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

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

Gone to Maui, Vacation from Parkinson’s!

I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.

Mark Twain

We are on our way home from a wonderful week in Maui. Mr. Twitchy and I like to go in February to see the whales that migrate there every winter from Alaska to have their babies. As Mr. Twitchy says, the whales need him to direct traffic every few years so that they don’t get lost.

Hawaii, especially Maui, can be magical. It was raining when we landed, but the rain gave us some interesting rainbows as seen from above. Have you ever seen a rainbow on the ground? Rainbows will pop up where you least expect them. Even horizontal rainbows in the mountains.

We wake up early every morning, eager to go out to the beach, which we never do in Los Angeles. I went to a yoga class at the beach at 7:00 am most mornings. I could not help watching for the whales while doing down dogs and chaturangas. Some mornings the Yoga instructor would lead us on guided meditations, with the trade winds and the sound of the waves cocooning us. I looked up to see Monarch Butterflies flitting around in the trees above. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Sunset yoga was also offered a couple of afternoons, so of course I had to go to that as well. Sunsets can be spectacular there, so why not. The experience was equally wonderful.

But the most important part of being there, stated by Mr. Twitchy, is that we can sit at the pool or the beach all day, watching the waves and hoping to spot whales. At home, neither of us has the patience or desire to do anything like this.

Sunset with Mr. Twitchy

And the end result, I feel great after a week here. So good, I even forgot to take my meds with me yesterday when we went out for lunch and I was fine. Very few off times or noticeable tremors. I went to a painting class one afternoon at an art gallery in our hotel, and had no trouble drawing or using paint pens. I brought colored pencils and papers with me, like I do on most trips, hoping to do some drawing on my own. This time I actually did it, unlike many times before. We went kayaking and snorkeling and even went on an outrigger canoe. My husband drew the line for me on Stand Up Paddleboarding though. That just was not a great idea for someone with Parkinson’s. I had to agree with him on that one.

Whales!

We saved the best for our last morning there. Although February is peak season for whale sightings, there were not many this past week. Most of the whales we saw were too far out in the ocean to see much more than their spouts and splashes as they dove under water. On our last morning we went kayaking again from our hotel beach. We were almost ready to give up when two humpback whales surfaced very close to our group of kayaks. They would go underwater and pop up somewhere else. Just as we were starting back to the hotel, they emerged not more than 20 feet in front of us! Two of them swimming in tandem. Wow! Unfortunately, no pictures because it happened so fast.

Yes, Maui does heal everything as this t-shirt says. It was almost like I took a vacation from Parkinson’s for the week. And it was wonderful.

I believe Hawaii is the most precious jewel in the world.   

Don Ho

Twitchy Woman this month:

It is a big month for Twitchy Woman with 2 podcasts coming out in the next two days, speaking at a conference in Fresno, CA and my first post on Parkinsonsdisease.net.

2/18 Podcast DX podcast

2/19 When Life Gives You Parkinson’s podcast

2/22 Conference speaker at  Better Lives, Together: Fresno Parkinson’s Summit

Parkinsonsdisease.net What Keeps Me Motivated While Living with Parkinson’s?

The Mighty A Letter to Ozzy Osbourne After His Parkinson’s Diagnosis

Photos!

Photos by Sharon Krischer, February 2020

Yoga and Me

Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.

B.K.S. Iyengar

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 becauseIMG_0681 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.

 

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Looking Forward to 2016

The cures we want aren’t going to fall from the sky. We have to get ladders and climb up and get them.

— Michael J. Fox

As 2015 comes to a close, those of us in the Parkinson’s community are excited about the many new  research discoveries regarding the causes and treatments for Parkinson’s Disease.  It seems that every week in the past few months, another discovery, whether it is a drug or therapy,  has shown to be effective in either slowing the progression of the disease or in some cases, even reversing it.  In the 7 years since I was diagnosed, I have never been so hopeful that maybe this year will bring the big breakthrough.

This is exciting news, especially since some of those drugs that show a positive effect in PD patients have already been approved for other diseases, thus reducing the time for FDA approval for persons with Parkinson’s.  Even salicylic acid, the main ingredient in aspirin, which we all have in our medicine cabinets, has proven to be effective for reducing the cell-death that leads to Parkinson’s.  Today there was even more good news.  Researchers at Scripps Clinic and Scripps Research Institute in San Diego are beginning trials on humans using stem-cells taken from the patient’s own skin.  Watch this video on KUSI News  Once the pilot project is approved by the FDA, the clinical trials should open up to multi-national research centers.  Researchers expect this to be a long term treatment for the movement disorders associated with PD.    FDA approval could be made in the next 24-36 months.

For me, 2015 brought about many changes.  My second grandchild was born in May, followed two weeks later by the passing of my mother.  It was a very tumultuous, emotional time for me.  I began writing shortly before my mother’s death, which eventually led to this blog.  This was one of the things that helped me to get through that very difficult time.  Thank you to all of my followers around the world.  It has been a very gratifying experience to share my “adventures with Parkinson’s” with all of you, making new friends because of our common bond.  I have almost 100 followers, so if you have not yet followed “Twitchy Woman” either here or on Facebook, please follow now so that we can get to 100 by December 31.

So looking forward to 2016:

A cure, perhaps?  Or at least a treatment that reverses the progression of PD.  Michael J. Fox said that the Michael J Fox Foundation has one mission – to find a cure – and once that cure is found, he will shut down his Foundation.  Let’s hope that 2016 is the year that he will close up shop.

For me, I plan to continue writing, enjoying this new-found creative outlet that I discovered after PD diagnosis.   Maybe I will end up like every other Parkinson’s patient with a blog and write a book.  OK, maybe a pamphlet.

Speaking of books, I hope to review a few more in the coming months, including the just published “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life!” by Alex Kerten, whose Gyro-Kinetics Center in Herzliya, Israel is a leader worldwide in treating clients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.  I have just started reading this and want to try some of his exercises for relieving PD symptoms.  Stay tuned.

I have become a PD Advocate for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation after having spent a wonderful weekend with 25 other women with PD at the PDF’s Women & Parkinson’s Initiative conference last September.   I am looking forward to engaging with other women with PD living in Los Angeles.   On January 17, I will be hosting a meeting for women with PD to learn about the Women & Parkinson’s Initiative and to hear from a local PDF Research Advocate about getting involved in clinical research for PD.   If you are interested in this or future events for Women & PD in LA, please contact me directly.

IMG_0387I will continue to work on my boxing skills with Rock Steady Boxing NY/LA.  It is very hard work and great exercise.  Boxing has improved my balance and reflexes, and most importantly, my tennis game.   Besides, the men way outnumber the women in boxing classes, which makes it even more fun.  (Just don’t tell my husband).

Ommmmmmmmmmm……..yoga is the one calming activity that I regularly participate in.    It keeps me aware of my body, my balance and stretches my muscles.  I can still do a tree pose successfully most days, no worse than the others in the classes I attend.   Shavasana, Corpse Pose, at the end is better than a nap.  When I am done with class I am ready to take on the day.

Finally, I am looking forward to a year of new adventures with my husband, and not allowing Parkinson’s to take charge of me.  I will be in charge of my Parkinson’s and continue to enjoy life with my family and friends.

Wishing all of you a happy holiday and wonderful, healthy New Year.

Sharon

Hanukkah-And-Christmas-3  hdallpictures.com