amount of exercise, in the right way, can be extremely beneficial.

Yoga instructor Matthew Sanford has been teaching “adaptive yoga” to people with disabilities since 2002. Sanford himself was in a car accident as a child, and teaches class from his wheelchair. Sanford described how he found yoga in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio:

While the crash changed his life, Sanford says something else did too. A couple of months after the accident, he told doctors he could feel his body. The doctors told him the sensations were not real and would fade away as the memory of the accident faded too, but that didn’t happen.

“I had this level of sensation. It was like a tingling or a hum, kind of like knowing where you are in space and that was a real sensation. They convinced me as a 13-year-old that it wasn’t real and that’s because we didn’t know enough about the mind/body relationship at that point,” he said. “A body worker first said, ‘Hey! You feel more than you think and that started the process and I found yoga 12 years after the accident.”

It is important to note that adaptive yoga is a much gentler version of yoga than the mainstream. Yoga for people with ALS focuses on improving range of motion, breath consciousness, and living more freely within the body. It’s not about attaining a goal. The most stressed factor when it comes to exercise with ALS is to listen to one’s body. Moderation is key.

On the physical plane it’s about using the muscles but not stressing them. And more importantly, on the ethereal plane it’s about integrating the body, mind, and spirit in a way that frees a person from their disease.






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8 thoughts on “Yoga and ALS: the Gentle Healer”

  • My ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) symptoms started out with muscle weakness, stiffness and slurred speech. My primary physician prescribed riluzole and radicava to reduce symptoms and slow down the disease progress, I could not take them for long because of the terrible side effects. So i adopted a more natural approach and started on ALS Herbal formula from RICH HERBS FOUNDATION, the ALS natural formula greatly helped my condition, i had a total recovery from ALS with this formula treatment. Their official web-site w w w. r i c h h e r b s f o u n d a t i o n. c o m. I feel so much alive again!

  • Hi , I have a patient with newly diagnosed ALS . I am an Occupational Therapist and yoga instructor. I would like to know the best postures or sequence to introduce to my patient. We have already done breathe and relaxation work , including seated yoga postures. I am excited to learn more about the foundation and the most beneficial yoga postures for treating ALS
    Thank you , Leslie Payne

  • My husband was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) when he was 61 years old 4 years ago. The Rilutek (riluzole) did very little to help him. The medical team did even less. His decline was rapid and devastating. His arms weakened first, then his hands and legs. Last year, a family friend told us about Rich Herbs Foundation (RHF) and their successful ALS TREATMENT, we visited their website ww w. richherbsfoundation. c om and ordered their ALS/MND Formula, i am happy to report the treatment effectively treated and reversed his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), most of the symptoms stopped, he is able to walk and able to ride his treadmill again, he is pretty active now.

  • My first ALS symptom appeared in 2011. 4 years ago I learnt about ALS/MND successful chinese medicine from Rich Herbs Foundation (ww w. richherbsfoundation.c om), the treatment made a tremendous difference for me. Few weeks into the treatment I had improved muscle strength and coordination, improved speech, improved walking balance, increased appetite, improved eyesight and improved mood swings. 4 years since the treatment, i still feel stronger than ever with no symptoms at all, only occasional tingling on my right foot at night. I feel cured from the disease!

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