Meditation Practice Helps Me to Self-manage Parkinson’s Disease
My battle with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is getting more difficult. I have more pain, more motor and nonmotor problems, and more difficulty processing emotions. The stages of Parkinson’s are defined by the Parkinson’s Foundation, yet everyone is different in how they progress and at what rate. I feel I’m working through the progression well, managing everything (most of the time) partly because of my meditation practice.
Many folks view the term meditation with an image of a guru sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop or in a cave. Instead, I think of meditation as brain training. With Parkinson’s, I get the added benefit of improved physical functioning.
Parkinson’s is a brain disease that causes motor and nonmotor movement disorders. Treatment outcomes with complementary therapies (CT) were reported in the 2019 article “Use and perceived effectiveness of complementary therapies in Parkinson’s disease,” in the journal Parkinsonism & Related Disorders. The study of patients found that “Massage was the most frequently used therapy followed by yoga, Tai Chi, meditation and acupuncture. A high proportion of patients found the CT to be effective, for instance meditation was viewed as helpful by 85% of patients.”
It’s not just meditation alone that is making my life bearable. Mrs. Dr. C provides staunch support. Gardening (when it’s not 108 degrees F in the shade) keeps me in shape. I’m using TBM (for threshold management, brain rewiring, and mindful movement) as often as I can remember to do it. But I’ve discovered that when I stop meditation practice, it has dramatic negative effects. All my symptoms worsen when I don’t make the time to meditate.
Getting back to daily meditation practice was difficult. I’d become mentally lazy, just letting my mind wander. But to live better with Parkinson’s, I need sustained, self-directed attention skills and the ability to apply these skills to self-management. I’ve been using my brain this way with the disease since its onset, but had not made it a daily practice.
My advantage in applying meditation to self-management of my Parkinson’s stems from long-term meditation practice. I used meditation for years before Parkinson’s became such a force in my life.
There were positive results, as the 2015 article “Mindfulness Training among Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease: Neurobehavioral Effects” reported in the journal Parkinson’s Disease:
“Mindfulness training, as taught by qualified and experienced teachers, may offer a more participatory medicine, empowering the individual by engagement to learn how to strengthen internal resources to help cope with chronic disease. Mindfulness training may help to restore some degree of self-determination in the experience of living with PD. This is in line with person-centered research that employs scientific methods that are holistic, integrated, and transdisciplinary.”
Harvard researchers have explored the changes in the brain that occur with mindfulness and meditation practices. According to the 2018 article “When science meets mindfulness” in The Harvard Gazette, “Among the challenges researchers face is defining mindfulness itself. The word has come to describe a meditation-based practice whose aim is to increase one’s sense of being in the present, but it has also been used to describe a nonmeditative state in which subjects set aside their mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now.”
It’s been my experience with meditation that after reaching a level of proficiency with the practice, I’ve learned how to dial down the body and muscle noise often triggered by the three broken shifts of mental states. I need to keep my meditation skills sharp to be successful with the workaround. These changes have led to a better life with Parkinson’s.
Each person needs to discover their own best way to quiet the body and the mind. Given that caveat, here are the three types of meditation practices I use: progressive muscle relaxation, sensory focusing with nasal breath work, and insight meditation (also known as vipassana technique). The Mayo Clinic gives a good synopsis of the first two techniques. Vipassana is based on Buddhist philosophies, although equally attainable by PD patients.
If I start in a quiet space with a sacred intent, then these practices blend as I strive to switch my mental state from feeling miserable and functioning poorly to improving my life with PD. It’s not a cure. It’s not a state of euphoric bliss. It’s just learning how to live in a state of ordinary calmness while also having a chronic disease like Parkinson’s.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.