Yoga Hope for Parkinson’s Patients

The sad news of beloved comic Robin William’s death a little more than a year ago was followed by reports he was fighting Parkinson’s disease.  His widow, Susan Schneider, revealed the star struggled with depression and anxiety during the early stages of the disease. In memory of Robin Williams, here are ways yoga practice can help people with Parkinson’s disease manage symptoms and improve well-being.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that is caused by nerve cell degeneration in a region of the brain that controls voluntary movement. The symptoms include tremors, a shuffling walk, muscle stiffness, stooped posture, and a mask-like, expressionless face. Other non-motor symptoms include depression, dementia and cognitive impairment.

Yoga Hope for Parkinson’s

A 2014 systematic review, published in the Journal of Parkinsonism and Restless Leg Syndrome, reveals yoga can help patients suffering from Parkinson’s symptoms.

Canadian researchers analyzed seven yoga studies examining the effectiveness of a yoga program on patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers found yoga improved mobility, balance and lower-extremity function, and reduced fear of falling and loss of strength and flexibility. Furthermore, yoga was shown to improve well-being, mood, depression and sleep.

“This review suggests that yoga provided an alternative method for addressing some of the reversible factors that impact motor function in PD, as well as contributing to an improved psychosocial well-being,” the study authors conclude.

Yoga Improves Motor Symptoms

A first randomized study, published in Yoga & Physical Therapy, suggests yoga can improve balance, strength, flexibility, posture, and gait in people with Parkinson’s.

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center administered yoga practice or no intervention (control group) to 13 patients with Parkinson’s disease. Physical function assessment tests were obtained from the participants.

The yoga group participated in one hour of Iyengar-style yoga twice a week for 12 weeks. The yoga program was adapted for patients with Parkinson’s including yoga postures, breathing and meditation.

The researchers found the yoga group had significant improvement in motor function and balance scores. Furthermore, there was significant improvement in strength, range of motion, flexibility, foot unloading and foot lift off.

“Findings suggest that yoga practice improves motor function which may be partially explained by improvements in balance, strength, posture and gait,” the study authors write. “Due to the progressive nature of PD yoga programs may offer a way to maintain wellness and perhaps quality of life.”

Parkinson’s Disease information and programs can be found at the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA).

Elaine GavalasElaine Gavalas is co-founder of and an exercise physiologist, yoga therapist, nutritionist, weight management specialist, and healthy recipe developer. She’s the author of numerous articles and books including Yogi in the Kitchen, The Yoga Minibook for Weight Loss, The Yoga Minibook for Longevity, The Yoga Minibook for Energy and Strength, The Yoga Minibook for Stress Relief and Secrets of Fat-Free Greek Cooking.

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