yoga for Parkinson'sBy Faye Martins

Can Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease make a difference? Today, more than 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s Disease, with 60,000 diagnosed every year, according the National Parkinson’s Foundation. If it seemed that no one in your Yoga class could possibly have this condition, think again. Typically appearing around ages 55-60, “early onset” Parkinson’s can appear at any time in adulthood.

Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease Classes

I wasn’t aware of this at all, until I visited adult day care centers with Paul. Suddenly, my eyes were opened as to the population of middle-aged people who have Parkinson’s and the variety of neurological disorders that abruptly strike young seniors.

Parkinson’s reduces the dopamine the body produces, a chemical needed for rapid, smooth movements and coordinating muscles. At diagnosis, a patient may already be producing 20% less dopamine than normal and as the level drops, symptoms like tremors and muscle stiffness appear. Treatment typically consists of dopamine-boosting medication and supportive therapies. These can include regular Yoga practice.

Yoga For Parkinson’s Research

Cornell University conducted a pilot study in 2005 involving 15 Parkinson’s patients doing regular Yoga over a ten-week period. They reported better sleep, less trunk stiffness and a general feeling of well being at the conclusion of the program. A host of other studies, including a 2002 study at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Denmark, which showed a 65% short-term increase in dopamine levels while Yoga and meditation were practiced, seem to support this conclusion. Yoga instructor and Parkinson’s Disease-sufferer Paul Zeiger has even developed specific classes for those with the condition in the Denver, Colorado area.

So, how can Yoga for Parkinson’s help students?

First, the yoga instructor should be aware that Parkinson’s compromises certain body movements and areas more than others. Shoulder mobility is often the first problem experienced, showing in a stooped posture and lack of arm movement. Backbends and shoulder-openers can be an asset in a situation when the shoulders are rounding forward. Inner hamstring tightening can be counteracted with a Wide Leg Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana). Tree pose (Vrkshasana) helps with balance issues. Yoga Journal writer Peggy van Holsteyn writes that Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), and Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), help with her Parkinson’s symptoms. Twists can keep the core pliant and maintain mobility.

Most teachers agree that doing a short series of asanas, several times a day, can be most beneficial for students with Parkinson’s. Muscles lacking in dopamine can tire quickly and lose flexibility when overworked. Encourage students with Parkinson’s to move at their own pace and stop when they feel fatigued. It is also common for medication to lose and re-gain effectiveness, so students’ ability can come and go from day to day. Supporting Yoga practitioners with Parkinson’s will help them improve their own quality of life.

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