Chair Yoga

Yoga – The Parkinson’s Way

Chair Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease and other Movement Disorders.

Article by Rhona Parsons, SOYA500 Hour Yoga Teacher in Vernon, BC

WHAT IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE?     PD is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s disease.

PD is caused by a loss of dopamine (a chemical in the brain that controls the way messages travel from one nerve cell to another) in the area of the brain called the “substantia nigra”.  The cells that produce dopamine begin to die, reducing the amount of dopamine.  The symptoms of Parkinson’s appear when over half of the dopamine cells are lost.  The progression of the disease and accompanying symptoms vary with each person.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SYMPTOMS OF PARKINSON’S?

  • Resting Tremor – repetitive shaking movements that often occur in the arms or legs at rest

  • Rigidity – increased stiffness in muscles and joints

  • Bradykinesia – “slowness of movement”

  • Balance and Postural Impairment    (Parkinson’s Society British Columbia)

Most of the evidence showing that yoga is beneficial in slowing down the disease’s progression is, for now, anecdotal and comes from yoga instructors, people with Parkinson’s disease, and physical therapists.  I have been working with people who have Parkinson’s Disease (PD) for the past 10 years and have seen firsthand how Yoga and stretching has helped them with their balance, flexibility and mobility.  It connects them with their breath (which keeps them present and reminds them to slow down), it induces relaxation which helps control tremors, activates affected muscle groups, teaches them where their body is in space and how it should move, and takes them to a place of calmness.  I’m told that they feel more limber and taller after the class, and more relaxed.

Most people, when they are first diagnosed, notice that one side of their body is more affected than the other; this can eventually cause an imbalance in their posture and gait.  Stiffness in the body’s core is one of the most debilitating symptoms of PD because it hampers a person’s ability to walk across a room or simply stand upright.  When we walk, our body is meant to naturally twist at the waist, bringing one arm forward with the opposite foot, keeping the rotation in our trunk and helping us move with ease and grace; this is our natural gait pattern.

Although the specific effects of PD can differ significantly from person to person, people with PD may be particularly prone to problems in their feet because of the difficulties they can experience with gait, posture, cramping in the feet, and balance which increases their chances of falling.  Abnormal foot function can cause a person’s stride length to shorten, increasing the amount of time both feet remain in contact with the ground.  Rigidity in the ankles can also cause normal gait loss and a shuffling action can predominate.  A flat-footed gait can produce foot, leg, and knee pain and reduce ability to absorb the shock of ground contact.  All this can lead to falling, which in turn instills fear of falling again and the person begins looking down which unfortunately begins to create a flexed spine.

Chair Yoga with twistRestorative twists poses can help prevent rigidity for people with PD by strengthening the trunk and increasing flexibility through the waist, and bringing focus on posture.  This helps to reduce stiffness in the body, help maintain a normal gait and a sense of balance, and improve mobility. By working the muscles of the trunk, we can help our clients come back to a normal gait, which in turn, will affect their overall posture.  (See Seated Chair Twist in this enews).

Rhona Parsons CPT, RYT500, SOYA, IYTA  is Registered Yoga Teacher, Master Trainer of Bender Ball, CanFitPro – FIS, PTS and Stott Pilates Instructor.  She leads workshops for Yoga Teachers on Yoga for Parkinsons Disease.  If find out more about her upcoming workshops, or to invite her to lead one, please contact her at pilates4life@hotmail.com.  If you would like to read her full Specialty Project on “Chair Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease and Other Movement Disorders”, please email us at info@soyayoga.com.

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