ó It took a while to get to downward-facing dog.
eight men and women at a recent class at Tarana Yoga Studio in
Minneapolis engaged in "joint warm-ups," circling
their wrists three times in each direction.
carefully moved into standing poses, keeping a chair at the edge
of their yoga mats to steady themselves as needed.
their bodies limber, they tilted their hips back with hands and
feet planted on the mat ó expertly performing the challenging
downward-facing dog pose.
minutes ticked. No one flinched.
a week, the experimental class is part of a study being
conducted by the University of Minnesota to find out if yoga is
an effective tool for managing Parkinsonís disease.
Cheung, a professor at the universityís School of Nursing,
said she hopes to build on her previous research examining yogaís
effects on osteoarthritis. The results of that study were so
promising ó increased mobility and less fear of falling ó
that she wanted to explore whether yoga could help with
one of the leading alternative therapies used by Americans,
according to a National Institutes of Health survey on
alternative medicine use.
work would add to a growing body of science on the popular
practiceís impact on Parkinsonís disease ó a degenerative
brain disorder involving the nerve cells responsible for
voluntary movement. The condition is diagnosed in about 60,000
Americans a year. Tremors, a shuffling walk, muscle stiffness,
depression and dementia are among the symptoms.
on yoga as a possible therapy for Parkinsonís stems from its
gentleness and its emphasis on breathing, strength and
University Medical Center study found a visible reduction in
tremoring and improvement in the steadiness of gait in people
who participated in yoga sessions, according to the American
Parkinson Disease Association. In her osteoarthritis and yoga
study, Cheung found that participants were better able to cope
with their symptoms by doing yoga rather than aerobic strength
study, she recruited participants through local support groups
for people with Parkinsonís. It was an easy pitch.
are very motivated," she said.
20 people involved in the study. Half of them were told to make
no change in the way they manage their symptoms. The others are
doing yoga. Cheung will measure their stress levels by giving
them a blood test and checking for the presence of certain
stress hormones. She also will examine their motor functions,
checking their range of motion, stride length, balance and gait.
experts who had experience teaching yoga to people with physical
limitations helped design the hourlong classes, which will go on
for six months. Cheung said she suspects that by the end of the
experiment, the results will show that yoga improves motor
function and reduces stress for people with Parkinsonís.
now, all she knows for sure is that the participants seem to be
fact that yoga includes both physical as well as the breathing
and relaxation piece, I think that has added benefits for people
with Parkinsonís," she said. "They are suffering
from not only the physical limitations. Yoga teaches them how to
cope with the disease and work with what they have and build on
classes start out with slow, basic exercises done sitting,
standing or lying down. Gradually, the participants build up to
more difficult exercises and poses. In addition to the usual
yoga props of a mat and block, there are chairs to help maintain
balance and small sandbags to help control hand tremors.
can use the prop to help them get to where the ideal pose is for
them," Cheung said, adding that sheís heard that some of
the people are now doing yoga at home, too.
the study wonít wrap up until December, the participants have
reached their own conclusions about yoga therapy.
Smith is encouraged. The 58-year-old St. Paul, Minn., woman is
new to yoga but not to Parkinsonís. She was diagnosed with the
disease six years ago.
she agreed to participate in the study because she wanted to see
whether yoga would help her symptoms.
good to calm my mind down," she said. "Also, I have a
lot of [muscle] cramps and spasms. My back is really
session last week, she reported that her muscles no longer feel
McGonigal, 72, balanced on one leg and bent the other to form a
Figure 4. He held the pose, standing perfectly still.
called the Ďtree pose,í?" he said. "When we first
started, I couldnít do that."
came to the study in search of alternative ways to manage his
Parkinsonís. The Bloomington man was diagnosed in 2010 and has
tremors in his forearms and upper arms.
Knudsen, 69, of Burnsville, Minn., said heís found that his
body is more flexible after an hour of yoga. Recently, he left
class and noticed that he didnít need to take his medications
for Parkinsonís for an hour because he felt so good.
are a lot of possibilities with this," he said.