People with Parkinson’s Can Increase Their Mobility with Mindful Yoga

Researchers say yoga can help people with Parkinson’s disease decrease their symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“I got hooked on yoga 12 years ago when I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I’m convinced that being faithful in regularly practicing yoga has prolonged the onset of some of the uglier symptoms for me.”

That’s how Jim Morgan describes his belief in the ability of yoga to stem some of the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.

Morgan, now 60, is an attorney in Miami, Florida, living a full life with the neurological disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder. People with the condition can have tremors, rigid limbs, problems with balance, and can experience anxiety and depression.

Morgan told Healthline he believes in keeping his body moving. He practices yoga three times a week and works out with a trainer twice a week.

He also recently started participating in a program through the University of Miami that incorporates meditation and mindfulness with yoga.

“I really think there’s something to this mindfulness,” Morgan said.

The research on yoga

And there just may be something to it.

That’s according to a studyTrusted Source recently published in JAMA Neurology.

Researchers in Hong Kong found that mindfulness yoga helped decrease anxiety and depression in people with Parkinson’s disease. It also helped increase their mobility.

“Our study concludes that mindfulness yoga alleviates psychological distress, improves spiritual well-being and quality of life, not to mention motor symptoms and mobility,” Jojo Kwok, PhD, the lead study author, told Healthline via email.

Dr. Kwok is a registered nurse, certified yoga instructor, and an assistant research professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Hong Kong.

She defined mindfulness as a “non-judgmental awareness of the present moment of one’s physical sensations and thoughts, positive or negative.”

Kwok said by adopting a mind-body approach, people with Parkinson’s disease are much better positioned to deal with their illness than through physical training alone.

“By learning to relate to their physical symptoms and emotions, they develop new coping skills that cultivate openness, acceptance, and resilience to these symptoms. They feel better,” she explained.

The researchers studied 138 adults with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease for eight weeks.

The participants were randomly assigned either to the mindfulness yoga program that focused on breathing and meditation or to a stretching and resistance training program.

Both groups had improved mobility, but the researchers found that the mindfulness yoga group participants were the only ones who experienced a significant decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression at eight weeks and at a 20-week follow up.

“What’s exciting is that yoga has now been proven to be a better strategy than just stretching,” Kwok said.

Putting the theory into practice

“This is a great study. We actually use yoga in a couple of capacities at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center,” Dr. Holly Shill, a movement disorder neurologist and director of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, told Healthline.

Dr. Shill said her center hosts yoga classes through their outreach program.

“One of our occupational therapists, Jordan Staenberg, even uses these mindfulness yoga practices with many of our patients in their therapy sessions,” she said.

“We see great success,” Shill added. “Not only do the movements encourage better flexibility and posture, but it also helps loosen tight muscles and seems to have a calming effect for many people.”

“As with any exercise for patients with Parkinson’s disease, the benefits are tremendous,” she said. “Not only for helping manage the symptoms of the disease, but also for improving overall quality of life.”

People with severe mobility issues

Kwok said one limitation in the study was that it didn’t include people with more severe mobility issues.

Morgan said there are people in his yoga class that have balance problems and more limited mobility. They take precautions to prevent those people from falling.

“We’re careful to make sure that the people who aren’t steady on their feet work with a chair for support. And there are always extra assistants in the room,” he said.

“We have a guy in our class who is 84 years old. He doesn’t move like some of us, but he moves. That’s incredibly necessary,” Morgan added.

“We’ve seen dramatic improvements in the people who come to our class. If they stick with it, it’s remarkable how much people can improve,” Morgan said. “And I think they come to also have a better attitude about living with Parkinson’s disease.”