Mind-Body Exercises: Yoga & Mindfulness with Parkinson's
In addition to mainstream medical treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD), many people embrace additional healing techniques and practices that are non-traditional, such as relaxation techniques and other mind-body techniques. It is important that people with PD tell their doctors about any complementary practices they may take part in to ensure that nothing interferes negatively with their treatment, however, many of these approaches can be used along with traditional therapies. Several of the complementary approaches to health focus on relaxation and the mind-body connection.
What is the mind-body connection?
The mind-body connection recognizes that emotional, mental, and behavioral factors can directly affect our health, and mind-body techniques can improve quality of life and may help reduce symptoms of disease. The mind-body connection does not imply that the mind is the cause of diseases like PD, but researchers have found that mind-body techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can have benefits, such as reducing stress and improving mood.1
Benefits of relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are a variety of methods used to reduce stress and relieve muscle tension in the body. Relaxation techniques can provide numerous benefits, including:
- Improving the immune system
- Improving digestion
- Reducing blood pressure
- Increasing endurance
- Improving brain activity and cognition2
Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated in ancient India. There are several practices in yoga, usually combining physical poses, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation. Yoga may help people with PD to increase flexibility and balance.3
Breathing exercises help people to switch from shallow or rapid breathing to a deeper, slower breathing. Breathing exercises are also referred to as relaxation techniques, although relaxation techniques also include other methods. During breathing exercises, the person is guided to maintain an upright posture and is encouraged to breathe in and out more slowly. Sometimes, counting is used to measure the length of the inhalation and exhalation. Small body movements may also be used, such as raising the chin with inhalation and lowering the chin with exhalation.2
Some people with PD experience shortness of breath as a symptom of their disease. Although shortness of breath can be caused by other conditions and should be evaluated by a doctor, breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety and may help deepen the respiration.4
Relaxation with guided imagery
With guided imagery, the individual is given ideas and images to focus on mentally while they are relaxing and breathing deeply. One study that evaluated the benefit of relaxation with guided imagery in people with PD noted that the tremor from PD is more pronounced during stress. In the trial, some participants were given guided imagery meditations, while others listened to relaxing music. A third group was encouraged to self-relax. The group of people who experienced the guided meditation all had a decrease in their tremor, and the improvement continued for several hours. The group of people who listened to relaxing music had a slightly reduced tremor, and the group who self-relaxed had no significant effect on their tremor. These findings suggest that guided imagery can supplement conventional medical treatment for tremor in patients with PD.5