With a 5,000-year history that began in India as part of the Ayurvedic healing science, yoga is practiced by millions of people around the world. Yoga is a unique activity because it offers fitness benefits as well as stress relief, flexibility and strengthening along with mental wellbeing. Numerous studies have found that it can help with a variety of medical conditions, from easing the pain of fibromyalgia to post-stoke recovery and improved mobility. A new book, Yoga and Parkinson’s Disease: A Journey to Health and Healing by Peggy van Hulsteyn with Barbara Gage and Connie Fisher and a foreword by Scott J. Sherman, MD, PhD, shows how it can make living with Parkinson's (PD) easier by strengthening muscles to lessen tremors, increase stability and improve coordination.
When Peggy, a PD advocate and 40-year yoga practitioner, was diagnosed with PD twelve years ago, she transformed her lifelong practice of yoga into a means of achieving physical relief and finding mental calm. Written with two certified yoga teachers, the book is an accessible, easy-to-follow and encouraging yoga guide for every person with PD. Along with new and inspiring ways to move and liberate both mind and body from the daily stresses of their disease, the book includes research-supported routines and breathing exercises proven to slow the progress of PD symptoms; step-by-step instructions and easy-to-follow photographs (many modeled by people with PD) that accompany each pose to show how yoga can easily be practiced in the comfort of your home; seated and assisted postures for those with limited mobility or unsteadiness and postures you can do in bed to help start your day, plus modifications and tips to ensure comfort and safety at every yoga level.
The following introduction to yoga and PD was adapted from the book:
If you have Parkinson’s disease and have not yet tried yoga, then the advice is this: Do not hesitate a moment before committing yourself. There is no doubt among experts that exercise is a critically important component to treatment, and no less important than medication and surgery. The practice of yoga can help improve balance, increase flexibility, and reduce stress. Yoga is a simple and relaxing activity that will quickly demonstrate tangible benefits and offers a way of looking at the world that can provide hope and comfort.
The most important thing to remember when being introduced to any new physical activity is to never put pressure on yourself; having PD is pressure enough. The time you spend practicing yoga is to be thought of as a time-out, and the word “should” is henceforth banished. It’s entirely up to you how many exercises you would like to enjoy. You can do 1. You can do 10. Start with the posture with the most appeal. Then check in with yourself. Do you feel like doing more or going back to bed? Start from where you are, no matter where that might be.
Tips for Beginning Your Yoga Practice
- Choose a space and time in order to develop a routine.
- Keep a list of why exercise is important and look at it frequently.
- Set achievable goals for your workout and keep a journal of your accomplishments.
- If you fall off track, start again the very next day.
- 5Reward yourself and be proud of your efforts!
As Peggy explains, “Parkinson’s goal is to turn you into the Tin Man! Your goal is to have your oilcan always ready. Yoga can be that oilcan. Parkinson’s is about rigidity, anxiety, and despair. Yoga enhances strength, stability, balance, limberness, and calm. Yoga teaches movement with greater ease. Yoga embraces the philosophy that this moment is all there is.”