Research on the benefits of mindfulness for neurologic diseases such as PD has exploded. Here are just a few such examples:
Long-term mindfulness practitioners increase the working capacity of the brain and connections within the brain, and increase brain matter than non-practitioners. This suggests mindfulness may keep brains young and healthy. An eight-week mindfulness training program makes measurable changes in the brain structures associated with learning and memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. Only four days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory and cognition.
Dr. Norman Doidge, MD, a leading expert in neuroscience and medicine,has made some fascinating discoveries on the power of the mind. Here are a few samples from his current book, “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” on the frontiers of brain neuroplasticity: His friend with PD was able to normalize his walking pattern. He did this by slowing down his walking, by using extreme “meditative” concentration to break apart each step, and by practicing for a full year. He found that by bringing the movement into conscious attention, he was able to take advantage of different brain areas that were not affected by PD.
This same friend eliminated his tremors by being more aware of his movement. For example, he held his glass of water more firmly, fixed his handwriting by switching from cursive writing to printing capitals, and discovered that by holding his fork at 45 degrees toward himself that his tremor disappeared. Other brain stimulation activities he used included: crosswords, Sudoku, bridge, chess, poker, dominoes, recording CDs of himself singing and learning French.
A longtime practitioner of mindfulness for 10 years, Rob Piper, a Fort Collins resident, was diagnosed with PD in 2014. He describes mindfulness in his life to be “living in the present moment and not dwelling in the past or future.” Mindfulness has helped him acknowledge his thoughts and emotions by being more present and responding to them rather than reacting to them. Sometimes he feels anxious regarding the future of his PD, but he is able to use mindfulness training to calm his anxieties and have more control of his mind and body. He describes how breathing is a “natural tranquilizer” that makes him feel more focused during the day, improves his sleep at night, and makes him more consciously aware of his physical movements.
He describes being more conscious of all of his senses during exercise. He sees more clearly, he feels the hiking poles in his hands and the rocks underneath his shoes; he smells the fresh air and hears nature around him. Rob considers mindfulness to be an integral and positive experience for both his physical and nonphysical symptoms of Parkinson’s and recommends it to those who are interested in practicing it.