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Yoga for Parkinson's

by Jeanette Macturk(more info)

listed in yoga, originally published in issue 52 - May 2000

Research has shown Yoga to be the most beneficial alternative therapy towards helping people with Parkinson's. When I read this in the Parkinson magazine I was not unduly surprised; having been involved with, and teaching Yoga for many years, I appreciate the better quality of life the practice of Yoga offers. Learning to control the breath, practising movements to keep the body supple and stilling the mind through relaxation, are all helpful towards a healthy and happy lifestyle.

So, when a speech therapist friend suggested we did something constructive towards helping people with Parkinson's, I was more than a little interested. First, we visited a couple of monthly-meeting groups run by the Parkinson's Disease Association, one 50 miles away and the other 30 miles. I put together a programme for Yoga movements sitting in chairs as the group would be of considerable mixed ability. Although great interest was shown, distance was a disadvantage as we all live in remote country areas. Even so, four people were prepared to travel the necessary distance.


Planning the Sessions


By chance, we found the perfect venue for our meeting, with easy parking and full facilities for the disabled. We then set about advertising our venture, but with little response. We soon realized people were reluctant to come forward, to admit to their disability, and were perhaps wary of mixing with others who may be more advanced with the disease.

The day dawned and five people new to Yoga arrived. Originally we had thought of a whole day, but it became apparent this would be too long as there was the likelihood of them tiring quite quickly. The pattern of our meetings found its own shape. Drinks were provided on arrival at 10.30 am; cranberry juice, elderflower or coffee and, as this was possibly a pill taking time, biscuits – to take away the taste.

Starting the Yoga session well before 11 am gives us an hour before one lady's built in clock tells her it is noon – her pill taking time. I prepared hand-outs of various programmes, for chair work or lying on the floor, in such a way they could be read to them at home by a carer. We covered back strengthening postures, lots of shoulder movements, breathing practices and some meditation. Their response was most encouraging; the enthusiasm was such that I had to be careful not to work them too hard. Relaxation came at the end of the session. Making sure everyone was lying or sitting comfortably, I talked them through the body and gave them a quiet time, before bringing them 'back to the present'. My reward was their appreciative comments of the session as they sat up.

Working with Feet and Breathing

At this stage we changed position and seated ourselves round a table. More drinks and biscuits for more pill taking before the speech therapist took over. This was a much appreciated time as she explained, among other things, the importance of using the breath when speaking, and how to cope with saliva and the unfortunate dribbling which can occur with this disability. On the occasions the speech therapist is unable to be with me, I have been joined by a highly qualified nursing sister who specializes in nutrition. Her sessions are very lively; questions on many subjects are asked – and answered.

Lunch is planned for 1 pm. The two of us prepare sandwiches, flans and cakes. Grapes are also popular; in fact everything easy to eat, with the accent on carbohydrate as it is better for people with Parkinson's to have their protein later in the day. I understand the protein somehow works against the pills, the taking of which they regulate themselves and the timing is most important. Lunch is a happy time, plenty of general chatter and by 1.30 pm they are ready to leave – the thanks are special as plans for our next meeting are made.

To other Yoga teachers thinking of following this path I would say:

  • Concentrate on breath control (Pranayama) as this should help in moments of panic – such as feet sticking to the floor when walking.
  • Remember the slowness of their movements may be frustrating to them, as this is purely physical: the mind will still be very alert.
  • Parkinson's itself does not necessarily weaken the muscles. This is usually caused by lack of movement as they withdraw into themselves, so exercise is good. Daily practice should be encouraged, but not enough to cause fatigue.
  • Do not be discouraged by too small a group. Even helping one single Parkinson sufferer is worth while.
  • One of the saddest things that happen to people unlucky enough to develop Parkinson's is the loss of movement of the facial muscles, but if you look into their eyes the warmth and humour are there. And everyone I have met so far has been a truly lovely person, joining us with an open and receptive mind.

Further Information

Yoga for Health Foundation, Ickwell Bury, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, SG18 9EF are running a long weekend (Friday to Monday) introducing the benefits of yoga for people with Parkinson's disease and their carers. Organized in association with the Parkinson's Disease Society. June 9th-12th. For more information, contact Rosie Hayward, Parkinson's Disease Society: 020-7931 8080.

Note: This article (within the printed magazine) features 10 photographs plus 1 overall chart (Planning the Sessions), none of these are featured here.


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About Jeanette Macturk

Jeanette Macturk, who sadly died in 2003, was aged 80 when she wrote this article. She had a British Wheel of Yoga Diploma and had been involved with Yoga for almost 40 years and had been teaching in Shropshire and Herefordshire for approximately half that time. Jeanette had also been a Reiki practitioner since 1992.

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