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Teaching Yoga For Parkinson's Disease

Paul M. Jerard Jr.
Jun 9, 2008
Parkinson's disease affects motor and speech skills and is characterized by muscle rigidity and tremors. This degenerative disease is also chronic, meaning life long and progressively crippling.

People with Parkinson's disease often appear stooped and move slowly as the disease progresses. Age is a factor, as is evidenced by a great deal of the older population showing symptoms. Their walk is often a shuffling gait with very short steps. The person has trouble lifting their feet. Arms don't move, or move little, when the person is walking. Range of movement is impaired and their hands shake. This palsy is the most telltale sign of Parkinson's.

Other symptoms that develop can be even more debilitating. Problems with speech, and swallowing, cause an inability to communicate. Fatigue and depression are present in nearly half of Parkinson's cases. Parkinson's disease affects distal muscles first (muscles farthest from the body, like hands and feet). As the disease progresses, proximal, or the muscles closer to the trunk of the body, become affected.

This disease often is attributed to having no cause. Some factors can play a role, such as head trauma, drug use, toxins, or genetic predisposition. While there are several pharmaceuticals on the market, some of them seem to become counter-productive, but there are new and encouraging development trials.

At present, there doesn't seem to be a break-through drug to stop the advancement of Parkinson's disease. However, physical activity and therapy can alleviate some symptoms. The more the body and mind are active, and work together, the more successful treatments are for patients. Yoga works to unify the mind, body, and spirit.

Yoga practice engages the mind and clarifies focus. In the process, the postures, breathing, and movement, stimulate the nervous system and improve health. Pharmaceuticals, in conjunction with Yoga practice, seem to be the best option for students with Parkinson's disease.

Yoga instructors, working with students that have Parkinson's disease, must respect the limitations and goals of these individuals. As with any number of physical and neurological ailments, the effective postures and routines will vary. As a general rule, asana practice might require modifications, props, extra support, or assisting for students with Parkinson's disease.

Balance is something that the unconscious mind controls for most people. A benefit of moving personal balance to the conscious mind is the result of more stability. In the mind of a person with Parkinson's, these unconscious functions have been damaged by the disease. Students with Parkinson's should focus primarily on bringing the functions of the body, to the forefront of the mind, during yoga practice.

The strength-building postures improve range of motion and balance, which is essential to effective yoga therapy. Despite the fact that movement is difficult, people with Parkinson's, are highly encouraged to participate in regular, gentle activities. Yoga is a perfect program because of its low impact nature and unifying, nurturing atmosphere. Students should be challenged in a comfortable way that allows for growth.

Yoga improves the overall sense of well-being, and worth, for the yoga student. Any chronic disease can wear you down emotionally. Many people, with Parkinson's disease, begin to feel helpless, as they lose independence. The highly positive and healing environment of the yoga classroom, adds to the physical benefits, but also encourages emotional balance.

Postures, recommended for people with Parkinson's disease, include the cow pose, cobra pose and camel pose. All poses can be modified to meet any student's needs. Also suggested are the boat, bow, and bridge poses.

The bow pose increases muscle strength in the back, upper legs, hips, and abdominal muscles - improving the center of balance. The camel pose also strengthens the back and increases flexibility of the spine - complementing the bow pose. Each of these poses strengthens the body, or stimulates the nervous system, in a way that will benefit a practitioner with Parkinson's.

Copyright 2008 - Paul Jerard / Aura Publications
About the Author
Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, is a co-owner and the director of Yoga teacher training at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA. He is an author of many books on the subject of Yoga and has been a certified Master Yoga teacher since 1995.

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