Meditation, Yoga, and Exercise in Parkinson’s

“There are moments of frustration in life. You must build good relations to support you in these moments. You must also learn to courage yourself and decide to stay determined in life.”  Lailah Gifty Akita

Introduction: Parkinson’s is a central nervous system disorder that usually presents with neurodegenerative and movement issues.  In managing Parkinson’s, we should work to release/relieve mental stress, to stretch/relax tight muscles, and to strengthen our bodies through frequent exercise.

This post revolves around 3 areas to help alleviate some of the painful and physical issues associated with Parkinson’s: meditation, yoga and exercise [Please note that the views expressed here are my own and they are not meant as medical advice. Please consult with your physician before starting a new exercise/yoga routine.].  I have been a life-long exerciser, in fact, since 7 years of age I remember doing some form of daily exercise.  At 61 years of age, I still think about, plan and try to exercise each day.

Meditation in Parkinson’s: Meditation reduces stress, promotes tranquility, and allows us to become more mindful. Simply stated, meditation creates in you a stress-free, relaxed, and happy place. Sharon Salzberg says “Meditation is essentially training our attention so that we can be more aware— not only of our own inner workings but also of what’s happening around us in the here and now.”  John Coleman describes several ways to meditate: “Meditation may consist of sitting quietly while holding a peaceful thought for several minutes (or longer); listening to peaceful music in a comfortable, safe place; following a guided meditation on CD that helps us to relax our body progressively, then calm our thoughts; repeating a mantra (word or phrase) that brings a feeling of peacefulness; joining a meditation group where we can be led on a “meditation journey” by an experience leader; listening to binaural-frequency CDs that help bring our brains into alpha range or lower; or even walking safely in a peaceful place (e.g. in a garden or by a river) while we peacefully celebrate the beauty around us.”

From the above-description, mindfulness from meditation should benefit someone with Parkinson’s, especially helpful for relieving stress and pain. Scientific support for this positive link between meditation and Parkinson’s was reported by Pickut and associates in “Mindfulness based intervention in Parkinson’s disease leads to structural brain changes on MRI” (http://www.clineu-journal.com/article/S0303-8467%2813%2900408-3/abstract ). In the Parkinson’s group using mindfulness, MRI’s revealed increased grey matter* density in several areas of the brain [hippocampus (left and right), amygdala (right), caudate nucleus (right and left), occipital lobe (left), and thalamus (left)]. Parkinson’s is known to alter these brain regions.  Interestingly, in the Parkinson’s group not using mindfulness, MRI’s revealed increased grey matter density in the cerebellum.  These results agree with other data that implies this area of the brain compensates for the other regions that are affected by Parkinson’s. A nice overview on meditation in Parkinson’s is here:
http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/meditation.html
(*The grey matter is mainly composed of neuronal cell bodies and unmyelinated axons….” For a more complete description of grey matter, go here: http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Grey-Matter.aspx  )

I recently completed a 6-week meditation study workshop (taught by Sumi Kim at UNC-CH).  Each week of meditation was a different focus, including: mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of emotions, mindfulness of thoughts, and choiceless awareness. From this workshop,  I see how meditation helps you to relax and renew.  Meditation refreshes you, like when you need to ‘re-boot’ your computer, it gives you a new start. Sharon Salzberg reminds us that “mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” I need to keep practicing because I’m now convinced that mindfulness through meditation can help manage my Parkinson’s.

Yoga in Parkinson’s: “The word ‘yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’. Yoga is a practical aid, not a religion. Yoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. The continued practice of yoga will lead you to a sense of peace and well-being, and also a feeling of being at one with their environment.” (http://yoga.org.nz/what-is-yoga/yoga_definition.htm ) For a fuller description of yoga, go here: http://yoga.about.com/od/beginningyoga/a/whatisyoga.htm

Like meditation, yoga could/should be beneficial for those of us with Parkinson’s, especially relevant to assist balance, flexibility, and gait problems.  There is a growing body of published work to support doing yoga in Parkinson’s. Consider the study by Colgrove and others entitled “Effect of yoga on motor function in people with Parkinson’s disease: a randomized, controlled pilot study.” J Yoga Phys Ther, 2012 (http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2157-7595.1000112). Their results showed that yoga practice improves motor function in study participants with Parkinson’s.  They found a positive trend in balance, strength, posture and gait, which implies a positive benefit from yoga practice in Parkinson’s.

