Yoga and Parkinson’s Disease
Until recently, few studies have been conducted measuring the benefits of yoga for Parkinson’s. Research ranging from a program at the University of Kansas to the six-year study conducted at the Parkinson’s Disease & Movement Disorder Society of India are showing positive effects.
Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative neurological condition involving dopamine production and transmission. Symptoms vary and can be physical or cognitive. No longer a disease of the elderly, onset is occurring in younger populations. According to the Cleveland Clinic, more than 10,000 new diagnoses annually in the U.S. alone are under the age of 50.
Regardless of age, the disease has been around longer than its name. Perhaps one of the most accurate definitions of the condition is attributed to DaVinci upon observing individuals as “those who move their trembling parts . . . such as heads or hands . . . without the permission of the soul.”
Exercise research on Parkinson’s has a longer history than yoga research. Though the studies don’t completely agree on the form of activity, they concur that it is beneficial to overall health, in combating depression, aiding in sleep and improving strength and balance.
Yoga’s focus on strength, balance and flexibility can readily be applied to Parkinson’s. Battling symptoms with Warrior poses is one option.
- Strength: A primary focus on strengthening pulls from asanas that build extenders, particularly in the torso. This helps counter the forward-leaning posture common in Parkinson’s patients. Variations on Virabhadrasana III can work well in this area.
- Flexibility: Targeted lengthening in the flexors, particularly the psoas, help with balance, posture and gait. Modifications to Virabhadrasana I address this area nicely.
- Balance: While each Parkinson’s patient manifests different combinations of symptoms, one of the universal ones revolves around balance. Maintaining a sense of body awareness helps and Virabhadrasana II can be a beneficial pose to include in a flow
A word about flow: Keep the yoga poses flowing. Holding a position for extended periods can have a counter-effect of triggering spasms rather than releasing tension. That said, passive holds where weight, gravity or props steady the pose, such as in restorative yoga, can be very beneficial. Guided imagery in Savasana can also contribute to fostering relaxation, which is essential given the tendency toward muscle contraction and rigidity.
Some recent studies identify strenuous activity as more beneficial, such as results from done on mice at the University of Southern California. More recently, a study done on humans at the University of Maryland targeted walking as the ideal exercise for people living with Parkinson’s. A small-sampling study that showed positive results of tandem cycling is being conducted on a larger sampling to see if the same outcome occurs again, making cycling an optimal form of exercise.
Whatever form the activity takes, exercise from running to yoga to Tai Chi to dance has been shown to help improve symptoms, increase the effectiveness of medication and even slow the progression of the disease.
For more information on Parkinson’s Disease, visit
American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA)
Parkinson Disease Foundation (PDF)
Michael J. Fox Foundation
Muhammad Ali Center
Davis Phinney Foundation