Meditation and the Effect on Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms by Guest Blogger Twylla Johnson

Note from Frank: Ms. Johnson contacted me and asked if I would be willing to post her blog article dealing with meditation. I did a preview and read the blog post and found it to be a relevant topic.  My contributions included posting the cover picture and formatting/assembling the MS Word file into the WordPress format with no changes to the blog material itself. Additionally, here is my usual disclaimer note related to medical advice: please do not initiate a yoga or meditation program without first discussing it with your Neurologist, regardless of the low-impact nature of the movements.

Meditation and the Effect on Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
by Twylla Johnson ( )

Meditation has been used for thousands of years to induce deep relaxation and mental calmness. Yoga was originally intended to prepare the body for long periods of meditation. Today people still use meditation to relax and reduce stress. For me, meditation is a complementary therapy for Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The purpose of this article is to explain the benefits of meditation, specifically as it relates to the management of PD.

PD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. PD is the fastest-growing neurological disorder in the world. There are more than 6 million people in the world with PD, a number that has doubled in the last 20 years. That number is expected to double again by 2030.

I was diagnosed 11 years ago at age 55 in 2009 with PD, and the medicines have worked well for me so far. However, I am anticipating that the next 11 years will be more difficult for three reasons: (1) Normal aging and the problems associated with that (2) normal progression of the disease, and (3) the medications that have been so effective up until now, will inevitably start to lose their efficacy. Parkinson’s medications become less effective over time in controlling symptoms. So I intend to stay as healthy as I can through diet, exercise, and meditation so I can better manage the inevitable progression of the disease. And if there is a cure for Parkinson’s Disease in my lifetime, I will be more likely to be able to receive it if I am otherwise in good health.

The hallmark of PD is a profound loss of dopamine in the brain. By the time most people are diagnosed, the damage is done to the brain and is irreversible. Depression and anxiety are inevitable for people with PD due to the loss of dopamine-creating cells in the brain over time. Psychological stress causes motor symptoms to worsen and accelerates the progression of the disease. In turn, motor symptoms can exacerbate anxiety, especially if they occur in public, creating a vicious cycle that most PD patients are painfully aware of.

So to better manage my PD symptoms, this year I started following a daily routine of yoga and meditation as follows:

Seated Body Scan Meditation 10 min
Yoga Exercises 20 minutes
•Hip circles
•Forward folds
•Downward Dog 
•Warrior One (right side) 
•Warrior Two (right side) 
•Warrior One (left side) 
•Warrior Two (left side) 
•Mountain Pose (right side)
•Mountain Pose (left side)

Parkinson’s manifests itself differently for everyone, but my specific symptoms include: Motor Symptoms: tremor, stiffness, and rigidity with decreased range of motion, dyskinesia (involuntary movements), bradykinesia (slowness of movement), freezing gait, impaired
balance, and coordination.

Non-motor symptoms: Depression, anxiety, fatigue, cognitive changes, constipation, excessive sweating, insomnia, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, small illegible handwriting. Yoga, and other types of exercise, address my motor symptoms like balance and rigidity. Yoga also increases the level of flexibility of joints and reduces the level of tremors at rest and gait disturbance.

However, exercise programs alone are not always able to improve the emotional disturbances that accompany PD. To improve the overall health and quality of life of PD patients, it is necessary to have a balanced approach to address both the motor and non-motor symptoms of PD patients.

I speak and think more slowly than I did just a few years ago. Observing that type of decline in yourself affects you psychologically. Meditation stimulates parasympathetic nervous system activity through deep breathing and therefore has a positive effect on concentration and emotional control. Meditation exercises the brain and actually changes the structure of the brain creating new pathways. Meditation also helps to better manage negative emotions and improve cognitive function. Memory and concentration improve over time with meditation.

Meditation quiets the mind and relaxes the body to help you fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Meditation before sleep provides relaxation and helps people focus on the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future, thus improving sleep
disturbance for PD patients.

Parkinson’s introduces challenges to the body that the person with PD has to constantly adapt to. One reason meditation is so effective is because it encourages people to independently self-manage and adapt to the challenges created by the disease. It is this teachable ability that helps people experience life in the present moment, on purpose and without judgment, while being resilient to the ups and downs of life.

I am hoping to see more clinical trials for meditation with larger groups of people for longer periods of time to clearly establish the medical benefits of meditation. I am also hoping that the medical community will take a more holistic approach in the future to the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and prescribe meditation to Parkinson’s patients as a complementary therapy along with the standard drug therapies.

I would encourage anyone with a chronic illness to try meditation. If you are not sure how to get started. Let me recommend my favorite meditation app: Synctuition and my favorite meditation online classes, Live and Dare.

Cover photo image by Alejandro Piñero Amerio from Pixabay

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