Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease that creates impaired movement or trembling of the muscles for approximately 6 million people in the US. Traditional medical treatment is not very hopeful as the prescribed pharmaceuticals can loose their effectiveness in controlling PD’s symptoms and can also cause severe side effects. But at a small studio in the Philadelphia area, yoga instructor Theresa Conroy has been bringing hope to Parkinson’s Disease patients for the last five years.
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A yoga therapist and studio owner, Conroy initially began working with the disease when a friend’s husband received the diagnosis. She had a feeling yoga would help ease his symptoms, and it did. In fact, the practice was so effective that it got his doctor’s attention. The neurologist began referring other patients to her, and the Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease class series was born. The class has been so effective, that it is now sponsored in part by The Parkinson Council.
While there hasn’t been research into this particular application of yoga, the National Parkinson Foundation does endorse exercise as a neuroprotective activity that may slow the progress of the disease. Antidotal evidence gathered from Conroy and her clients over the years shows that in some people who maintain a regular yoga practice, the progress of the disease appears to have stopped completely.
Conroy has seen almost instant transformations happen just from teaching someone Mountain Pose. She has witnessed this seemingly simple pose change not only a person’s posture and gait, but also their level of comfort and confidence. To maintain these changes consistent practice is key; Conroy stresses that her most successful students not only come to her class once a week, but also practice at home for at least 45 minutes a day.
When you combine movement with attention to the breath and relaxation techniques, you are not only retraining the muscles, but also strengthening the mind-body connection. This sets yoga apart from most other exercise, and may contribute to the high rates of success that Conroy has seen with her PD clients. She states that compared to other forms of exercise, “yoga adds something else: A sense of hope and well being and an ability to be in and live with one’s own body that just riding a bike or Tango dancing can’t do.” For those dealing with psychological effects of the disease, which can include depression and anxiety, this is no small benefit.
While there aren’t currently many instructors offering this specific application of yoga, there are a few others out there. Hopefully, as news of positive results spreads, researchers, physicians, and yoga therapists will take note and more classes tailored to PD will spring up.