Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.
This post was first published on the Brian Grant Foundation’s Power Through Project website on April 3, 2016
I often find it hard to relax. I am almost always on the go. My mind spins. It is hard to shut down and let go. One of the few places that I can truly let go is in yoga class.
Many days, class begins and I think I will never get through it. I am tired from lack of sleep. My muscles are tight. Some days I feel like I am moving through molasses. And then something happens. My body is moving like it is supposed to. My tight muscles have loosened up and my balance is working. My foot may twitch with some poses, but it often settles down as my practice continues. By the time I reach Shavasana, the final resting pose, the elephant in the room that is Parkinson’s has gone away, at least for now.
There are many different types of yoga. Vinyasa flow yoga works best for me because of the constant movement through the poses. I feel more graceful as I flow through my practice. The deep breaths that we take as we move spread the energy throughout our bodies. Sometimes the poses are challenging. But I try them anyway, even if I don’t have the same flexibility as others in the class. The sense of accomplishment when I succeed in doing a difficult pose that I could not do before is extremely satisfying. And other times, I must modify my poses because I recognize that I am no longer a healthy 30 year old who can do it all. Some days my balance is off, others I am better than most. King Dancer pose, a beautiful pose balancing on one leg with one arm outstretched and the other holding your raised foot, is an accomplishment. I almost feel like a dancer! At some point, I learned that I could do a head stand against the wall. It feels wonderful. It is as though my body is saying to PD “I am in charge here!”
The other, probably more important part of yoga for those of us with PD, is that it is meditative. In many classes you begin with a short quiet pose, focusing on the breath. The concentration on breathing continues throughout the session until the very last pose, Shavasana. Lying quietly in a darkened room, often with soft meditative music or guided meditation from the teacher, prepares you to go on through the rest of the day feeling better in so many ways.
Iyengar yoga, which focuses on the longer poses, does not work as well for me, although some Parkie’s swear by it. My body just wants to keep on moving, and long poses often cause my tremors to flare up. As with any exercise, you have to find what works best for you. If you don’t like it, you often discontinue the exercise.
I go to regular yoga classes at my local gym. As long as I am comfortable in those classes and can keep up, I will continue to go. I understand that many Parkie’s cannot do that. There are many other types of yoga, so check to see what is available in your community and try a few different ones. Many yoga studios and senior centers offer gentle yoga and chair yoga classes for people with limited movement. Ask your Movement Disorders Specialist to recommend a class if you cannot find one. But give it a try. Your body will thank you.