Yoga and Parkinson’s

Thank you to Helaine of the Parkinson’s Unity Walk for the honor of posting a guest blog. The motto for the Parkinson’s Unity Walk is ‘Make Every Step Count.’  I might add ‘Make Every Breath Count':

Click to view blog post on Unity Walk site:  Yoga and Parkinson’s

Posted in Living with Parkinson's, living with parkinsons, meds on and off, movement disorders, parkinsons and yoga, yoga, yoga and parkinsons, yoga pose modifications, yoga teacher training | 1 Comment


snowga2It’s snowing.

If I noted this in late December, my voice would lilt out ‘snowing,’ like birdsong. The words might even be prefaced by a “Look” or an “Ooh.” Evergreens dusted in white embody the postcard view of holiday time in New England.

Were it mid-January,  ‘snowing’ would come out as a question. How many inches? Will school be closed? Can we go sledding? A warm weather fan, I admit I shift my stance a bit and suit-up. Nothing quite matches playing in fresh, puffy snow.

Come March, the weight of  ‘snowing’ is as wet and heavy as a clump sliding off the roof. No more white stuff. I’m done with shoveling. Uncle.

From one standpoint, it’s simply cold precipitation. From another, when will spring arrive? Yoga suggests we not only welcome the differing viewpoints, we step back and notice them for what they are: viewpoints. Rather than get caught up in the emotional response to a situation — be it the weather or something more personal — yoga has us step back and witness what’s going on. Notice the slant of our perspective. Shift it and see how our attitude shifts. We can’t control the weather, but we do have control over how we respond to the snow.

Kevin Norton, a fellow yogi living with Parkinson’s, shared this poem with me. I share it here because his words float on the page so beautifully.

Where we are in the storm
by Kevin Norton

I wish I could bring the “good” me to this poem.

Not this stranger, this wanderer.

This man who makes no plans.

I wish I could travel this poem free, not feeling

as if I were falling through myself, spinning and whirling.

Where no hand can catch me, help me, hold me.

I do not remember coming to this place of no bridges

and no maps.

I cannot say that I do not wish to be some beast, in a great

herd of beasts, waiting for the call to come home.

To have one or two needs.

The warm comfort of oblivion.

And now I know that the difference between being

“lost” or “found” depends entirely

on where you are in the storm.


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Nightly News

nightDuring my childhood, the Chanel 7 news opened with the same line every night: “It’s eleven o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” When I couldn’t sleep, those words wafted into my room from downstairs where my father watched local and then national coverage.  I remember I’d squeeze my eyes tight and hug my Raggedy Ann close. I didn’t want to hear sad and tragic stories as I lay in the dark. Besides, it was so late, I’d thought. I should be asleep.

At the same time, I could settle in beneath the blankets. Not only did my parents know exactly where I was, the awareness that other people also weren’t asleep comforted me.

With Parkinson’s, my wakeful hours have shifted to that window between 4:00 and 6:00 am, when it is no longer night but still too early to be day. Not sleeping during those nondescript hours can sometimes make me want to squeeze my eyes tight to block out the loneliness. Everyone in the rest of the house – probably the rest of the planet – is nestled in a bed dreaming.

But when I let go of the should from childhood – the I should be asleep – I become much more aware and alert. During that other-people-are-sleeping time, I have been the witness to exquisite full moons, listened in on what seemed a conversation between a pair of barred owls, painted, practiced yoga. And, yes, sometimes cried.

Rather than descend into that sorrowful, solo, Eugene O’Neill-like state of A Long Night’s Journey into Day, I’ve taken solace as when I was growing up. It comforts me to know that many of us spend part of the night observing, creating, listening and simply being.

Considering that PD robs us of various abilities, it is that much more important to celebrate our ability to let go of the should. Ann has done so. She emailed me this poem she wrote while others slept:

WORDS  by Ann Crotty
          scattered within my heart
    within  waiting to be born 
    waiting to see what life
    is like accompanied by the Disease that is now
    your companion.  A companion known by thousands
    of others who walk along the same road

If you have musings, a story, poem or thought to share, please do. I’ll post them for other’s to enjoy in the waking hours between the nightly news and dawn.


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Yoga, Parkinson’s and a Pair of Pink Gloves

box1Despite my attempt at a yogic, peaceful approach to life, there are moments when I simply want to haul off and hit something. Hard. Maybe even several times.

