PFNCA Yoga for Parkinson’s instructor, Kim Brooks, answers some of the most asked questions about yoga and Parkinson’s.
Question: Yoga seems hard with its “pretzel” poses; is it really possible for someone with Parkinson’s at my age?
Answer: Yoga is a union of breath and awareness of the moment – for example, how does one feel physically? Internally? A Parkinson’s client may have problems with floor work or standing poses but there is always something the client can do. There are different types of yoga and the right fit depends on a client’s interests, goals and can be tailored to different abilities. Interestingly enough, those who continue with yoga usually feel stronger, more flexible, and can engage in more yogic poses.
Question: Does yoga help with strength and balance?
Answer: Yoga increases strength, flexibility, and fights fragility. For example, when we sit up straight the back muscles engage correctly. That strengthens postural muscles that help balance and breathing. When we hold in a yogic pose and breathe, muscles have an excellent opportunity to gather muscle thread to become stronger. Thigh muscles — which we need for walking, getting off a chair, getting out of a car, etc. — become stronger as they are strengthened through yoga leg poses. Yoga helps keep you independent and studies show that leg muscles affect brain health. We all want to reduce or avoid the problems that come from not moving very much: atrophy can set in, circulation is compromised, the heart gets weaker, and the neurons in the brain become weaker.
Balance is a very important issue for everyone as we age. It is a critical focus for Parkinson’s, given that falling becomes more of a risk with this condition. Seated poses for back and leg strength help Parkinson’s clients improve their muscle strength and flexibility so that they move easier and feel more confident. The stronger the muscles which support the skeletal frame, the better they protect bones if one does fall; this can prevent serious injury and broken bones.
Let me share another point about yoga’s benefits: Yoga is life. It is living in the moment and noticing what you feel. You ask yourself questions like: “Is my breathing shallow? Are my shoulders tight? Are you clenching your jaws?” When we all (Parkinson’s client or not) start living in our body we begin to notice the stresses our body is communicating to us. These are important messages. As we begin to understand our body we learn how to relax and engage in new behaviors that improve physical and cognitive issues.
Question: What can yoga do for this common Parkinson’s challenge: moving from a chair to standing?
Answer: Indeed, this can be challenging. It is critical to improve lung capacity (through breath) and muscle strength (through stretching and muscle poses). It may be a slow start but as the client continues to try, improvements will come. This is easier done in a group with one’s peers, where you benefit from everyone helping one another and cheering for one another. This kind of support truly helps! If you are looking for a yoga group to do with others click here.
Question: What are some of the encouragements you offer to Parkinson’s clients — newcomers and/or those who once practiced yoga but have since given it up?
Answer: In the case where a client has taken a yoga class and was not happy, I always let the client know it is wonderful to experience something new — that it is good for the brain! Trying new things in general, and new postures in particular — is an adventure. It may be difficult or uncomfortable but as the clients proceed it may become more interesting for them.
I always encourage Parkinson’s clients to try many different poses and stretches but to always make sure nothing hurts, that they feel safe and secure and that they never risk injury. And you can always talk to the teacher and ask for an alternative to a pose if it doesn’t work for you.
Question: What do your students like best about yoga?
Answer: Once they become open to guidance with breathing, Parkinson’s clients love the relaxation response that different yogic breathes offer. There are so many to try and it is great to experiment with them. Trying out the different yogic breaths allows an individual to find the one they will incorporate into their everyday life. I also see that chair and standing poses become quite fun over time; the clients can see improvements in their endurance, flexibility and strength. Clients say that it’s a wonderful feeling to move more easily and to see themselves improve. The good feelings multiply, because class participants encourage one another and celebrate seeing one another improve.
We hope to see you in one of our Yoga for Parkinson’s wellness classes soon. Namaste!
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