Yoga for Parkinson’s in Pandemic Times

If you can breathe, you can do yoga

Christiana Lewis, yoga instructor for People with Parkinson’s

There are many benefits to Yoga for People with Parkinson’s (PwPs), whether you are a just starting or have been practicing for years. I started my yoga practice about 12 years ago, before my diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease. I give much credit to my yoga practice for helping me to minimize my PD symptoms.

5 benefits from a yoga practice

According to my Movement Disorders Specialist, who is also a certified yoga instructor, there are 5 primary benefits to practicing yoga for PwPs. I am listing them here, along with my commentary on each of them.

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Downward Dog

1. Stretching – helps to combat the stiffness that many PwP’s feel, making movement easier and increases your flexibility. If you are stiff when you wake up, do some of the stretching poses before you even get out of bed. It definitely helps.

2. Balance – many poses in yoga are balance poses. You will stand on one foot for a tree pose, then the other. You learn what you have to do to maintain that posture, even if for a few seconds. Look around you if you are in a class and you will see that others without PD have trouble with balance. You are not alone. This is the most important thing you can do to help prevent falls later.

Chaturanga Dandasana - Wikiwand
Chaturanga Dandasana

3. Social – if you go to a class (when the gyms re-open), you will find that there is a social aspect to yoga as you get to know other regulars in your class. It gets you out of the house and combats isolation.

4. Mood/Apathy – it doesn’t matter how I feel when I start the class. By the end of the class I feel so much better, mentally and physically. Maybe it is a dopamine rush or endorphin rush. It doesn’t matter which one it is, it works to elevate your mood and keep you going. In addition, it is a mindfulness practice. There are often guided meditations, breathing exercises and of course, the final pose, Shavasana, which is so relaxing.

Vriksasana - Wikipedia
Tree Pose

5. Cardio – I like Vinyasa Flow classes because you are continuously moving. The long holds of poses in other types of yoga don’t work for me because my tremor acts up. With flow classes, the breath is very important, affecting your autonomic systems. In addition, there are definitely cardio benefits as your heart rate rises with the constant movement. Another benefit of the movement is that shifting from pose to pose, such as going from a Down Dog to Chaturanga to Up dog is great resistance training – as you flow through the moves you are shifting your weight from your legs to your arms and back. If you are doing yoga at home, don’t watch the same yoga class over and over again because it becomes rote. Close your eyes or change some of the poses to challenge your mind.

I have been fortunate that I have been able to keep going to regular yoga classes and can keep up most of the time. Shortly after my diagnosis with PD, I met with a woman who specializes in yoga therapy for Parkinson’s. After working with me, she said something I will never forget: “Stay in regular yoga classes as long as you can. You can always modify your practice if things get difficult.”

If you have been practicing yoga, you will find that there are so many classes to choose from on-line through Zoom, you don’t have to wait until the gym re-opens. However, if you are new to yoga, you may want to take a few private classes in your home or online with a yoga instructor so that you can learn what to do properly, with supervision. The last thing you want to do is to hurt yourself because you don’t know what to do. There are also yoga classes specifically for people with Parkinson’s. These classes often offer chair yoga for those who cannot stand or have balance issues.

Shavasana – Corpse Pose – School of Yoga
Shavasana – my favorite pose of all!

A few weeks ago, yogi Christiana Lewis led Twitchy Women through a yoga practice on Zoom. Here is the recording from that day. Watch it and learn even more about how you can incorporate yoga into your exercise routine for Parkinson’s Disease.

Namaste

The Power of a Smile

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
For you

Nat King Cole, “Smile”

There have been many songs written about smiling. Why? Because a smile is so powerful in so many ways. The very act of smiling makes us feel better. Think about how you feel when someone smiles at you and you return the smile? Smiling releases endorphans and dopamine in our brains, making us feel happier.

In my yoga class, the instructor is always telling us to smile. I often start to laugh when she says that. So I decided to do a little research into why a smile is so good for us.