Yoga helps. But so does boxing. Whether I’m waiting for a dose of meds to kick in, fumbling to zip up a jacket or passing on the scrambled eggs because the protein will interfere with the next dose of meds, the argh moments of life with Parkinson’s disease build up throughout the day. It’s incredible how the frustration dissipates when I take it out on a punching bag.

Studies show that exercise is beneficial to PD. “Forced” and challenging workouts such as boxing can be even more helpful. According to the Cleveland Clinic, activities such as boxing ease symptoms and are neuroprotective. Besides the tension release and fitness factor, there’s another bonus. Boxing is actually fun. Seriously, try on a pair of boxibox2ng gloves and see if you don’t want to take a swing at the bag. Add a coach, some funky music, and a go-for-it attitude and fun permeates the gym.

Rock Steady Boxing, the first gym in the country dedicated to the fight against PD, focuses on the fun while improving strength, speed, range of motion, rhythm, and gait through a boxing regimen specifically for people living with PD. Located in Indianapolis, Rock Steady Boxing offers regular classes as well as training camps for coaches, therapists and personal trainers who want to learn from them and then return home to offer boxing in their areas.

Al Latulippe and Greg Geheb attended the Rock Steady program. Al is a personal trainer from Methuen who works with Greg several times a week helping to ease his PD symptoms.

Greg says that boxing has been “life changing for my fight against PD. My neurologist has said he can just see how much better I look and move. My movements are much more fluid, smooth and my gait is better. I feel better, I have more energy, I have lost weight, I don’t nap as much if at all and it has done wonders for my mental health.”

Greg sums up his Rock Steady boxing method experience this way: “It gives me hope.”

“We are giving the tools and motivation for people with PD to fight back,” Al says. “This is the fight of their life.”

Recently, Al and Greg shared the boxing tools of hope they learned with me. We sweat, we sang, we hit stuff. We hit some more. Add some laugher, a few grunts, and a one or two unexpected successes (I do have rhythm!) and the time flew past.

The rest of the afternoon I felt strong and steady, and surprisingly at peace.



Greg (l) and Al (r) with me in the gym. Thanks guys – what fun!

Al Latulippe is eager to work with others interested in learning more about boxing. “We are trying to spread the word to as many people as possible to give a fighting chance.” For more information, click here: APDA/MA Chapter blog

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MJFox Show Post-Miere Hit


That’s me, between Matt & Alison on my left and Bruce and Karla on my right

Thanks to all for the fun and support at the MJFox Post-miere party! Though we gathered two days following the airing of the new TV series, the Saturday afternoon time made it easier for people to come and celebrate. The Thursday time was late (after 8:30! meds wane!) and it was on a school night (after 8;30! my eleven-year-old whines!)  Special thanks to Matt and Alison of Brassiere 28, of Andover, MA, for hosting on a weekend.

While people gathered to watch, laugh and share stories, the front room of the restaurant glowed from both the sun streaming in and from the spirit within. As a special treat, Bruce Cook, MD, announced that he’d asked Michael if he could phone us during the celebration (unfortunately, he was in a plane at the time of our event).  Dr. Cook is a neurosurgeon and Michael was his patient. Bruce and his wife, Karla, shared a few stories and everyone seemed somehow connected to and aware of Parkinson’s and its impact on daily life.

From the (yoga) students to the (art and boxing) teachers who were there in body and in spirit, thank you. I learn so much from all of you. And it is because of you that, before I headed north to the WPC in Montreal, I was able to forward your donations of more than $700 to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. You’re all a big hit.


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See You in Montreal (WPC Renewal Room for Yoga)


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Kid’s Yoga

It’s not really yoga, but it is an example of opening up to how one can, as B. K. S. Iyengar says, endure what we cannot cure:

treasure-hunt-xl NEW! For Kids:

“A Treasure Hunt for Mama and Me is an excellent example of offering ways a child can work to adapt to and accept a parent’s chronic or serious illness.

– Midwest Book Review


For families coping with parental illness such as Parkinson’s, this is a very enjoyable and helpful read.
Cathi Thomas, MS, RN

Small Horizons (an imprint of New Horizons Press) Ages 5 up
$9.95               Available at your local bookstore or on Amazon

Posted in cancer and yoga, gentle yoga cancer, gratitude, Living with Parkinson's, living with parkinsons, parkinsons and yoga, yoga and cancer, yoga and parkinsons, Yoga and Stroke, yoga for cancer, yoga for kids | Leave a comment

Bad Yoga. Bad.

blog devil pose A

Chair-supported Luciferasana

E. W. Jackson is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia. According to the Huffington Post, his agenda items include yoga warnings:

Yoga may leave unsuspecting people vulnerable to satanic possession…. In a post for the National Review on Wednesday, Betsy Woodruff highlighted some quotes from Jackson’s 2008 book Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life: Making Your Dreams Come True. Among them was one about the hazards of yoga.

