ahymsin newsletter, issue - 17, april 2010  

A Unique Yoga Approach in Helping People with Multiple Sclerosis Make Healthy
Lifestyle Changes
By Richard Parenti

This article is written as a source of information only.  The information contained in this article should by no means be considered a substitute for the advice of a qualified medical professional who should always be consulted before beginning any new diet, exercise, yoga, meditation or other health program.

All efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article.  The author expressly disclaims responsibility for any adverse effects rising from the use of or application of the information contained herein.

Most people think that when they are doing Yoga postures they are doing Yoga or Hatha Yoga.  Yoga


postures have incredible health benefits as has been demonstrated by BKS Iyengar and the Bihar School of Yoga in India, but the fact remains that they are only a very small part of the true science of Yoga.  Yoga and Hatha Yoga are much more than a posture and a breathing technique.  So what is Yoga?  Yoga is a science of self realization.

The subject of this article is to gain a basic understanding of some of the health principles found in Yoga and Ayurveda, the science of life, that can help people with multiple sclerosis make healthy lifestyle changes.  Also, it includes taking into consideration some useful guidelines prior to starting to work with people with multiple sclerosis.

To understand how a Yoga approach can be used in helping people with multiple sclerosis make healthy lifestyle changes five things must be understood:

  1. What is multiple sclerosis?
  2. What is Yoga therapy?
  3. How does imbalance or illness occur according to Ayurveda?
  4. What are some useful Yoga and Ayurveda health principles that will help a person make healthy lifestyle changes?
  5. What are some practical guidelines that can be used in assessing a person’s lifestyle and in designing a Yoga program for them?

First, what is multiple sclerosis?  Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that interferes with the brain’s ability to send and receive messages.  In MS, the myelin, the protective coating surrounding nerve fibers that acts as insulation for nerve impulses is damaged, and lesions, or scar tissue, are formed.  Such lesions are called plaques and occur in multiple places within the CNS.

MS affects over 400,000 people in the United States.  It is the most neurological disease resulting in disability in young adults.

Symptoms of MS, which are highly individualized and vary in severity and duration, may include at one time or another abnormal fatigue, impaired vision, loss of balance and muscle coordination, slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, bladder and bowel problems as well as difficulties with depression and fear.

Second, what is Yoga therapy?  I define Yoga therapy as:  Yoga therapy is the art and science of applying Ayurveda principles and Yoga practices to help an individual empower themselves to be healthy mentally, emotionally and physically so they may continue with their spiritual growth.

In the traditional Indian system of health, Ayurveda, Hatha Yoga is used as a model within that system.  When working with people with MS using asanas (postures) as part of a Yoga health program, I recommend repetition is best for structural transformation and neuro-muscular re-patterning.  Also it is important to pay particular attention making sure that the postures you use do not overheat the body.

In the development and application of a lifestyle change program, I feel it is just as important that the psychological and emotional aspects of a person be addressed with as much vigor as most Yoga practitioners apply to asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques).

My very first priority in designing a lifestyle change program utilizing the health principles of Yoga and Ayurveda is to help people understand the importance of purifying the physical, mental and emotional systems.  Anything short of addressing all three of these systems is like using a garden hose on a forest fire.

I have found that the very first meeting with a person is the most important.  Their first impression of you and your ability to build a bridge of trust and your ability to listen and ask open ended questions in doing an intake assessment is of paramount importance in your being able to help a person.
Third, according to Ayurveda imbalances arise because of:

  1. We commit crimes against wisdom.  We know what to do but we fail to do it.
  2. We are in denial of the birth and death process, going to great extremes to make ourselves look young and prolong life focusing on quantity rather then quality.
  3. We overindulge in the senses such as overeating, sexual excesses, overeating, binge drinking, etc.

Based on my research and training, I have discovered that in addition to the Ayurveda explanation, imbalances can arise because of several lifestyle, emotional and environmental factors:

  1. Poor nutritional habits.
  2. Poor exercise habits.
  3. Inability to deal with emotions in a healthy manner.
  4. Unaware of how negative thinking impacts a persons health mentally, emotionally and physically.
  5. Too much T.V., too much partying, too many late nights out, overworking, etc.
  6. Too much sun or living in an area with poor air quality like Los Angles or Central California. 
  7. Working in a toxic environment or being in toxic relationships with people whose main concern is tearing down the other to make themselves feel good, etc.

Other factors that seem to contribute to imbalances in the body or mind can arise from:

    1. Accidents.
    2.  Injuries.
    3. Genetic predispositions:  DNA and Immune system inheritance.
    4. Age.
    5. The X factor.  A factor that has no explanation.