But first, try it now. Go. Run to the nearest mirror and smile at yourself.

How did it make you feel? Silly? Did you want to laugh? Congratulations, you just gave yourself a dopamine/endorphan rush. What else did you notice? What happens to your eyes? Were they smiling, too? Maybe you even started laughing at yourself. It’s ok. Your entire body reacts to the smile.

A Dog Smiles, Too

Think about your dog, if you have one. When a dog is happy, it’s whole body smiles as it moves with joy – with it’s tail wagging and tongue sticking out. We can’t help but smile back.

Babies know best!

One of the first emotions a shows is a smile. They smile at us, we smile back. They learn very early that if they smile, they get a reaction from you. Everyone feels better because of that smile. The exhausted parents, the grandparents, siblings and friends. A baby’s first smile is a milestone that we celebrate. According to WebMD.com, between 6 and 8 weeks of life, babies develop a “social smile” — an intentional gesture of warmth meant just for you. It shows us that  brain development is advancing and the baby’s communication skills are on track.

BRF

With the facial masking that is so common with Parkinson’s, smiles don’t always come naturally. We may walk around looking angry when, in fact, we are in a good mood. When my kids were in high school, they told me that I had BRF – B***chy Resting Face. Their friends thought I didn’t like them, which of course was not true.. It turned out that this was an early sign of Parkinson’s for me. I wasn’t aware of it. Eventually I noticed that it was getting more difficult to smile anytime. We were traveling a lot at that time, and when I look back at photos of me, my smile was disappearing. I was getting frustrated and stopped trying to smile for the camera. When I finally started taking my PD meds, the masking went away and my smile came back.

Trying to smile in Sydney

As adults with Parkinson’s. We need to be aware that smiling can become difficult for us. As PD advances, our communication skills may diminish. We need that smile to help us convey how we feel.

The Importance of Smiling

Karyn Hall, PhD, in her blog The Emotionally Sensitive Person  The Importance of Smiling, says:

*When you change your facial expression you mood tends to align with the emotion your face is communicating.

*Smiling is contagious.

*When you give a warm and friendly smile, often others will smile back. You get a moment of feeling connected and accepted, and you spread happiness.

*Smiling can help reduce stress. When you smile, your heart rate slows and other stress indicators go away faster than if you don’t smile. Smiling can lengthen your lifespan.

This is the power of the smile. We need to do everything we can to keep on smiling. When you cannot show emotion, good or bad, it makes it very difficult to be a social person. The last thing you want to do is to isolate yourself because you can no longer communicate with others, both verbally and non-verbally, as you had done before Parkinson’s. And don’t forget that the dopamine hits that we get from smiling are very important for our brains. The Parkinson’s Foundation recommends that you see a speech-language pathologist who can teach you facial exercises that may help with masking, as well as other issues you may be having, including speech and swallowing problems.

Go back to your mirror and practice your smile. You can do it. Laugh a little or a lot while you are at it. It may just make your frown disappear.

Image result for smile

How did it get to be August already?

Where has this year gone? 5 months after the big shut-down, we have become resigned to the fact that it may be a year or more before things get back to “normal” whatever that is. I still wake up most mornings and have to think about what day it is. The calendar is useless. Stress levels are up, my tremor is back, and I keep losing things. I know they are in the house. I haven’t gone anywhere, so they must be here. We have done a lot of binge TV watching and managed to watch all 5 seasons of Outlander in 5 weeks, a notable achievement. Or not.

And we Zoom and we Zoom. But never seem to get anywhere.

Mr. Twitchy did manage to fly to Sitka, Alaska yesterday for his annual fishing trip with his brother and nephews. I am so jealous, but not ready to get on an airplane yet.

