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What are the benefits to practicing yoga as a complementary therapy and how might it help people with Parkinson’s? Helen Osbourne, a British Hatha yoga instructor since 2013, gives her insight and shares some tips and suggested poses.

How can yoga specifically help people with Parkinson’s?

Yoga for Parkinson’s focuses the mind, strengthens and lengthens muscles, helps coordination and balance, improves posture and relaxes both the body and mind.

How does yoga differ from other types of physical activity?

Yoga works on muscular strength and flexibility, and is non-competitive. It can be done at home, as well as part of a class, and can be easily adapted to individual physical requirements. Yoga has great potential to improve self-esteem, it connects the mind and body, and helps with self-acceptance. It can reduce stress and anxiety by keeping the mind in the present, and is part of a broader supportive philosophy (i.e. Buddhism).

What are the best types of yoga poses and practices for people with Parkinson’s? 

  • Poses that lengthen and relax muscles to counter rigidity, such as forward bends
  • It is helpful to practise variations of salabhasana (locust) to counter the round shoulders and forward projection of the head that often accompany Parkinson’s, this helps with core strength and opens the shoulders and chest
  • Exercises that distract the mind from Parkinson’s tremors, such as chanting and meditation
  • Breathing practices to relax the body and balance the mind, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (the side of the nervous systems that conserves energy and calms)
  • Seated and floor-based postures to provide a steady foundation, for those who find balance a challenge
  • It is a good idea to modify and adapt postures with straps, blocks or cushions to make postures more accessible and comfortable.

Watch our video (above), which shows a number of beneficial poses and highlights some of Helen’s suggestions in a clear and easy-to-understand way.

Would you like to see more yoga videos by Helen? Email and let us know

Is there any medical research to back up your experience?

There are many complementary therapies that claim to help improve and better manage a whole range of different health conditions. Yoga has gained a lot of interest in recent years, and medical research appears to confirm that it can have a favourable effect on people with Parkinson’s and a number of symptoms associated with the condition. For example:

Applications of yoga in Parkinson's disease: a systematic literature review

A systematic review, published in January 2014 in the Journal of Parkinsonism and Restless Leg Syndrome, revealed yoga can help people with Parkinson’s. An analysis of seven yoga studies – examining the effectiveness of yoga programmes on people with Parkinson’s – was carried out by Canadian researchers.

They found yoga improved mobility, balance and lower-limb strength, and improved upper and lower-body flexibility. The evidence found yoga was also shown to improve wellbeing, mood, depression and sleep.

The study concluded: “This review suggests that yoga provided an alternative method for addressing some of the reversible factors that impact motor function in Parkinson’s disease, as well as contributing to an improved psychosocial wellbeing.”

Effect of Yoga on Motor Function in People with Parkinson’s Disease: A Randomised, Controlled Pilot Study

A randomised, controlled pilot study, published in 2012 in Yoga & Physical Therapy, suggests yoga can improve balance, strength, flexibility, posture and gait in people with Parkinson’s.

The yoga group participated in one hour of Iyengar yoga twice a week for 12 weeks; the programme was adapted for people with Parkinson’s and included yoga postures, breathing and meditation. Physical function assessment tests were obtained from 13 people with Parkinson’s disease that either participated in yoga practice or no intervention (control group).

The researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center found the yoga group had significant improvement in motor function and balance scores. They also found that there was significant improvements in strength, range of motion, flexibility, foot unloading, and foot lift off.

The study concluded that: “Yoga appears to be safe and well-tolerated by individuals with Parkinson’s disease, and has demonstrated an improvement in motor Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) scores.”

“Due to the progressive nature of Parkinson’s, we speculate yoga programmes tailored for this population may offer an enjoyable, effective way to maintain quality of life.”

What are your experiences of yoga and Parkinson’s? Have you found poses or other yoga-related resources that work for you? Email and tell us your stories.

The EPDA is sharing this article for information purposes only; it does not represent an endorsement by the EPDA of any particular treatments or products.

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