Yoga for Parkinson’s in Pandemic Times

If you can breathe, you can do yoga

Christiana 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.

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Downward Dog

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.

Chaturanga Dandasana - Wikiwand
Chaturanga Dandasana

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.

Vriksasana - Wikipedia
Tree Pose

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.

Shavasana – Corpse Pose – School of Yoga
Shavasana – my favorite pose of all!

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.

Namaste

How was your week?

The boxing program that I have been with for the past 5 years has been experimenting with other types of activities for People with Parkinson’s. (PwP’s)The latest has been a writing circle with a professor of writing from NYU. StoPD, which is based in New York, is the brainchild of Alex Montaldo, an actor/boxer and his wife Roberta Marongiu , who is a Parkinson’s researcher. They offer boxing classes in Santa Monica, CA as well as various locations in NY. Alex has added acting classes in NY and now a writing circle, both of which aredesigned for PwP’s. Since it is on Zoom, I have been able to participate from my home in Los Angeles.

Last week, we were asked to write about the Pandemic with the prompt “On a scale of 1-10”. I would like to share mine with you this week.

“On a scale of 1-10.”

This past week was a 7.  Why, with the Pandemic raging around us, would I rate the week this high?  Without the Pandemic, it probably would have been a 9 or 10.  We broke the law over and over this past week.  And enjoyed every minute of it.

We celebrated our youngest granddaughter’s second birthday on Wednesday.  We were even allowed into my daughter’s house for 20 minutes and got hugs from both kids.  That rates a 15 in my book. 

Then on Saturday night, we broke the law again.  Yeah, yeah, we are criminals.  We had 6 friends to our house for dinner.  We set up the tables in a big square on our patio so that only 2 sat on each side.  No one touched or hugged anyone else.  And I even threw everyone out of my kitchen when it was time to clean up.  They were just too close.  But the night was gorgeous and we had a fabulous time.

And last night, we broke the law again!  Oh no!  Send out the pandemic police!

We met friends at the beach in Santa Monica to see the plankton do their bioluminescence thing.  Huh?  Bioluminescence, otherwise known as Red Tide, occurs when certain plankten show their true colors – red or brown during the day – glowing blue at night.  Walking past all of those signs that said BEACH CLOSED, we made our way to the shore.  Our friends went on Saturday night after I threw them out of my kitchen and saw the ocean lit up spectacularly, but the plankten just didn’t cooperate much on Sunday night.  The waves after dark were more of a phosphorescent white than usual, with some blue sparkles that disappeared so fast you couldn’t be sure if you really saw them.  After an hour watching the ocean as the temperature dropped, we gave up and went home. 

So the week was pretty good after all. 

What we did see
What we did not see!

Technology to relieve Gait Freezing

I was contacted last month by Walk With Path, a company that makes devices that attach to your shoes to alleviate Freezing of Gait (FoG).  The device, Path Finder, provides visual cues with lasers attached to the front of your shoes. This gives the wearer a visual cue to step across, and acts as an external stimulus to trigger walking.  Path Finder is available in the UK and in Europe, but not yet in the US.

A study  conducted by Professor Bas Bloem and Dr. Murielle Ferraye at Radboud University in The Netherlands has been published, validating the concept of Path Finder for alleviating Freezing of Gait in Parkinson’s.  In the article, using a visual cue projected from footwear, demonstrated a significant reduction in ‘freezing episodes’ and the time spent ‘frozen’.

I was asked to try Path Finder, but since I do not have a problem with freezing, I asked if two of the men in my boxing class who do have FoG could give it a try.  Walk With Path sent a prototype for them to use for a few weeks.  So far, Dan has tried using Path Finder with very good results.   He wrote:

“As for my own experience: the units are potentially transformative.   For example, I had to go to the bank a few days ago, and had to stand in line with a bunch of people in a small space.  Ordinarily, this situation would put me into a full-on freeze.  But because I had the units on, I was able to navigate it without incident!  Also, when my meds have completely worn off, I can use them to go a short distance (say, 50 feet) and it will take one minute instead of ten.
Limits: they’re not useful outdoors during the day because you can’t see the lasers.”  
Here are two videos of Dan in Boxing Class.  The first shows him freezing.  In the second, he walks easily, with the lasers to guide him.  The results were remarkable, as you can see.  In the first, the lasers were turned off.  You can see Dan is having a difficult time walking, and his arms swing wildly.

 

In the second, he turned on the lasers and his walk is more natural, and his arm swings have calmed down as well.

 This is a prototype for testing Path Finder in the US.  It is not available for purchase yet.

Dan will continue to work with Path Finder for another week before turning it over to Vince to try.  More to come in a few weeks.

Can you increase Dopamine in your brain without medication?

