If you can breathe, you can do yogaChristiana Lewis, yoga instructor for People with Parkinson’s
There are many benefits to Yoga for People with Parkinson’s (PwPs), whether you are a just starting or have been practicing for years. I started my yoga practice about 12 years ago, before my diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease. I give much credit to my yoga practice for helping me to minimize my PD symptoms.
5 benefits from a yoga practice
According to my Movement Disorders Specialist, who is also a certified yoga instructor, there are 5 primary benefits to practicing yoga for PwPs. I am listing them here, along with my commentary on each of them.
1. Stretching – helps to combat the stiffness that many PwP’s feel, making movement easier and increases your flexibility. If you are stiff when you wake up, do some of the stretching poses before you even get out of bed. It definitely helps.
2. Balance – many poses in yoga are balance poses. You will stand on one foot for a tree pose, then the other. You learn what you have to do to maintain that posture, even if for a few seconds. Look around you if you are in a class and you will see that others without PD have trouble with balance. You are not alone. This is the most important thing you can do to help prevent falls later.
3. Social – if you go to a class (when the gyms re-open), you will find that there is a social aspect to yoga as you get to know other regulars in your class. It gets you out of the house and combats isolation.
4. Mood/Apathy – it doesn’t matter how I feel when I start the class. By the end of the class I feel so much better, mentally and physically. Maybe it is a dopamine rush or endorphin rush. It doesn’t matter which one it is, it works to elevate your mood and keep you going. In addition, it is a mindfulness practice. There are often guided meditations, breathing exercises and of course, the final pose, Shavasana, which is so relaxing.
5. Cardio – I like Vinyasa Flow classes because you are continuously moving. The long holds of poses in other types of yoga don’t work for me because my tremor acts up. With flow classes, the breath is very important, affecting your autonomic systems. In addition, there are definitely cardio benefits as your heart rate rises with the constant movement. Another benefit of the movement is that shifting from pose to pose, such as going from a Down Dog to Chaturanga to Up dog is great resistance training – as you flow through the moves you are shifting your weight from your legs to your arms and back. If you are doing yoga at home, don’t watch the same yoga class over and over again because it becomes rote. Close your eyes or change some of the poses to challenge your mind.
I have been fortunate that I have been able to keep going to regular yoga classes and can keep up most of the time. Shortly after my diagnosis with PD, I met with a woman who specializes in yoga therapy for Parkinson’s. After working with me, she said something I will never forget: “Stay in regular yoga classes as long as you can. You can always modify your practice if things get difficult.”
If you have been practicing yoga, you will find that there are so many classes to choose from on-line through Zoom, you don’t have to wait until the gym re-opens. However, if you are new to yoga, you may want to take a few private classes in your home or online with a yoga instructor so that you can learn what to do properly, with supervision. The last thing you want to do is to hurt yourself because you don’t know what to do. There are also yoga classes specifically for people with Parkinson’s. These classes often offer chair yoga for those who cannot stand or have balance issues.
A few weeks ago, yogi Christiana Lewis led Twitchy Women through a yoga practice on Zoom. Here is the recording from that day. Watch it and learn even more about how you can incorporate yoga into your exercise routine for Parkinson’s Disease.