Yoga and Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Leg Syndrome is an uncomfortable disorder characterized by a compulsion to move the legs. It begins or worsens during inactivity, particularly when lying down to sleep at night. RLS is associated with significant reductions in quantity and quality of sleep and, likely subsequent to that, depression. It’s a condition that’s more common in women, and its prevalence increases with age. We don’t know what causes it, and there is no cure.
Photo credit: Irma Photography
Collaborating researchers at two universities in Virginia set out to determine if Yoga may help people who suffer from RLS. They enrolled 75 non-smoking, postmenopausal women who reported that they were overweight and didn’t exercise. Participants filled out a questionnaire to determine if they had RLS, and 20 of them met the diagnostic criteria. All 75 participants were randomized to either a Yoga therapy group or an educational group control. The RLS patients were evenly distributed between the two groups. Both study groups attended a 90-minute class twice weekly for 8 weeks.
The Yoga intervention was based on a gentle Iyengar program designed specifically for older, sedentary adults. Each session began with centering and breathing exercises and ended with a 10–15 minute guided relaxation. The following 23 asanas were incorporated:
Mountain (Tadasana and Urdhva hastasana in Tadasana)
Standing wide apart legs (Prasarita padottanasana)
Warrior I and II (Virabhadrasana I and II)
Fierce or chair pose (Utkatasana)
Extended hands and feet pose (Utthita hasta padasana)
1/2 forward bend (Ardha uttanasana)
Triangle (Utthita trikonasana)
Reverse triangle (Parivrtta trikonasana)
Downward facing dog (Adho mukha svanasana)
Marichi’s pose (Marichyasana I and III, Utthita marichyasana)
Seated twist in chair (Bharadvajasana)
One leg straight forward spinal stretch (Janu sirsasana)
Seated wide angle (Upavista konasana and Parsva upavista konasana)
Seated bound angle (Baddha konasana)
Extended legs up the wall (Urdhva prasarita padasana)
Lying down holding big toe (Supta padangusthasana)
Turned around belly (Jathara parivartanasana)
Supported boat (Navasana)
Supported bridge (Setu bandha sarvangasana)
Crossed legs back arch (Supta swastikasana)
Lying down bound angle (Supta baddha konasana)
Reclined mountain (Supta tadasana)
Corpse pose (Savasana).
Compared to the control group, the Yoga group participants with RLS significantly reduced their prevalence of insomnia and improved their quality of sleep. They also demonstrated significant improvements in mood, decreased anxiety, and stress reduction. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure improvements were also statistically significant.
Most wonderful, the authors point out that the improvements in sleep quality and mood observed in the Yoga group were comparable to those reported in recent trials of pharmaceuticals for RLS. That suggests that Yoga is a viable alternative to drugs. (Yeah!)
Innes KE, Selfe TK. The Effects of a Gentle Yoga Program on Sleep, Mood, and Blood Pressure in Older Women with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:294058.