The internet is a treasure trove for discovering new music to new videos. A simple dopamine booster is browsing Pinterest or even Amazon for new products and items.             – endless events

While surfing the internet I ran across an article titled 10 WAYS YOU CAN INCREASE DOPAMINE LEVELS IN THE BRAIN WITHOUT MEDICATION on the website dailynaturalcures.*   I eagerly read the article to find out what magic tricks would help release some more much-needed dopamine into my poor brain.  

maxresdefault.jpgBasically, the author says that we get a release of dopamine when we receive a reward of any kind.  The more we are rewarded, the more dopamine is released.  And what are those rewards?  One obvious example:  a trip to Vegas can give you a big dopamine rush, especially if you win.  My MDS (Movement Disorders Specialist) once told me that the reason we get addicted to games on our phones, tablets or computers is because of the instant feedback (think reward) that causes a small dopamine rush.   But rewards don’t have to be something measurable.  It can be the satisfaction of getting something done, creating something, etc.   

The article goes on to differentiate between addiction, where you need to seek more and more rewards to feel fulfilled, probably as a result of some past trauma in your life,  and working towards rewarding actions to create fulfillment and achievement.

Another article from Endless Events lists 10 WAYS TO INCREASE DOPAMINE TO BOOST YOUR PRODUCTIVITY.  The author suggests many of the same things from a different point of view.  The bottom line is that there are many things you can do to increase the dopamine release in your brain, but please, do not look at this as a substitute for medical care.

A little more internet surfing (and many more dopamine releases later) turned up numerous articles and some hilarious videos – one narrated by a robotic voice (watch here )- on how you can increase the dopamine in your brain.  Everyone has some “snake oil” cure for you.  Read at your own risk.

So here are some of things the two articles mentioned above suggest to increase dopamine:

  • Make a checklist for your small stuff each day.  Just getting through the list each day is a reward
  • Exercise
  • Do something creative – draw, paint, write, etc.  Many Parkie’s have found new creative outlets which really do make them feel better.
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate
  • Increase your Tyrosine – foods like Almonds, Avocados, Bananas, Chicken, Chocolate, Coffee, etc.
  • Take supplements – but be careful with these.  Some may interact with your medications, so check with your doctor first.

I would like to add a few more ideas:

  • Eat more chocolate- it contains small amounts of a compound called phenylethylamine, stimulating your brain cells to release dopamine.  (And it’s a reward!  Well, sort of.)
  • Laugh a lot (thank you Yuma Bev)
  • Hug your spouse, your children or grandchildren
  • Take your dog for a walk
  • Curl up on the sofa and read a good book
  • Finish the Sunday crossword puzzle, or solve that really hard Sudoku game
  • Learn something new:  a new language, music lessons, a new skill
  • Celebrate each birthday, anniversary or other special date with those you love.
  • Finally, just make time for yourself and do what ever you want.  Pamper yourself. With chocolate of course.
 *The original article was written by Stephan Gardner and was published in Collective Evolution   on January 20, 2016

Finally, some guidelines for a Parkinson’s Diet

Dr. Laurie Mischley, of Bastyr University,  has been tracking People with Parkinson’s (PwP’s) for several years for her “CAM Care in PD” study.  When I spoke to her at the World Parkinson’s Congress last fall, she explained that this is the only study looking at how people are living with PD now and following them to see who is having a more positive outcome and why.   Data is collected with twice annual surveys sent to the participants.  Multiple models were used to examine the association between diet, lifestyle factors, and PD severity, with Patient Reported Outcome (PRO-PD) scores used as the outcome variable. She just released an abstract published in “Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity” on September 10.

I will not try to summarize the entire report.  You can read it here.  However, I will give you some of the key findings.

mediterranean-diet-plan.jpg

The Good:

A plant- and fish-based diet, similar to a Mediterranean diet, is associated with the lowest PD severity score.  Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, fish, olive oil, wine, coconut oil, fresh herbs, and the use of spices were all associated with statistically significant lower rates of disease progression.

The Bad:

Ice cream, cheese, and yogurt intakes were associated with higher rates of PD progression.

DIET SODA WAS ASSOCIATED WITH A FASTER RATE OF PD PROGRESSION

Consumption of canned fruits and vegetables was a strong predictor of PD progression. Stick with fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible.

Soda, specifically diet soda, was also associated with a faster rate of PD progression.

A few other things to stay away from include meat and fried foods.

Nutritional supplements:   Only coenzyme Q10 and fish oil were associated with statistically significant reduced rates of PD progression.  The use of Melatonin for sleep produced inconclusive results.  Iron supplements increased PD progression.

And finally, organic foods were associated with a lower rate of progression.

What does this mean for us?  I have basically followed a Mediterranean diet for years, however, I am allergic to fish, so  I often each chicken instead.  I haven’t eaten red meat in years.  I never buy canned fruit and vegetables. My downfall is cheese.  I am not sure I can eliminate that completely from my diet, but I can certainly cut back on it.  I recently substituted almond milk for milk to use with coffee and cereal.  Years ago I switched to Tom’s toothpaste and deodorant to avoid the excess aluminum exposure.  The good news is that the progression of PD has been relatively slow for me.

This study will be continuing and more PwP’s are still being recruited.  If you are interested, contact Dr. Mischley at neuroresearch@bastyr.edu.

 

 

For more information on living with Parkinson’s, read   Natural Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease  by Dr. Laurie Mischley