Fourth, what are some useful Yoga and Ayurveda health principles that will help a person make healthy lifestyle changes?

To make healthy lifestyle changes I feel that the principles of health found in the science of Yoga and Ayurveda are at the very core of a practical, useful Yoga health model.

Some of these principles include but are not limited to healthy eating, positive thinking, mastering emotions (Chitta Prasadanam), right breathing, proper relaxation, appropriate meditation, correct physical exercise and movement, use of vitamins and herbs, effective internal cleansing especially of the colon as well as external cleansing and mineralization of the largest organ of the body, the skin.

Fifth, what are some useful guidelines that can be used in assessing a person’s lifestyle and in designing a Yoga health program for them?

From my experience I have found these guidelines to be most useful:

  1. Very first step, I do an intake assessment.  I get to know a person by asking open ended questions, by reviewing their health history and by helping them to define their health goals.  This takes about an hour.
  2. Second, I do a bio-impedance analysis.  This tests a person’s lean muscle mass, body fat, the health of the cell membrane, body mass index, basal metabolic rate, inter-cellular water and extra-cellular water tables, all of which are objective indicators of levels of inflammation in the body as well as indicating the cellular age of the body.  And there is a subjective health appraisal comprehensive (HAQ) test I use that measures the nutritional needs of each of the body’s physical systems.
  3. Then, I design a Yoga program that will help them make healthy lifestyle changes.
  4. Last, I do a report of findings.  I meet with the person a second time to discuss in detail their health goals, the test results of their bio-impedance and HAQ test, my findings from the intake assessment and the lifestyle change program I designed for them. 

This process from doing an intake assessment, testing, report of findings consultation and outlining a lifestyle change program takes about three to four hours and is done in two separate meetings. 
The second appointment takes place a week after I have had time, about one to two hours, to design a program that will address effectively the lifestyle changes desired that will help a person to achieve their stated health goals.

When presenting a Yoga approach to health challenges a person always seems to ask three questions:

  1. How long will it take before I see results?
  2. What guarantees do I get that this will work?
  3. When does it end?

Generally speaking I normally answer these three questions in the following manner:

Question 1:  I tell people I don’t know because each person is unique and will respond differently over time to the personally designed protocol for them.  I explain that this Yoga program is not a cure, nor a substitute for their current western medical treatment they are receiving for MS.  But it is designed to serve as a complement to the medical treatment they are receiving and to help them to move in a direction of making healthy lifestyle changes.

Question number 2:  I always tell people there are no guarantees, but the chances that this Yoga program will work to help them make the desired lifestyle changes are very good.

Question number 3:  I always tell a person it ends when they decide it ends.  I also tell them the story of the newly arrived alcoholic in a 12-step program.  The sponsor tells the newcomer out of one side of his mouth, “You only have to stay sober one day at a time.” And out the other side of his mouth he says, “For the rest of your life!”

At this point I feel I have presented a practical workable program that will help them to empower themselves to make the wanted lifestyle changes that will produce positive measurable results mentally, emotionally and physically. 

At this juncture at the end of the presentation it is important that I remain silent to allow them to search within themselves if this is something they wish to do or not.

Beyond asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques) I feel there are several other very practical and useful tools that one can use when designing a Yoga health program to help people with MS make healthy lifestyle changes that will support their western medical treatment.

I have come to the conclusion that all of us could benefit from the application of the practices and principles found in the science of Yoga and Ayurveda and it would be invaluable to do that especially when you face a major health challenge such as multiple sclerosis. 


About the Author:  Swami Veda Bharati initiated Richard into the Himalayan Yoga Tradition. He has also studied with such notables as Walt Baptiste, Dr. Jeffery Bland, Dr. Larry Payne, Roy Eugene Davis, Dr. Rammurti S. Mishra, and Dr. Ralph Jeffery’s.  Richard is the spiritual guide of the Yoga Health Institute and is a published author, "Naked Before God" “Cancer, No Easy Choices” and "Who Am I".  He is an international lecturer, Yoga Health Coach, Certified Ayurveda Nutrition Practitioner, Certified First Line Therapist Life Style Educator© and member of the California Yoga Teachers Association.  He has taught Yoga for people with multiple sclerosis for the past four years and was awarded in 2008 by the MS Society of Northern California as having the ideal Yoga class for MS patients.

Swami Veda Bharati has asked Richard Parenti to be part of the teaching faculty for a new Yoga Therapy Program in India.   Hym-la is raising funds for Richard's air-fare and expenses in India to make this possible. For information and to donate, please go to:

To read “Mind-body Illusion,” another article by Richard, please visit: