Therapeutic Yoga At Alaska Music & Arts

Contributed by Jeffrey L. Sponsler, MD

Multiple sclerosis is an auto-immune disorder that is found in approximately 90 per 100,000 population (or about 1 in 1000 persons). The nature of the disease is poorly understood, but is probably multi-factorial. The genetically identical twin of a person with MS has a 25% chance of developing the disease. People who live at high latitudes (like Alaska) or who have low vitamin D are at higher risk of developing MS. Certain infections (viral infections for example) are thought to be triggers. 

The mechanism involves the immune system becoming programmed to recognize the insulation on brain cells (called myelin) as foreign proteins. Once the immune system cells (specifically T cells and B cells) are thus programmed, they work hard to remove this protein from the brain cells and neuronal axons of MS victims. It is currently not possible to "deprogram" these lymphocytes, but there are various treatments to reduce the numbers of these attack cells and to reduce the attacks (or exacerbations) in the MS patient. Neurologists have years of university training in the evaluation and management of MS and they are experts in the therapies involved.

Yoga originated in ancient India and was originally associated with Hinduism and Buddhism. Common forms are Hatha and Raja yoga. Yoga was introduced in the late 19th century to the West. The term yoga is derived from the Sanscrit word "yuj" with meaning "to add" or "to join". According to author, David Gordon White, yoga is meditative, is intended to expand consciousness and is a path to enlightened consciousness. The Bhagavad Gita introduces Karma Yoga (action), Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge).

In modern times, yoga has been adopted as a form of exercise and perhaps 20 million people in the US practice yoga. The practice of yoga has been supported by the American College of Sports Medicine for promotion of mental, physical and spiritual awareness; the stated benefits include stretching, breath control and core strength. The college recommends certified instructors for the yoga training. There are reports of injuries to back and joints during yoga; there is unfortunately no exercise program that has zero risk of injury. 

Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs have been studied and benefits have been reported. There are many published reports on therapeutic yoga. Grace Bullock PhD reports studies have found benefits such as reduction of diastolic blood pressure, increased HDL cholesterol, decreased triglycerides, decreased arthritis pain, decreased headaches, reduced low back pain and reduced MS symptoms.

Symptoms of MS include imbalance, impaired mobility, fatigue, chronic pain, cognitive, visual and speech impairment, sensory disturbance, depression, bowel and bladder dysfunction and spasticity. One study demonstrated decreased depression and decreased fatigue in MS patients.

The Alaska Music and Arts Center in Palmer will begin therapeutic yoga classes on September 1, 2017. The instructor is Cassey Bradley-Leonardis, a certified yoga instructor. These classes will be free and open to patients of the Alaska Brain Center (the office of Dr. Sponsler). We believe yoga training will be beneficial and valuable for our patients. Contact the Alaska Brain Center (907-373-6500) for details. Class size is limited, so sign up now.