Some forms of yoga and exercise can be beneficial in relieving symptoms of dystonia. Some forms.
Dystonia, briefly, is chronic, involuntary muscle contraction. It is not simply a spasm here or there from weekend warrior activity. With dystonia, brain signals go awry, sending overdrive messages or blocking the expand, release, rest transmissions.
Dystonia can occur in isolated areas — the neck, for example – or throughout the whole body. The cause of the condition titled Dystonia – capital D – is not fully understood. Individuals can also have secondary dystonia – no capital – with symptoms that derive from a primary source, such as a stroke.
Dystonia and dystonia can feel different in the body. For example, my left foot can be hypersensitive to touch due to my stroke. Standing on certain surfaces cause my toes to involuntarily curl to grip the surface. The action feels as though the countering muscles – those that extend my toes – can’t resist the force triggered by that the touch. My right toes are also dystonic at times from the PD. They don’t grip, they cramp up and curl under from the force of the flexion. This action is closer to the muscle contraction of Dystonia.
Targeted, mindful yoga and exercise can be beneficial in both situations.
Yoga for Dystonia
Yoga’s focus on strength, balance and flexibility can be applied to dystonia.
- Strength: With so many muscles misfiring, the body can shift off center. The focus of strengthening asanas is on both upright and lateral postural alignment. Generally, strength-building focuses on core areas such as abdominals and lats as well as quads and hamstrings.
- Balance: It can be quite a challenge walking around without stumbling when one foot insists on only pointing the toes or while one side of the neck keeps the head turned in one direction.
- Flexibility: When muscles are not in spasm, focused lengthening of those areas that have been in contraction can aid with relaxation and pain management. This also helps as lengthening and loosening these muscles that have shortened better enables the body to regain postural alignment.
Exercise for Dystonia
The benefits of exercise range from staving off depression to releasing toxins that can build up in overused muscle tissue. What’s the best activity for dystonia? That depends on a number of things. Two are:
1) Where does the dystonia occur in the body? (Swimming, for example, may be wonderful overall exercise for most but may be painful or even harmful for someone whose dystonia is in the neck.)
2) What activity do you enjoy? Whether it’s gardening, cross-country skiing, dancing or yoga, do what you like because it’s more likely you’ll do it.
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