New research provides evidence that mindfulness yoga is an effective treatment option for patients with Parkinson disease. The study, published in JAMA Neurology, found that yoga practice improved motor dysfunction and mobility while also reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
“Being a registered nurse, researcher in chronic illness care, as well as a yoga instructor, I was drawn to approaching yoga as a therapeutic mind-body practice for better health and well-being, in particular, among those living with neurodegenerative diseases,” said study author Jojo Yan Yan Kwok, a research assistant professor at The University of Hong Kong.
“I believe that providing the science behind the practice would help yoga to penetrate the mainstream of healthcare practice. Considering that chronic illness is not only a physically limiting condition, but also a psychologically distressing life event, healthcare professionals should adopt a holistic approach in rehabilitation.”
In their study, which included 138 patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson disease, the researchers compared the effects of an 8-week mindfulness yoga program to stretching and resistance training exercise.
Participants who completed the yoga program had significantly better improvement in anxiety and depressive symptoms than those in the stretching and resistance training program. Those in the yoga program also reported greater improvement in psychospiritual outcomes, such as equanimity (or being able to accept the ups and downs in life as they come.)
When it came to improving motor dysfunction and mobility, both groups saw a similar level of improvements.
“Yoga is not only a physical training exercise, but also a dynamic mindfulness practice to cultivate one’s non-judgemental awareness of the present moment. By adopting a mind-body approach, patients are much better positioned to reframe their illness journey than through physical training alone,” Kwok told PsyPost.
“By learning to relate non-judgmentally to their physical symptoms and emotions, they develop new coping skills that cultivate openness, acceptance and resilience to these symptoms. The research findings suggest that when patients with Parkinson’s disease are in a grounded, relaxed state, they function better in general.”
The study used a randomized clinical design. But like all research, it includes some limitations. It is unclear, for instance, if the results extend to those with severe Parkinson disease.
“This is the first trial to indicate superior effects of mindfulness-based yoga compared to physical therapy alone on improving anxiety, depression, spiritual and quality-of-life outcomes. In order to demonstrate that yoga is a valuable complementary rehabilitation option in adjunction to allopathic medicine, more well-controlled experiments have to be conducted to show such effects across various settings,” Kwon said.
“The conventional healthcare system has very little in place that teaches our patients how to cope with negative emotions and stress as well as managing physical symptoms related to chronic illnesses. As a consequence, the chronic, unattended stress can lead to ineffective self-management, poor prognosis, increased care dependency and high healthcare burden among the patients and our society.”
“Evidence suggests that yoga improves one’s physical fitness as well as emotional stability and resilience while confronting health conditions. More research regarding its implementation has to be investigated to promote the adoption and integration of such evidence-based practice into routine healthcare settings,” Kwon added.
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