The benefits of yoga on full-body wellness have been observed for many decades, but how do these transfer to people living with Parkinson’s disease?
Very well, it turns out! With its focus on breathwork, balance, and flexibility, yoga is a fantastic exercise option for Parkinson’s disease and is easily adaptable to different body types and PD symptoms.
Here is a look at the research on yoga’s impacts on people living with PD and how to incorporate yoga into your exercise routine.
Exercise & PD
Incorporating a weekly exercise routine can profoundly impact both non-motor and motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Exercise not only promotes balance, strength, flexibility, and coordination, but it also alleviates depression and anxiety and boosts mental health.
More specifically, regular exercise can help alleviate PD symptoms such as bradykinesia (slowed movement), balance and walking issues, weakened grip strength, stiffness in the joints and limbs, and tremors. And as a bonus, exercising in a group can foster a sense of community and support.
How Yoga Impacts PD
Yoga is a holistic discipline that originated in ancient India and encompasses a variety of physical, mental, and spiritual practices aimed at achieving balance and harmony in one’s life.
It involves the integration of physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation, and ethical principles to promote overall well-being. These elements combined may lead to the following benefits in people living with PD:
- Improved Motor Symptoms: Some studies have shown yoga can help improve motor symptoms associated with PD, such as tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slow movement). Yoga’s emphasis on balance, flexibility, and body awareness may contribute to these improvements.
- Enhanced Balance and Posture: Parkinson’s disease often leads to balance and posture issues. Yoga’s focus on balance poses and body alignment can help individuals with PD improve their stability and reduce the risk of falls.
- Increased Flexibility and Range of Motion: Yoga’s stretching and gentle movements can enhance flexibility and increase the range of motion, which may alleviate muscle stiffness and joint discomfort often experienced by individuals with PD.
- Stress Reduction: Yoga incorporates relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Managing stress is particularly important for people with PD, as stress can exacerbate symptoms.
- Enhanced Quality of Life: Some research suggests regular yoga practice can improve individuals’ quality of life with Parkinson’s disease by promoting well-being and increasing overall vitality.
- Psychological Benefits: Yoga can have positive effects on mood and mental health. It may help reduce symptoms of depression and improve overall emotional well-being in individuals with PD.
- Enhanced Sleep: Yoga can improve sleep quality and help with PD-related sleep issues such as insomnia.
- Motor Learning: Some studies have investigated the potential of yoga as a form of motor learning for individuals with PD. Practicing specific yoga poses and movements may help retrain the brain and improve motor control.
- Dopamine Regulation: While more research is needed, there is speculation that yoga may influence dopamine production and regulation, a key factor in Parkinson’s disease.
For many of those living with the symptoms of PD, including sleep issues, chronic pain, mental fog, and balance, these benefits can be game-changing for symptom management and longevity.
Research on Yoga & PD
Several studies exist on the impacts of yoga on PD and indicate several proven benefits. While the scientific community is just beginning to explore these benefits on a deeper level, initial results are encouraging.
For example, a 2021 meta-analysis pooled results from 10 studies across 359 participants on the impacts of yoga on people living with Parkinson’s disease. The meta-analysis showed a significant difference in symptoms between participants actively involved in a yoga training group and those who were not.
Overall, the research concluded that yoga positively impacts motor function, balance, functional mobility, anxiety, depression, and quality of life for those living with PD.
Types of Yoga for PD
Part of the appeal of yoga is there are many different types of practices suitable to various needs. While some people may prefer a fast-paced practice encouraging cardiovascular benefits, others may be on the hunt for classes incorporating extended periods of stretching or meditation.
Here are the main types of yoga practices to consider:
Hatha yoga is a gentle form focusing on basic postures and breathing exercises. It can be particularly beneficial for individuals with PD by improving flexibility and balance and promoting relaxation. Gentle stretches and controlled movements in Hatha yoga can help alleviate muscle stiffness and reduce the risk of falls.
Vinyasa yoga involves a continuous flow of poses, often synchronized with breath. It can enhance flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. For individuals with PD, this style of yoga may help improve overall physical fitness and coordination.
Iyengar yoga places a strong emphasis on precise alignment and the use of props like belts and blocks to support the body in poses. It can aid individuals with PD in improving posture, balance, and alignment. Props can provide additional stability for those with balance challenges.
Restorative yoga is deeply relaxing and focuses on relaxation and stress reduction. It involves passive poses held for extended periods with the support of props. Restorative yoga can help people with PD manage stress, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep quality.
Kundalini yoga combines postures, breathwork, chanting, and meditation. It may help individuals with PD by promoting emotional well-being, reducing anxiety, and enhancing mental clarity.
Chair yoga is a modified form of yoga where poses are adapted to a seated position or with the support of a chair. It’s an excellent option for individuals with limited mobility or balance issues. Chair yoga can help maintain flexibility, strength, and range of motion while seated, making it accessible to many people with PD.
Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease (PD-specific classes)
Some yoga instructors specialize in creating classes tailored to individuals with Parkinson’s disease. These classes often incorporate elements from various yoga styles and are designed to address the unique needs and challenges people with PD face. They may focus on balance, flexibility, and motor skill improvement while considering the specific symptoms of PD.
Resources for Yoga in the PD Community
Before incorporating a new exercise into your routine, it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider and care team. They’ll be able to guide you on the best exercises for your PD symptoms and determine if yoga is a good fit for your needs.
Once you’re clear for take-off, here are a few yoga resources to explore within the PD community:
- Re+active Studio Group Classes: With studios in West LA and Torrance, CA, re+active offers several in-person and online exercise classes, including yoga, by specialized trainers and therapists.
- Garth McLean Yoga: Garth McLean is a certified Iygengar Yoga instructor who runs classes globally and in LA specializing in neurological disorders.
- Leen Bodies: Kathleen Ross-Allee is a certified yoga therapist specializing in Parkinson’s disease.
Additionally, don’t hesitate to contact the PCLA team for more information on upcoming yoga and exercise classes and guidance on locating a yoga studio near you.
We’re here to support you in every step of your Parkinson’s journey and are strong proponents of the power of exercise on longevity and well-being for those living with PD.