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Using Yoga Breathing and Relaxation Techniques to Help Manage the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Using Yoga Breathing and Relaxation Techniques to Help Manage the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Using Yoga Breathing and Relaxation Techniques to Help Manage the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Part I  Yoga, a practice developed in India thousands of years ago is often associated with images of long bearded men in white robes, wrapping oneself in seemingly inhuman postures, or being connected to a specific religious practice. Yet the word yoga taken from the Sanskrit word Yuj simply means union; union of mind, body, and spirit or soul, nothing more. There are hundreds of forms of yoga each with its own philosophy of teaching, however all aim to balance many components of health. A regular yoga practice can improve strength and posture, tone muscles, increase flexibility, lessen common aches and pains, improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. Yoga postures can be very physically demanding or extremely gentle – such as chair yoga classes where all movements are done slowly and gently while sitting in or holding onto a chair. Yoga postures can be adapted to fit any body at any ability. A gentle yoga practice can be a wonderful form of exercise for those with PD.   The breath/Pranayama. All forms of yoga teach participants to connect the breath with the movement. Many feel that this is the key that separates yoga from general exercise. Connecting the breath with the movement, requires the participant to stay in the present moment and be aware of sensations occurring in the body. For those with PD this can help lessen the risk of falls. As one begins to become more aware of how he/she is holding the body, they also become aware of when balance becomes compromised, and can learn to make adjustments to bring oneself back into balance.   Also, the deep diaphragmatic breathing taught in yoga can help those with PD to improve lung capacity and project their voice. There are many different types of yoga breathing exercises the most common being deep diaphragmatic breathing. This style of breathing is similar to the breathing taught to singers. It helps the participant learn to take in deep breaths and then use the diaphragm muscle to push out the air and the voice.Deep diaphragmatic breathing exercise.      This exercise can be done seated or lying down although it is easiest to learn when lying down. Many people breath very shallow using the chest muscles only, so yoga teaches us to breathe more deeply using the muscles of the diaphragm. This will help make our respiratory system stronger and more efficient. As this system becomes stronger you will find you do not get out of breath as quickly during everyday activities, and it also will help you when speaking.   To start find a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Inhale through the nose allowing the belly to rise first. Then exhale through the nose allowing the belly to relax completely. This is opposite the way many people breathe (pulling the stomach in with the inhale), but this type of breathing inhibits the action of the diaphragm and decreases the amount of air your body can take in. Sometimes it is easier to start with a forceful exhale and pull the abdominal muscles in as you push the air out. Then relax and let the abdominal muscles rise as you inhale. Then, anytime you find that you have changed back to ordinary breathing repeat the above and just once, forcefully exhale to get back on track. You will find that with regular practice this type of breathing will become more natural. You can also test yourself by placing a pillow on your stomach and try to make the pillow rise and fall with your breath. Ideally you should try to do 10-15 minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing each day. Then eventually incorporate this style of breathing during everyday activities; especially when you are speaking.Using Yoga Breathing and Relaxation Techniques to Help Manage the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Part II Part one of this article discussed the importance of deep diaphragmatic breathing for those with PD. In part two we will discuss meditation and relaxation techniques.The psychological body/Meditation. This refers to how thoughts and perceptions affect the health of the body and how we manage stress. During a yoga practice the object is to be aware of what is going on in the mind while holding the posture. Are the thoughts negative or self-defeating such as “I will never be able to do this,” are they competitive “The person next is doing this better” or are they positive “ I am doing the best I can given my unique body and situation and each day I will simply try my best.” Once we become aware of any type of negative or self-defeating talk we can take steps to change it. This teaches us to have patience and compassion for ourselves, and for others.  Yoga can also help us become more aware of when we feel stressed and then teach us how to manage it. Living with a condition such as PD can be stressful and stress can sometimes make symptoms worse. Therefore the practice of relaxation or meditation techniques can be very beneficial. These techniques teach us to relax during our yoga practice and also in everyday life. There are many forms of relaxation or meditation techniques including basic meditation, guided imagery, Autogenic Training, and mindfulness meditation. All forms of meditation are effective. It is helpful to try various approaches to find the one that works for you. Basic relaxation/meditation exercise.  The object of this exercise is to help you mange stress and calm the nervous system by taking time out of your day to relax and clear the mind of worries and thoughts. As the body and mind relaxes the nervous system receives signals to slow down and give the body a rest. This can help to keep stress levels in check, reduce symptoms, relax tight muscles, and calm the mind. The simplest method is to combine relaxation or meditation with the breathing technique (outlined in part one) as studies show that 10-15 minutes of meditation is beneficial to help manage health.  To start find a comfortable position either sitting up or lying down where you will not be disturbed for at least 15 minutes. If helpful you can play soft music in the background. Eyes can be closed or you can have a soft gaze on an object such as a candle or a specific spot on the floor. Do not let your gaze wander around the room, the gaze should be fixed the entire time if you choose to keep the eyes open. Then bring your attention to your breathing. Use deep diaphragmatic breathing throughout this exercise. For the next 10-15 minutes keep your attention on the breath. If your mind wanders to other thoughts (such as other activities you need to be doing), simply redirect your attention back to the breath. You may need to bring your attention back quite often at first, but with practice it will become easier to keep your attention on the breath. If keeping the attention focused is difficult, you can try silently counting the breath, saying one on the inhale and two on the exhale.   Remember the goal is to learn a technique that can be used throughout the day at times when you feel stressed. Given this, it is not beneficial to fall asleep during meditation. While the body may be relaxed when sleeping, you are not developing any skills to help you during your day. (It is not usually practical to just fall asleep during an argument, while stuck in traffic, or while at a medical appointment). The goal is to learn to shift the mind away from stressful thoughts and worries in order to calm the nervous system.  Lori Newell MA, CPT. Is the owner/operator of the Sacred Space Health Center in Harwichport, MA. She holds a Masters degree in Health Promotion ans is a certified personal trainer and yoga teacher with over 20 years of experience helping individuals reach their health and wellness goals. She specializes in offering programs to beginners as well as those with chronic illness and post-rehabilitation needs. She is the author of several books that outline fall prevention, body mechanics, exercise, yoga and meditation to those with Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis. She can be reached at:Lori NewellSacred Space Health Center Inc.PO Box 99Harwichport, MA 02646(508)367-6311email@sacredspacehealthcenter.comwww.sacredspacehealthcenter.com

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