As some of my students, friends, and family will be aware, i am planning on taking my yoga practice and teaching in the direction of being a yoga therapist. For those that are not aware, yoga therapy is the use of yoga as an holistic practice to help live with, manage and in some cases improve many illnesses and long term diseases and conditions. As a practicing register nurse working in an accident and emergency as well as having a background working in cardiology, i have long felt that the old saying of "meditation and not medication" is far to true. There has been numerous research papers that have been published in the last 10 years or so demonstrating that through a regular yoga practice, including the physical postures, the breath work of pranayama and the use of meditation/mindfullness, stress can be reduced, blood pressure lowered, heart rate lowered, peak flow increased and problem solving time decreases. Yoga uses none competitive physical movement to help increased range of motion through joints and attempt to re-lengthen our muscles, when done with a very mindful breath and intention/attention.
So then, coming onto yoga and parkinson's. I was asked by one of my work colleagues who recently has been diagnosed and was eager to practice yoga to try and keep her mobility and find some techniques for relaxation. Some side effects of parkinson's medications are that they affect sleep, possibly from the dopamine having a stimulant effect. One of the advantages of yoga is that we work on total relaxation, we work on learning to move our attention away from the physical senses and switching from the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system to the parasympathetic and allowing the body to fully let go. Whilst some of accounts are more personal that scientifically researched, there are an awful lot of accounts of PD sufferers who state that the time they get to spend on themselves, learning to use their breath to enhance the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system and feel how their body is feeling and moving and working has a very positive effect on their lives. The use of asana's (physical postures) to focus the attention on how we move our legs/feet and how we move our arms/hands also allows the PD sufferer to be aware of the slowing down and shortening of their gait, the typical shuffling motion seen in PD patients. The use of standing postures focuses our attention towards the extensors and flexors in our hips/knees and ankles which may well help towards the overall stability of the practitioner. This stability also goes hand in hand with the balance that begins to decrease with patients as their PD progresses. In america up to 40% of admissions to hospital for patients with PD come from a loss of balance and as we all know a large part of yoga is learning the proprioceptive ability of the body, learning to understand where your body is in space. Balance exercises are used in traditional PD therapy and so the use of the breath and additional attention to how the body/feet/hands feels on the floor means that there can be a large benefit in reducing falls in PD patients.
So yeah, this has just been a very brief look at how yoga can be of benefit to people who are diagnosed with parkinson's disease. I am looking forward to really taking these classes on to as many people as i possibly can and bring my knowledge of western medicine/nursing into the setting of yoga and eastern practices. Next year i hope to take my training in Yoga Therapy and will begin to widen my reach in take on private patients as well as class, not only for PD, but also for conditions such as stress/anxiety/depression, heart failure, other cardiological issues and also respiratory illnesses. If you have any questions of would ever wish to talk to me about anything to do with yoga therapy, please feel free to get in touch with me through my website.
light and love
wibbs @ mandukya yoga