Seventeen years ago when Paul Zeiger began teaching Yoga, he could not forsee that it would help him live better with Parkinson’s disease. Now that Parkinson’s disease is a constant in his life, Yoga provides him with a source of both physical and mental strength and awareness that helps him stay strong and cope.
You do not need to be a Yoga instructor to benefit from the art that unifies mind, body, and spirit. Many people with Parkinson’s disease report reduced effects of Parkinson’s symptoms, as well as better motion and improved mood after just a few Yoga sessions.
What is Yoga?
Observing Yoga from afar you might notice its physical exercises, postures, and stretches—the external appearance. However, there is a strong connection of the body with the spirits and minds of Yoga practicers.
Yoga is a discipline that has roots dating back an estimated 2,000 years to India. There is little concrete information about the publication date of the first book of Yoga, the Yoga-sutras. According to the Yoga-sutras, “Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.”
The mind, body, and spirit exercises of Yoga serve to subdue distractions and promote stillness. Stillness diminishes negative aspects of life such as sickness, apathy, doubt, laziness, and self-indulgence.
According to Zeiger there are two considerations for choosing a Yoga instructor and class:
1. What is the ideal school for me? “There are not a lot of Yoga instructors with Parkinson’s disease experience,” he said. “Finding a school of Yoga and an instructor is very personal.”
Zeiger suggests that a person exploring Yoga look for Anusara, Iyengar, Integral or ViniYoga schools, and ask whether their instructors have experience working with people who have physical restrictions. Then try a class.
Flexibility is the key. Your Yoga school and instructor should tailor positions for you that take your goals into account and respect your limitations. You should probably rule out cookie cutter classes with 30 people doing the same pose.
“Make sure it feels good to you, and agrees with your body and how you like to operate,” he said. “Get a Yoga instructor who works for you.”
2. What benefits do I hope to gain? “Enhancing range of motion, strength, and balance are among the main benefits of Yoga,” Zeiger said. “People with Parkinson’s need that kind of training even more because they have a disorder that takes away range of motion, strength and balance faster than normal.”
Beyond the physical realm of Yoga’s benefits lies the mental and spiritual benefits of stilling the pattern of consciousness. Yoga patterns and philosophies help a person with Parkinson’s train his or her mind. For instance balance is usually something your brain manages unconsciously. Yoga teaches you to move balance away from the damaged unconscious control into consciousness and recover some stability.
Awareness is also another key theme within Yoga. “Awareness of where you are putting your body helps reduce falling,” Zeiger said. “It also helps you deal with your shuffling walk and lack of arm swing.” However, awareness of mental and spiritual issues is even more useful in coping with of feelings of hostility, bothersome problems, and other negative influences in your life. The peace and stillness help lessen some of those anxieties and provide strength to handle other troubles that beset you.
Most forms of exercise benefit people with Parkinson’s disease. Yoga is well-suited to help people improve their physical balance and strength. It is also a discipline that could improve your emotional and spiritual health as well.
Paul Zeiger is a licensed teacher of Anusara-inspired Yoga. As both a senior and Parkinson’s patient, Paul is attuned to the challenges of both aging and PD. He currently leads a Yoga class for people with Parkinson’s at Scheitler Recreation Center in Denver, Colorado on Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, S. Satchidananda, et al., Integral Yoga Publications, 1990.
Yoga Journal, Who was Patañjali?
by Matt Nilsen