By Liz Yates Horton PT, DPT, NCS
When you think of yoga what comes to mind may be pretzel like moves or headstands. But yoga is a very adaptable practice with benefits for those with Parkinson's Disease and older adults in general. Yoga is not just movement and poses (asanas) but can include breathing practices (pranayama), meditation (dyana), and chanting. And one of the great things about yoga is it doesn't require a lot of equipment. To be able to adapt poses to best fit your body you can use things that you have around the house like a chair, blanket, or cushion. You can do yoga in a chair, on the floor, in standing or a combination of all.
What are some ways yoga may be beneficial?
There is growing literature to support the role of yoga as a beneficial exercise for those with PD. Yoga has been found to improve motor function, improve breathing as measured by forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume, along with reports of immediate reduction in tremor following a yoga practice. Yoga also has been found to be as beneficial as stretching and resistance training in improving motor symptoms and mobility, along with improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms. It is not surprising that improvements in flexibility have also been found in those who have participated in regular yoga.
Breathe is the foundation of yoga. During the practice of yoga movements are paired with breathing. Your breathe helps to active and relax muscles as you move into different poses. Your breathe is so important not only when you are exercising but also to help manage stress and anxiety during the day. This can really carryover to times of stiffness, tremor, and freezing. Another benefit of working on breathing as this can with activate your parasympathetic nervous system (think rest and digest). This may help with overall stress and may help with sleep.
Mobility and Flexibility
Many of the poses in yoga can target the key muscles groups effected by PD including the hip, knee, and ankle extensors. Also common poses can also improve flexibility in the muscles that often become tight with PD including the hamstrings, low back, and front chest.
Stability and coordination
Yoga also works on maintaining postures which can promote improved stability in the legs, trunk and arms. Another benefit of yoga is that it can work on coordinating movements as you transition from one pose to the next in class.
Many aspects of balance are impacted by PD. These can include weight shifting, being able to stand upright with a narrow base of support (feet together, tandem stance, single leg stance), and being able to transition positions smoothly. But remember the saying if you use it you can improve it. This applies to your balance and yoga. A research study found that by practicing yoga individuals with PD improved their standing balance and also had a reduced fear of falling.
What are you working on each yoga practice?
Posture - yoga focuses on posture and can help you get out of a more stooped posture by building in awareness of your body.
Gets your spine moving - many yoga poses work on spinal extension, rotation, and sidebending.
Gets your hips moving - Your hip flexors (iliopsoas muscle) often is tight and can limit your ability to stand tall and take long steps. This can lead to pain and shuffling your feet when you are walking. Many poses like the warrior series target actively stretching this muscle group.
Your brain - yoga works on sequencing of movements along with your breathing. This is a great way to work on doing 2 things at once (dual tasking or split attention tasking).
Check out Liz's you tube video going over some yoga poses you can do at home!
Sharma NK, Robbins K, Wagner K, Colgrove YM. A randomized controlled pilot study of the therapeutic effects of yoga in people with Parkinson's disease. Int J Yoga. 2015;8(1):74-79. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.146070
Kwok JYY, Kwan JCY, Auyeung M, et al. Effects of Mindfulness Yoga vs Stretching and Resistance Training Exercises on Anxiety and Depression for People With Parkinson Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Neurol. 2019;76(7):755-763. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.0534
Van Puymbroeck M, Walter AA, Hawkins BL, et al. Functional Improvements in Parkinson's Disease Following a Randomized Trial of Yoga [published correction appears in Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018 Sep 6;2018:4523743]. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:8516351. Published 2018 Jun 3. doi:10.1155/2018/8516351
Cheung, C., Bhimani, R., Wyman, J.F. et al. Effects of yoga on oxidative stress, motor function, and non-motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Pilot Feasibility Stud4, 162 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40814-018-0355-8
Hill, H. M., Swink, L. A., Atler, K. E., Anderson, A. K., Fling, B. W., & Schmid, A. A. (2020). Merging Yoga and Occupational Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease improves fatigue management and activity and participation measures. British Journal of Occupational Therapy. https://doi.org/10.1177/0308022620909086