Have You Tried Yoga to Help Manage Parkinson's Symptoms?
“If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” -Christiana Lewis Ulwelling, Yoga Instructor
If you have never tried yoga, why would you start now? After all, with Parkinson’s, the thought of twisting into various pretzel shapes or standing on one foot can be daunting. It can be downright scary for many of us.
The good news is that there are so many different types of yoga, many of them specifically for people with Parkinson’s (PWP), that you should be able to find something that works for you.
Benefits of yoga for Parkinson's
The benefits of yoga for PD are innumerable. Yoga can help with balance, flexibility, mobility, and more. Yoga starts with the breath. Breathing will lead you through the various poses, or asanas, as you move through your yoga practice.
You learn to control your breath as you move. For the last pose in any practice, mindfulness breathing is used for Shavasana, or Corpse Pose, relaxing you. I have found that if my tremor has acted up during the class, it will actually go away with the relaxation of the pose.
How to get started
If you have never tried yoga, I would suggest that you find an instructor who can give you a couple of private lessons using Zoom or Facetime. They will teach you how to do the yoga poses (asanas) correctly and can make recommendations for the type of yoga that will be best for you. Another thing you will learn is how to make modifications that work for you. If your balance is off, have a chair or use the wall to help you. Props are your friends in yoga. Use them.
Finding the right class for you
How can you find a yoga class that works for you? Now that most classes are virtual, an online search will give you many options to choose from. Iyengar yoga focuses on longer holds and correct postures for the poses. It is a great way to learn how to do different poses correctly.
It uses a lot of props, including chairs, blocks, and straps to help you get into the proper position. However, if you are tremor dominant like I am, this may not work for you. The long holds aggravated my tremor during class, making it even harder for me. But I know other PWP who swear by this type of yoga.
I personally like vinyasa flow classes for several reasons. The flow from one asana to the next helps with flexibility, mobility, and balance. The constant movement from one posture to the next can also get your heart rate up, giving you some cardio benefits. But keep in mind that this is not a substitute for recommended high-intensity workouts like cycling.
Many senior centers and physical therapists offer chair yoga. For those who have trouble standing, this is ideal. Many of these classes will also help you learn how to get in and out of a chair more easily.
Yoga nidra has been getting a lot of attention recently. Yoga nidra is a total relaxation practice. Many people use it at night to help them fall asleep. There are no asanas like in other types of yoga. It is really a meditation practice and it is wonderful. There are many to choose from on the internet. Try a few different ones and see which ones you like.
Are classes affordable?
Many of the online yoga classes for PWP are $10 or less for a class. Check with your insurance to see if this is covered by your plan. There are also a lot of YouTube videos that you can watch for free. However, if you have not done yoga before, don’t start with those.
Once we can get back in the gyms, try taking group classes. Most yoga instructors will give you modifications if they know that you cannot do certain poses the way they are taught. Tell them that you have Parkinson's and they will help you. More importantly, you may find that you can do more than you thought you could. A group class, whether for PWP or regular yoga, will welcome you into a community that cares about you.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to PD?