Yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual practice that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It uses specific body postures, simple meditation and breathing techniques to aid relaxation and wellness. Here, physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy explains what it’s all about.
What is yoga?
The benefits of yoga are well recognised and it is practised worldwide. It can easily be adapted for people who have neurological conditions like Parkinson’s. The body postures or ‘poses’ (which often have names such as cow pose, downward dog and mountain pose) are used as exercises that focus on strength and flexibility while you breathe in a specific way.
How can it help with Parkinson’s symptoms?
Lots of research is being done into how yoga may help with the physical and non-physical symptoms of Parkinson’s.
So far we know that yoga can help lessen slowness and stiffness, improve balance and flexibility (especially in hips and ankles), and increase muscle strength and power. It can also relax blood pressure, help control weight gain, and increase breathing strength and lung capacity.
Many people also report having better mood and sleep, while going to group classes is a way of meeting others and being more socially active.
Types of yoga
Just as there are many styles of tai chi, there are also variations of yoga. You should be able to find a style that suits you no matter what your mobility. Some common ones are:
This ancient style uses a specific order of postures, with each movement linked to a breath. It is hot, sweaty and physically demanding.
This modern style is sometimes known as ‘hot yoga’ and is done in an artificially heated room. The idea is to sweat a lot to cleanse your body as you perform a series of 26 poses.
This is a common Western style of generic yoga that teaches basic postures and leaves you feeling stretched, looser and more relaxed.
This style pays a lot of attention to finding the proper alignment in a pose, sometimes using blocks, blankets or straps to help. It is physically and mentally challenging to keep a pose and hold it. The instructor has to go through rigorous training before teaching this style and will have a good understanding of the problems someone with an injury or long-term condition will have.
This is a relaxing form of yoga, using bolsters and blankets to prop you into an effortless pose.
Vinyasa roughly translates as ‘to place in a special way.’ This style uses movement, sequences and music, choreographed by the teacher. Each class is different so if you hate routine, but want to push your physical limits, this is for you.
Giving it a go
Yoga is hugely popular and it’s not difficult to find a class or try it out. We would recommend taking a class with a qualified teacher so they can give you advice on what might work best for your ability.
Check the following websites for local classes:
You can also try your Parkinson’s UK local group who may run a yoga exercise class.
If you would prefer to have a go at home at your own pace, there are lots of different instructional videos available on YouTube or ones you can get on DVD.