Since I have nothing but time, you would think that maybe I would get a lot of things done around the house. Maybe, if you count making pickles out of all of those cucumbers from my jungle of a garden. I went through dozens of old photo boxes, getting rid of duplicates and bad pics, trying to arrange them, still not figuring out what to do with all of the sorted piles of photos sitting on my desk. But I still haven’t gotten back to playing the piano more than once a month, or working on my sketchbook journal about as often. There are a lot of things on my rainy day list that are still waiting for a rainy day. Here in Southern California, that is not likely until December. In the meantime, maybe I will contact some of the people in those pics who I haven’t spoken to in years. Or not.

However, there have been a few good things happening in Twitchy World.

Join us for a discussion about the book Ending Parkinson’s Disease

First, Sunday Mornings with Twitchy Women has really taken off. The programs have been varied, with speakers, exercise demos, Taiko drumming and more. Most of the programs are for women only, but on Sunday, August 23, the program is open to everyone. Ray Dorsey, MD., will be leading a discussion about the book Ending Parkinson’s Disease, which he co-authored with Todd Sherer, PhD, Michael S. Okun, MD and Bastiaan Bloem, MD, PhD. You will need to register here to join us on Zoom or look for it streaming on the Twitchy Woman FB page.

Even if you cannot join us, the book is a must read for people with Parkinson’s and their family members. You can order it today by clicking on the book (above)

For more information on our other events, go to http://www.twitchywoman.com/events.

You can participate in Parkinson’s research today – From Home!

I just did this today, at my desk. Now it’s your turn.

What: The PARK study explores whether the use of web-based technology can measure day-to-day fluctuations in Parkinson’s symptoms — and distinguish individuals with Parkinson’s from those who do not have the disease. 
Who: English speaking individuals diagnosed with PD and those who do not have the disease. Participation is limited to individuals who reside outside of the European Union.
How: Participants complete a series of motor and voice tasks online, such as tapping fingers, opening and closing hands, and reading text aloud. While completing these tasks, participants are recorded by a webcam. Participants must have Google Chrome on their desktop or laptop.

Participants who complete all tasks receive a $10 Amazon gift card

The PARK study is a collaborative effort conducted by Dr. Ehsan Hoque, Department of Computer Science, and Ray Dorsey, Department of Neurology. Learn More

Kinetics: The Desire to Move

Sunday morning, at a Zoom meeting for Twitchy Women, I had the privilege of hosting Sue Wylie, writer, producer and actor of the wonderful film about Parkinson’s Disease Kinetics: the desire to move….

In just 50 minutes, Sue takes us from first symptoms to diagnosis, meeting a troubled student at the school where she teaches drama, learning about his love of Parkour (an extreme running sport), which he uses to cope with his ADHD, to their growing friendship and respect for each other’s disabilities.

Accept, Adapt and Adjust

It is a remarkable film because of the honesty Sue presents us with about living with Parkinson’s Disease. She is afraid to tell others about her diagnosis. She shows her increasing difficulties at work and home and how it affects her relationships with others. A chance meeting with another patient at the Neurologist’s office gave her hope. He left her with the most memorable line in the film: “Accept, Adapt and Adjust.” It was beautifully done and left us wanting for more.

Last March I started an online group titled Sunday Mornings with Twitchy Women, which grew out of the need for women with Parkinson’s to be able to get together somehow after the start of the Stay at Home restrictions to combat COVID-19. Starting with 9 women, we now average 40-50 at each meeting, with women from the US, Canada, UK and beyond. Kinetic was suggested by one of the participants who connected me to Sue Wylie. I had seen the film at the World Parkinson Congress in Kyoto last year, and I agreed with her that it would be great for this group. Sue was thrilled to be able to speak to our group.

“I saw myself in this film”

And the group was thrilled to speak to her. We could all relate to what Sue brought to the film and the issues that were raised. Here are some of the comments that were emailed to Sue:

“I saw myself in this film.  I was diagnosed last September.  It’s still mild; the twitch is in my hand (the cat loves my messages!)  I spent a long time not telling anyone other than immediate family while I processed what was happening to me.”