“When one hears the word meditation, it conjures an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana,” Jackson wrote in his book, according to Woodruff. “The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.”

So THAT’S where I got Parkinson’s. Stoopid, stoopid yoga.


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Teacher Training Smile

It imagebrings a big, goofy — though intensely genuine — smile to recall the recent yoga teacher training at TriYoga Boston.  I sense — no, I know — that each one of the individuals there signed up not simply for the certification but because their hearts led them to the program. Their hearts then led them back home to places around the U.S. to spread newfound knowledge and understanding of how to match the needs of students with Parkinson’s.

This adds a glow to my big, goofy, intensely genuine smile. At the time, we were halfway into the program when the news of the marathon tragedy pierced the peace of the yoga studio. My thought then still holds true: Humanity shone despite all that shattered that Monday. I can genuinely smile as I breathe in the memory of a compassionate circle of people who gathered at TriYoga for the sole purpose of helping someone else.

Gratitude joins this big, goofy, intensely genuine smile with a deep exhale. I appreciate the flexibility each teacher displayed to break outside of ‘tradition’ or ‘what the books say’ and such to embrace this different approach to yoga practice. Not only am I thankful for these teachers who are sharing the joy and benefits lof yoga with the PD community, I appreciate all that I learn from my time with them.

Along with my sometimes unusual method, I’ve fessed up to playing a variety of music choices not typically heard during yoga class. In that light, I end with the words of Elton John, “…Each day I learn just a little bit more. I don’t know why, but I do know what for…”



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Group Hug

“A hug is a universal medicine,
it is how we handshake from the heart.”

    I propose that Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month closes with a hug.

     Hug family, friends, dogs, friend’s dogs.

Consider the benefits. Studies show that hugs lower blood pressure, increase levels of hormones that trigger happy states of being and reduce the affects of  stress.

In the average embrace, both huggers lean toward each other:
/= =\

When the average embrace ends (determined, typically silently, by both participants), both return to upright and part:
|    |

Happy hormones for all. Except for those of us with a movement disorder; the research clearly did not include in their trials people living with PD. When someone raises both arms and leans toward me for an embrace, my state of being turns to fear. I’m not entirely steady (physically, that is) and the pressure of even a light touch can throw me off balance. If I’m already in the off-balance mode, the hug can turn to a tumble when it ends as my fellow hugger releases her arms, straightens and steps away. I need more time to regain an upright stance, so when she walks, I’m still in a forward lean.

Most of the time, I manage my activities well despite the PD. Admittedly, I attend my pity parties on occasion, but I don’t overstay my welcome. Patience, work-arounds, and lots of yoga help counter the losses of this, as Michael J Fox put it, this gift that keeps on taking. No web site, neurologist or PD pamphlet prepped me, however, that I’d lose out on hugs.

I’ve always been a hugger. Whether I was arm-in-arm with my sister or squeezing into a photo op with friends, I never shied away from a hug’s connection. It surprised me — more than that, it made me angry — to find my body tensing when running into an old friend or  avoiding a dinner guest hinging toward me to say good-bye. Afraid of a hug?

It’s time for a work-around. I’m not missing out on any more happy hormones.

As Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month ends, I propose we close with this four-step guide on hugging a person living with PD, ensuring that both huggers reap the benefits:

Step 1.
When one hugger lives with PD (left), take a step closer to him. Arms are at your sides. Smile. Breathe.
O  O
|   |

Step 2.
Allow the person to place their hands on your arms or shoulders first. Place yours next with natural pressure but without pulling the person toward you or shifting your weight toward him or her. Smile. Breathe.

Step 3. Rather than leaning toward the person, allow the PD hugger (left) to lean in.
O    O
/= =|

Step 4.
When the hug ends (again determined by both participants, with verbal communication as needed) the PD hugger returns to upright and both huggers ensure stability before they part. Smile. Breathe.
O O    O O
| =|      |  |

Have you hugged a person with PD today?

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