Published in NAMASTA in August, 2011
Teaching Yoga for Parkinson's Disease
As mind-body practitioners, we bring awareness into the moment as we move through flows. As teachers, we encourage our students to do the same. Our mindfulness as teachers, however, begins before we step onto the mat.
Whether we conduct our yoga – or Tai Chi or Qigong – classes out of the home, at the local Y, or in a polished wood-floor studio, we aim to guide students to a peaceful state of well-being. This guidance begins the moment they enter our doors. This holds especially true when students need us to be alert to the extra supports they may require.
Consider Yoga for a Growing Need
According to the National Institute of Health, yoga is among the leading alternative therapies in the U.S.1 Increasingly, patients turn to yoga seeking relief for an array of conditions, from arthritis to the effects of cancer treatment to a variety of movement disorders. This growing population of yoga students can benefit even further when the teachers can meet their needs.
It doesn't require special equipment to design an inviting environment to students with physical limitations. Some rearranging and attention to a few details is all it takes. Here are some suggestions on how to create a welcoming experience for this increasing population of yoga students.
Reduce Stress before Class
As we often do with asana practice, let’s begin with the feet.
Rolling Out the Mat
Try to reserve mat space near walls for individuals whose balance might be unsteady. Knowing that there’s a support to reach out to can lessen the stress that rises from fear of falling. If possible, allow these students to be near the restroom. Increased bladder activity is common in a number of medical conditions.
Ideally, if your studio size allows for it, consider storing personal mats. Again, if carrying even a lightweight mat is difficult for the student to coordinate, this is another area that can help remove stress.
Provide Support in Class
Relaxation can take place on the chair. For added comfort, the student may like a second chair to put his feet on. Or, place a bolster lengthwise on the second chair and the student can lean into a modified child's pose.
For students who do recline on the mat, supports are essential to comfort. Blankets on the mat before moving into savasana adds padding. This is helpful to those with movement disorders who cannot easily adjust when uncomfortable. Bolsters under knees, legs up on the chair, or simply a folded blanket as a pillow to keep from overextending the front of the neck are all useful. A recent India study on the benefits of yoga for Parkinson’s highlighted supta boda konasana as an effective pose.3
Continue after Savasana
Students may need a few extra minutes coming out of relaxation. Physically, they may want to use a chair to help them stand. Or, they may want to sit a few moments to allow their bodies to gear up for moving.
It may be somewhat disorienting coming out of relaxation pose. Not having back-to-back classes helps in this situation, as can that separate corner with chairs set up. This may be an ideal time to play music, whether or not it is played during class. Choose pieces with a clear, mid-tempo beat. The external rhythm can help cue motion.
By bringing our awareness to the needs of this population of students, we can create an inviting, comfortable environment that extends from the moment they enter right through to the time they step back out the door.
*Download a useful checklist to make your studio user-friendly for all abilities.
Published in NAMASTA in August, 2011
CCopyright 2010, 2011, Renee Le Verrier
PPhotos by: Andrew Edgar, Rose Lee, Tami Rork, Jim Vaiknoras