“She expresses so many feelings that I have about my Parkinson’s’ diagnosis which I have not been able to express.  As I sit here, deep in a depression probably fueled by the pandemic, the isolation and my history of depression, I have experienced the release of tears for which I thank Sue. I have wanted to skip over “acceptance” and adaptation and adjustment in a rush to have a positive attitude.  The film is  elegant in its simplicity and straightforwardness and its honesty.  It speaks to the heart and mine expands to hers.” 

“I am hugely impressed with your very much on-target film, and the creative way you presented Parkinsons for us. I just sent a link to my family asking them to please watch it. This is something I’ve never done before. I have a tendency to want to protect my adult children from the realities of Parkinson’s, but they need to know. Your storytelling captures not just the facts, but the emotional truths as well. Thank you!”

“You have touched many lives with the honesty you show in your story. “

An interesting thing happened after Sue finished her presentation. It brought up so many feelings that the women started talking to each other about many other things, such as how often they speak to their children about Parkinson’s. Are their children even interested? How do we acccept? And, did Sue ever jump???? (you have to watch the film to understand that) Most importantly, after 4 months of getting together through Zoom, we were friends, having a good conversation together. We are looking forward to sharing many more Sundays together.

Kinetics will still be available to watch for free online for a few more weeks.

Don’t miss it.

Watch the full film directly here (50 minutes long): 
Kinetics: The Desire to Move. FULL MOVIE  (available for a limited time)

You can watch the trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8tIp409QBM 

And learn more about it on our website: 
https://www.kineticsfilm.com

Gratitude during the Pandemic

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

Anonymous

It seems like an oxymoron. How can we have gratitude while quarantined because of the Covid Pandemic? Our lives are disrupted in so many ways. What good can come of it?

I took a yoga class the other day with a yoga instructor who talked a lot about gratitude during our practice. Throughout the session, she reminded us to think of something we were grateful for. And to put a smile on our face. When you smile, you can’t help but feel better.

It turns out that once you start thinking about it, there are a lot of positive things that have happened to each of us during the past 4 months. For some people, it meant getting to those tasks that were saved for a rainy day. Others took classes on line that they did not have the time for previously. And then there are those who started baking bread and other goodies during this time. Suddenly we had an abundance of time to do all of those things at home that we wanted to do for so long.

After the yoga class, I went to my sketchbook journal and started writing. By then it wasn’t too hard to find gratitude for many things in my life.

July 8, Day 126 for Mr. Twitchy and me. We started the quarantine early because we were exposed March 1.

4 1/2 months we have lost Time that will never be returned. Has anything good come out of it?

1. Connecting with our grandchildren in Chicago more often, in a more meaningful way – reading to them, playing games with them. And the same for our grandchildren in Los Angeles.

2. Brought together over 160 women from at least 4 countries for Sunday Mornings with Twitchy Women since March 22. Everything has fallen into place so quickly and I have met so many impressive women in the process.

bluelahe - Bullet Journal uploaded by Karen Naomi

3. Learning to play golf – getting out with Mr. Twitchy 2 afternoons a week in the sunshine (getting that much needed Vitamin D)

Looking back in my journal, there were many more expressions of gratitude throughout the 4 1/2 months.

Just 2 weeks ago, I wrote about “a remarkable couple of days” after being nominated in 3 categories (now 5) for the WEGO Health awards and being named one of 9 for Healthline’s Best in Blog 2020, with only 3 being patient bloggers. Yet the entry before that was about the marches and riots, constant helicopters overhead and anarchy in Seattle. Even that entry managed to find gratitude for talking to friends on the phone & Zoom, lifting of some more Quarantine restrictions, etc.

Smiley — Stock Photo © aldorado #13975132

Now I understand why journaling is so important, especially if you have a chronic disease. Keeping a journal captures moments of your life and gives you insight into what has changed over time. It also allows you to see what has been good and what has not been so good, even on the same day. I don’t write every day. Sometimes a couple of weeks will go by, but I am still telling my story. It will always be there for me to go back to when I need it. I will be reminded of what to be grateful for, in spite of everything, and to smile.

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.

Rabbi Harold Kushner