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Best Yoga Poses for Parkinson's Patients

by Renee Le Verrier, Parkinson's Disease Expert
June 22, 2017

Question: What are the best yoga poses for those diagnosed with Parkinson's?

Answer: There’s a saying in the Parkinson’s community: ‘If you’ve seen one person with Parkinson’s, you’ve seen one person with Parkinson’s.” The combination of symptoms is as unique as the individual who has been diagnosed.

There are similarities, though. Common motor symptoms include difficulty turning or twisting from the waist and hips (trunk rotation), overall stiffness (rigidity) and a loss of expression (facial masking). A few non-motor symptoms that many experience include constipation, anxiety and fatigue.

Yoga practice that include twists can help keep the spine’s vertebrae moving side-to-side and ease rigidity overall. From gentle twists while seated on chair to standing twists such as what’s been called ‘helicopters’ or ‘empty coat sleeves,’ to more intensive twists on the mat such as knee-down twist (while supine) or sage twist (while seated). Twists have another advantage in that they can help trigger digestive processes, aiding in alleviating constipation.

Full-body stretches such as downward-facing dog help lengthen muscles in the back, shoulders and backs of the legs. The lengthening counters the shortening of muscles that happens in rigidity. It’s helpful to flow in and out of the pose, holding it (but not your breath!) only if it feels safe, not strained, and doesn’t trigger or worsen a tremor. Variations on downward-facing dog such as half-dog make it a good pose for anyone. A wall, countertop or chairback can aid as props when standing. While seated, extend your arms and use  the back of a second chair or a sofa or a wall or countertop for support.

An opener for the chest, which can realign a forward-curling posture, is the sphinx pose. If lying prone on the mat is not comfortable, try a seated variation with forearms resting on your thighs before the inhale and heart up and forward movement.

It’s good to include a lateral bend, too, such as a crescent moon, standing or seated. Together, these few poses move the vertebrae in the spine in every direction.

Renee Le Verrier is the co-director of the APDA's Arts & Movement Program and, in partnership with the APDA, she leads a Parkinson's Yoga Teacher Training Certificate Program. She is the author of the book, "Yoga for Movement Disorders" and its Companion DVD. She is also a certified yoga instructor and specializes in creating adaptations for people living with movement disorders.

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