Whatever else Yoga does, it stretches. Stretching is a natural antidote for two of the most devastating consequences of multiple sclerosis (MS): reduced range of motion and spasticity. First, consider reduced range of motion. There is no better, safer, faster nor more natural way to overcome the restrictions on full movement than lengthening them. This applies to muscles and their tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, and the adventitious scars and adhesions that may develop for a variety of reasons.

Simple as it may sound, range of motion is one of the gravest losses in a host of neurological conditions, for as range of motion decreases, the scope of possible activity diminishes proportionately. A cat with a stiff tail would have impaired balance. A mighty man with restricted range could not benchpress a barbell regardless of his strength. Yet relapsing and remitting MS, with its rising and falling levels of motor and sensory impairment is frequently accompanied by temporarily increased spasticity. But the spasticity, a neurological phenomenon, often subsequently retreats, leaving an unnecessarily long-lived mechanical reduction in range of motion that could be perpetuated by disuse.

As a retreating army of occupation leaves devastation in its wake, the resultant loss of range of motion is often the most serious consequence of an exacerbating episode of MS. Yoga is a safe and sure remedy.

In progressive MS degrees of range of motion may be lost unnecessarily due to failure to challenge the actual limits that impaired function imposes. These add up. Be it the spine, the hips, arms or ankles, unnecessary concessions to the disease work to contract the individual’s life-possibilities and opportunities, as well as their joints.

Strategies to Improve Range of Motion

Many important groups of muscles cross more than one joint, and where these muscles are the limiting factors in joint mobility, both joints must be approached simultaneously. The gastrocnemius muscle, for example, crosses the back of both the ankle and the knee. If stretching it at the ankle is attempted without regard for the straightness of the knee, it will be impossible to put it under any tension at all. However, once the muscle is stretched at the ankle, further straightening the knee is often a good method of increasing the range of motion at the ankle joint.

In other circumstances, such as relapsing and remitting MS, it can happen that a given joint is inactive for a period of months due to weakness or spasticity that then remits or vanishes, leaving a competent and properly toned muscle across a joint that is “frozen” by tightened ligaments or constricting joint capsule. Then the critical strategy is to take the muscle out of play, arranging position so that the muscle is slack, enabling one to work directly on the restricting elements. In that case, to disengage the gastrocnemius, one would intentionally stretch the ankle with the knee bent.

Reduced range of motion and spasticity often work together: tightened muscles serve to decrease range of motion at the joints they cross and decreased range of motion brings on tightened muscles which cannot be stretched, that readily react to everyday stimuli with painful spasticity. In this respect all the asanas given later for spasticity will also serve to extend range of motion. Nevertheless, there are a number of other postures which accomplish this task more directly.