Mind-Body Exercises: Yoga & Mindfulness with Parkinson's

Along with mainstream medical treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD), many people also embrace non-traditional healing methods and practices. This includes things like relaxation techniques and other mind-body methods. Many complementary approaches to health focus on relaxation and the mind-body connection.

It is important that people with PD tell their doctors about any complementary practices they may be using. This ensures that nothing negatively impacts their treatment. However, many of these approaches can be used along with traditional therapies.

What is the mind-body connection?

The mind-body connection recognizes that emotional, mental, and behavioral factors can directly affect our health. It also recognizes that mind-body techniques can improve quality of life and may help reduce symptoms of disease.1

The mind-body connection does not imply that the mind is the cause of diseases like PD. Researchers have found that mind-body techniques like mindfulness and meditation have many benefits, such as reducing stress and improving mood.1

Benefits of relaxation techniques

Relaxation methods are used to reduce stress and relieve muscle tension in the body. These methods can provide many benefits, including:2

  • Improving the immune system
  • Improving digestion
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Increasing endurance
  • Improving brain activity and cognition

Yoga

Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated in ancient India. There are several practices in yoga, usually combining:3

  • Physical poses
  • Breathing techniques
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation

Yoga may help people with PD to increase flexibility and balance.3

Breathing exercises

Some people with PD experience shortness of breath as a symptom of their disease. While shortness of breath can be caused by other conditions and should be evaluated by a doctor, breathing exercises may help reduce stress and anxiety and help deepen breathing.4

Breathing exercises help people to switch from shallow or rapid breathing to deeper, slower breathing. Breathing exercises are also referred to as relaxation techniques. During breathing exercises, the person is guided to maintain an upright posture. They are 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

Relaxation with guided imagery

During guided imagery, a person is given ideas and images to mentally focus on while they are relaxing and breathing deeply.5

One study evaluated the benefit of relaxation with guided imagery in people with PD. Researchers found that the tremor from PD is more pronounced during stress. During the study, some people were given guided imagery meditations. Others listened to relaxing music. A third group was encouraged to self-relax.5

The group of people who experienced the guided meditation all had a decrease in their tremor. The improvement continued for several hours. The group of people who listened to relaxing music had a slightly reduced tremor. The group who self-relaxed had no significant effect on their tremor. These findings suggest that guided imagery can supplement traditional medical treatment for tremor in people with PD.5

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: May 2021