Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease
Originating in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is a Hindu system of philosophy that harmonises the body, mind and spirit to promote health and inner peace.
Yoga involves gentle movements designed to maintain fitness, suppleness and muscle tone as well as optimising the body’s own healing powers. Breathing is an important aspect and this, together with meditation and visualisation (imagining a scene) exercises, is thought to help to:
- energise the body and mind
- reduce stress
- improve concentration and clarity of thought.
Diet and lifestyle are also important aspects of yoga.
There are a number of different types of yoga, some more strenuous than others. In the West, Hatha yoga is the most widely taught, combining asanas (physical exercises and postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation).
Yoga is sometimes confused with Pilates but there are important differences. Yoga focusses on increasing flexibility and strength in the whole body and improving breathing. Pilates also aims to improve breathing but it is focussed more on specific movement in targeted areas of the body, especially the core abdominal and back muscles.
Yoga can be practiced when and where you wish. If you want to try yoga at home you should make sure you have some lessons with an expert first so as to learn the basic principles and techniques.
There is little research into the benefits of yoga in Parkinson’s but in general yoga can be particularly helpful in reducing muscle rigidity and in increasing balance, flexibility and strength. Because yoga offers a holistic approach to body, mind and spirit, many people with Parkinson’s say it equips them with ‘tools’ to cope with daily life. For many it offers emotional stability – an inner peace and sense of calm – as well as overcoming some of the physical symptoms of the illness.
As yoga aims to help energise the body and mind, improve concentration and reduce stress, it can be beneficial to family and carers too.
As with all physical therapies, you may find some of the activities challenging, but techniques may be adapted to suit individuals, for example a chair may be used for support instead of lying on a mat – your teacher should be able to advise on this.
It is advisable to see a teacher who has experience of Parkinson’s so do ask about their experience of the condition as well as their qualifications.
Different classes will have a different emphasis. Some are more physical whilst others focus on relaxation, breath work and meditation. It is worth speaking to a teacher about their particular approach before joining a class.
Classes last an hour on average, working through warm up exercises and Yoga asanas (postures) and ending with a 15 minute period of relaxation.
As yoga is non-competitive you don’t need to worry about what other can or cannot do. Listen to your body and do what’s comfortable, beginning with simple exercises and slowly building up to more difficult ones.
You will need to wear clothing that you find easy to move and stretch in. Most yoga is practised barefoot on non-slip mats – check with the teacher to find out if they will be provided. If you are unable or prefer not to use a mat, speak with your teacher about alternative techniques to help your individual needs. Some people find it better to stay seated at first, moving to standing exercises only once they feel ready to do so.
Always make sure that your teacher knows that you have Parkinson’s.
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong, have found that mindfulness yoga – which combines yoga with meditation and controlled breathing – may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with Parkinson’s.
As part of the study – published in medical journal ‘JAMA Neurology’ – 138 individuals with Parkinson’s took part in mindfulness yoga or stretching and resistance training once a week for a period of two months.
The researchers found that both exercise routines improved motor symptoms. However, this improvement was greater in individuals who did mindfulness yoga, who also experienced reduced levels of anxiety and depression – and a better quality of life.
Commenting on their results, the researchers said: “These findings suggest that mindfulness yoga is an effective treatment option for patients with Parkinson’s disease to manage stress and symptoms.”