Yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality and depression, reduce stress, help control blood sugar in people with diabetes, enhance respiratory function, help alleviate arthritic pain, increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis, and improve balance. Research suggests that yoga may play a role in prevention of cognitive decline as well as improve symptoms and quality of life for patients and care partners. Yoga exercises affect different parts of the brain based on the components of practice (movement, breathing, postures, visualization, chanting, concentration) “and can help the brain form new connections or stimulate neuroplasticity,” according to Helen Lavretsky M.D., M.S., director of the late-life mood, stress, and wellness research program at the Semel institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.
Lavretsky noted that “chronic stress and related hormones contribute to the degeneration of brain structures important for memory and cognition such as the hippocampus. Moreover, chronic stress causes inflammation in the body including the central nervous system/brain that is linked to dementia and other disorders of aging. Yoga calms the nervous system and reduces stress hormones, teaching an individual over time how to cope effectively and protect the body from going through the stress response. The benefits of yoga and meditation for Alzheimers and dementia are numerous.” www.yogajournal.com
Yoga combines physical postures and breathing exercises that strengthen the body-mind connection, contributing to a sense of self-awareness . Breathing practices (pranayama) and meditation help to develop this awareness. The psychological benefits associated with yoga are important for disease management as it can offer improved confidence, self efficacy, has a calming effect, lessens perceived stress, enhances relaxation and has sleep benefits.
Also, yoga participation increases flexibility, mobility and walking; assisting with the rigidity and falls associated with elements of Parkinsonism found in people with LBD. Balance is also an issue with LBD and research shows yoga related improvements in balance and an associated reduction in fear of falling. Lower body strength increases with yoga practice and is a associated with improved postural stability. Also, with yoga there are improvements in flexibility and range of motion which are important to address especially since rigidity is a common clinical manifestation of those with Parkinson’s disease.
Gentle, Geriatric Yoga Restorative Yoga
Gentle or Geriatric yoga is especially helpful to seniors and for those who have Parkinson’s disease. Gentle movement and stretching through beginner’s yoga poses can reduce swelling in joints, increasing joint mobility, improving balance and core strength which helps reduce falls. Measures are taken to protect joints and bones. Chairs are often used so that seniors do not have to sit on the floor, and specific exercises are included that increase flexibility in a slow manner. Geriatric or Gentle yoga improves cardiovascular health, aides in digestion and elimination, improves sleep and lowers blood pressure as well as cholesterol. It has also been shown to aid in depression, to speed the recovery from surgery, and also aid in the grieving process.
Restorative yoga has also proven to be beneficial for those with PD as it is very relaxing, raises dopamine levels and contains exercises that target the trunk and torso which help prevent rigidity and stimulate mobility and balance. One of the most difficult symptoms of Parkinson’s is stiffness in the core of the body as it hampers a person’s ability to stand upright and walk. Twists and poses included in restorative yoga strengthen the trunk and improve mobility.
Yoga helps build awareness, getting one to concentrate on the details of the poses. All yoga practices will bring practitioners into the present, making them more aware of their bodies. This is particularly helpful for those with Parkinsonian aspects. As dopamine levels decrease with the disease, it is common to become less aware of the control being lost in the body. The mind/body connection that yoga offers, encourages people to self correct and make up for new impairments.
Yoga with a Partner?
Perhaps an older person may want to practice yoga with a care partner— which may help solidify the bond between the two. The care partner might be able to do the poses with more agility.
Yoga for Seniors – You Tube
Beginner Classes at: www.doyogawithme.com – Do Yoga with Me offers hundreds of full length videos which can be viewed entirely for free!