Parkinson’s disease: Yoga may help ease psychiatric disorders in patients

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease characterized by motor symptoms like rigidity, slowed movements, tremors, and instability of posture. However, Parkinson’s patients may also suffer from cognitive problems and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression.

A study suggests that people with Parkinson’s may have reduced anxiety and depression when they do yoga focused on mindfulness and breathing exercises. For the study, researchers included 138 adults with Parkinson’s and assigned them to participate in either mindfulness yoga program or a workout program centered upon stretching and resistance training to improve mobility and stability, for eight weeks. All of the participants could stand and walk without walkers or canes.

The study revealed that while yoga was just as effective as resistance-training and stretching for improving motor dysfunction and mobility, the people who did yoga experienced greater decrease in depression, anxiety, and perceived adversity concerned with their illness. Patients who took part in yoga program also reported better health-related quality of life.

The lead author of the study, Jojo Kwok of the University of Hong Kong said, “Before the study, we knew that mind-body exercises such as yoga and stretching improve the physical health of patients with Parkinson’s disease; however, the benefit to their mental health was not known.” Kwok further added, “This study concludes that mindfulness yoga alleviates psychological distress, improves spiritual well-being and quality of life, not to mention motor symptoms and mobility. What is exciting is that yoga has now been proven to be a better strategy than just stretching.”

During the study, while people in the stretching and resistance training program had one weekly 60-minute group session and were encouraged to do exercises at home for 20 minutes twice a week, people in the yoga program had one weekly 90-minute session of hatha yoga, centered upon breathing and meditation along with specific poses. They too were told to practice at home for 20 minutes twice a week.

Mindfulness-based training programs are designed to help an individual focus on the present and accept any uneasiness or pain he or she might be feeling. It might involve techniques of meditation to develop consciousness of the present while doing daily activities such as eating or walking; or breathing exercises and yoga practices to help encourage body consciousness and focus on the present.

In the study’s yoga program, four participants reported temporary mild knee pain, as did two others in the stretching and resistance training program. None reported having more serious side effects.

One limitation of the study is that many participants dropped out. And, it’s also possible results might be different for Parkinson’s patients with more mobility limitations, who were excluded from the trial.

Catherine Justice, an integrative physical therapist at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, Minnesota said, “Still, the results add to the evidence that hatha and other forms of yoga may be beneficial for Parkinson’s patients.”

Justice further advised that with the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, however, it is important that individuals with this condition discuss it with their yoga instructor before starting yoga practice to lessen injury-risk. As risk of tumbling over could be high in transitioning to and from the floor or standing and balancing poses for Parkinson’s patients, she recommends that those with Parkinson’s practice yoga next to wall with a chair placed within reach with at least two feet of the chair on the yoga mat.

According to Dr Martha Nance, medical director of the Park Nicollet-Struthers Parkinson’s Center in Minneapolis, “Parkinson’s patients may still benefit from both the physical and mental activity of yoga practice.” If the patients do not have the availability of yoga where they live, “it is still useful to exercise 150 minutes weekly; and other forms of mindfulness/meditation are likely to help with emotional (health) too,” Nance, who wasn’t involved in the study, stated.

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