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Caregiver Corner: Getting Started with Yoga: Part One

Yoga can benefit both persons with PD and their care partners, but often people don’t know how to get started. This is part one; tune in next month for part two!

The word “yoga” means the union of the body, mind and spirit. To create this union, yoga uses physical exercise (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation. Yoga has evolved over thousands of years and includes a wide range of styles and disciplines. Hatha yoga is perhaps the branch of yoga you are most familiar with since it is the most popular in the west and includes many styles (i.e., Iyengar, Kripalu, Integral). Yoga can energize, strengthen and create a healthy body, as well as help us focus, become calmer and relieve everyday stresses.

This series of posts, parts one and two, will offer some ideas on how you can incorporate yoga into your life.

I encourage you to embrace the subtleties of your yoga practice. Use your yoga practice as a way to connect to how you are feeling. Instead of focusing on how long can I stand on one-leg, for example, create awareness around how stable and confident I feel in this moment. Take the emphasis off accomplishing something and, rather, put it more on experiencing something.

The detailed instructions offered by a yoga instructor during class act as a form of cueing; he/she breaks up complex sequences or movements into component parts by focusing on specific body aspects. Cueing, or focused attention, may improve physical performance in persons with PD. Cultivating this focused awareness may also help care partners cope with day-to-day care challenges

In care partners, the challenges associated with daily care can activate the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight response”) – creating tense, shallow and erratic breath and increasing stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

A great place to start the practice of yoga is with breath. Shallow breathing is a frequent issue in PD aggravated by rigid torso muscles. Bradykinesia and musculoskeletal limitations of the vertebral spine can create pulmonary dysfunction. For care partners, breathing exercises are also a way to access the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest response”); long, easeful and smooth breathing patterns allows your mind will become focused. As a result, breathing techniques may reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, increase your resilience and ability to face adversity, and help people find a sense of calm and well-being.

  • Practice suggestion: practice deep diaphragmatic breathing (often called three-part breath or dirgha paranayama) to explore the maxima of both inhalations and exhalations.

    First, inhale through your nose and feel your abdominal expanding. Exhale fully. Second, inhale through your nose and feel the side-to-side expansion of your diaphragm (at the level of our lower ribs). Exhale fully. Third, inhale through your nose and feel a front-to-back expansion (and slight upwards lift) of the sternum. Exhale fully. Finally, inhale and link all three parts (belly, ribs, chest). Think about lengthening out the inhales and exhales (i.e., to a count of 6). More details here: http://yogadopa.com/?p=1765.

*Note: talk to your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program. This advice does not replace professional recommendations.
Discuss any health concerns with a certified yoga instructor before practicing. If possible, have him/her check your alignment in poses and get advice about any movements to avoid.  Ask questions.
You should never do anything that hurts; if you feel a type of warning pain, for example sharpness or pinching, ease off. Listen to your body.

Kaitlyn P. Roland completed her PhD research at the University of British Columbia (2012), which measured Parkinson's-related changes to daily muscle activity and consequences for physical function and frailty. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Victoria¹s Centre on Aging and her most recent work examines care needs and well-being in PD dementia caregivers. Kaitlyn offers yoga workshops to persons with PD called “Yogadopa” and blogs about Parkinson’s, aging and yoga-related information at http://yogadopa.com. Overall, she aims to support independent living, and reduce distress and healthcare utilization in persons with PD, dementia and their caregivers.

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Caregiver Corner
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