More recently, a review of the impact on yoga in Parkinson’s showed a consistent positive trend.  The study was by Roland and entitled “Applications of yoga in Parkinson’s disease: a systematic literature review” (http://www.dovepress.com/applications-of-yoga-in-parkinson39s-disease-a-systematic-literature-r-peer-reviewed-article-JPRLS ). “The researchers found yoga improved mobility, balance and lower-extremity function, and reduced fear of falling and loss of strength and flexibility. Furthermore, yoga was shown to improve well-being, mood, depression and sleep.”  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elaine-gavalas/yoga-hope-for-parkinsons-_b_5738730.html )

Yoga is similar to meditation in that there is a mindfulness focus.  Besides the movement, you control your breathing, you have keen awareness of your movements, and you strongly engage your core muscles, which all together makes yoga demanding but beneficial for most physical ailments in Parkinson’s.  For further reading on yoga in Parkinson’s, please see: http://www.theparkinsonhub.com/your-quality-of-life/article/yoga.html and http://yogadopa.com/ and http://www.limyoga.com/

I may have been blessed with excellent hand-to-eye-coordination, but my mind-to-body connection is only okay, and I’ve never been flexible.  For me, yoga is a challenge. A good friend, and yoga instructor, recommended I start with the DVD entitled “Yoga For Inflexible People” (http://www.amazon.com/Yoga-Inflexible-People-Judi-Rice/dp/B00006JXWB/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429147373&sr=8-1&keywords=yoga+for+inflexible+people+dvd ). I also use a free iPhone app “Simply Yoga” (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/simply-yoga-free-personal/id413817051?mt=8 ).  They are both useful tools to teach you the movements of yoga, but a real yoga class is the best. I now see how yoga helps your body (and mind) in many ways.  Yoga works your entire body, every joint and muscle, resulting in improved flexibility and balance along with increased self-awareness (mindfulness).  I need to keep practicing because I’m now convinced that yoga can help many physical issues/miscues due to my Parkinson’s.

“Fall. Stand. Learn. Adapt.”  Mike Norton

Exercise in Parkinson’s: Exercise is activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness (https://www.google.com/search?q=define+exercise&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 ). Recently, I devoted an entire post to exercise: https://journeywithparkinsons.com/2015/03/14/exercise-and-parkinsons/ .  Thus, I won’t repeat this material but I will repeat the message.  Most, if not all, forms of exercise are very beneficial to those of us with Parkinson’s.  Exercise: choose what you enjoy, and then do what you can, whenever you can, wherever you are. I am hopeful that our exercise routines will give us fuller and healthier lives, which will allow us to better negotiate life with Parkinson’s.

 “Most of us never stop to consider our blessings; rather, we spend the day only thinking about our problems. But since you have to be alive to have problems, be grateful for the opportunity to have them.” Bernie Siegel

*Cover photo credit: https://www.sasquatchchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Smoky-Mountains-National-Park.jpg

6 thoughts on “Meditation, Yoga, and Exercise in Parkinson’s”

  1. Yoga, meditation and exercise are invaluable to all people, not just those dealing with Parkinson’s. I’m so glad to see you taking such positive and powerful step, and doubtlessly inspiring people in all walks to adopt these crucial additions to our lives. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi John,
    I enjoy reading your posts and have found them very useful.

    Meditation:
    I have gone down the path of spending 30mins each day meditating, I did the John Kabolt Zin, “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” course over 8 weeks as depression is a big problem for me. If I miss a session, I notice I don’t function as clearly for the day

    Brain Health:
    I play Scrabble on line for keeping the brain sharp.

    Creativity:
    I paint using an innovative program based on much research called “Painting with Parkinsons”. This has opened a new world for me as I do believe my creativity increased with the intro of drugs to manage Parkinsons. See:http://www.paintingwithparkinsons.org.au/
    I also practice Ikebana and sew.

    Speech:
    I’ve done LVST LOUD and always concentrate on speaking loudly.

    Exercise:
    I do Yoga for 30 mins. each day & have noticed a big improvement in my balance & strength. I also attend a weekly, 90min. “Mindful Yoga” session. For home, I use an app on my I pad called “Yoga Studio”, which has been reviewed by a Yoga teacher, who was impressed with the app.

    I’ve started LVST BIG, but due to Rheumatoid Arthritis, the large, pounding steps, played havoc with my feet joints. My Neuro exercise physio, has modified this program so I can do in pool, i.e., hydro version.

    Gut:
    For my gut I take, Kefir daily see:http://www.kefir.net/

    I would also like to recommend to you “The Whole Health Life”, by Shannon Harvey.
    This amazing lady used to be an investigative journalist & came down at a young age with an autoimmune disease. She went on a personal quest to solve her health problems after spending $$$ on trying to find a solution. She produced a feature documentary called “The Connection: Mind Your Body” ,To do this, she did much personal research and interviewed many acclaimed international experts in this field.
    She also produces a regular blog.
    No, because I also live in Australia, I’m not trying to market it to you, but when my Yoga and meditation teacher introduced me to the documentary, I was blown away by how much of what she was saying, covered Parkinsons management as well.
    See:
    https://www.thewholehealthlife.com/.
    Best wishes.

    Like

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