For people with Parkinson’s disease…YOGA WORKS!
According to Dr. Jill Marjama-Lyons, the author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Parkinson’s Disease, up to 225,000 of the 1.5 million Americans with PD were diagnosed when under the age of 50, a time of life when most people expect to remain active well into their senior years. Like all PD patients, their major goal is to slow PD’s progress and lead a full life despite the challenges the degenerative neurological disease brings about.
With that mind, everyone—patients, families and doctors—are looking for types of regular exercise programs which will help with stiffness and encourages mobility. And that’s where yoga comes in.
It’s not certain just how many physicians, physical therapists and other health specialists prescribe yoga for their patients, but the anecdotal evidence from yoga instructors, people with Parkinson’s Disease, and their families gives a regular yoga practice a big ‘thumbs up’.
For over 4 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as Lynn Burgess’s teaching assistant at the Monday morning gentle yoga and meditation class at Parkinson Place, in Sarasota, Florida. We’ve seen positive changes in the students’ balance, strength and mobility with our own eyes. But we wanted to hear what they had to say about it.
The following is a compilation of their responses to our questions:
Q: When you started taking the yoga class at Parkinson Place, what did you expect?
A: I really did not know what to expect! I knew yoga was a ‘movement’ exercise, and I wanted to see if it would help me.
Q: What was your first impression of yoga?
A: I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. And, it helped me more than I thought it would. I enjoyed the experience of being in a class with other people dealing with PD.
Q: Do you notice any differences in yourself from the beginning of yoga class versus the end of the session? If so, what do you notice most often?
A: Yes, absolutely I feel changes in myself after an hour of yoga practice. Physically, I am more agile at the end of the class. Mentally, I am more relaxed. I leave the class with a positive attitude, knowing I am not alone with PD.
Q: Have you noticed any physical or mental changes in your everyday life since starting to take the weekly yoga class at Parkinson Place?
A: I have noticed an improvement in my posture. I’m aware that my posture is not as it should be because of PD. Yoga is a very effective way to counteract that. My family tells me that they notice the difference in my movement and posture—and not in a good way!—when I am away from Lynn’s yoga class for a period of time.
Q: Has the meditation and breath awareness exercises practiced in the yoga class at Parkinson Place had any effect on you?
A: Definitely! I look forward to the meditation, especially at the end of our session, which gives me great peace and tranquility.
Q: Are there any poses that you have found particularly beneficial?
A: I find all of them beneficial. Even the ones that challenge me. It’s all good!
In closing, as valuable as anecdotal evidence is that yoga ‘works’ to help people with PD slow down the disease’s progression, improve posture, and calm the mind, there’s also research to bolster the thought that yoga is an effective PD therapy. For example, in 2002, a study performed at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Denmark recorded a 65 percent short-term increase in dopamine (the chemical responsible for muscle coordination) levels during restorative yoga and meditation in the test group.
And, in 2005, a pilot study conducted at Cornell University placed 15 people with Parkinson’s in 10 weeklong yoga programs, after which participants reported less trunk stiffness, better sleep, and a general feeling of well-being.
Less stiffness, more flexibility, calmer mind, better balance, greater body awareness, improved posture… just ask the students at the Monday yoga class at Parkinson Place. Yoga works!
Writer: Dianne Ochiltree is a graduate of Yoga from the Heart’s Teacher Training Program, a 200-hour RYT with the Yoga Alliance, and has happily served as Lynn Burgess’s teaching assistant at weekly gentle yoga classes for Parkinson’s disease students. She is also a children’s author and freelance editor. (www.dianneochiltree.com).