Last week, I started a series on Yoga For Everyone. Yoga is a physical practice that can be used for a wide range of applications. Some find the practice intensely spiritual. Others use it strictly for physical fitness or physical therapy. Many engage in the practice somewhere in the middle of the continuum.
Yoga on the Ridge takes a therapeutic approach to Yoga. The owner, Theresa Conroy, is a Yoga Therapist who is doing some really progressive things with it. Most notably, she has the first and (as far as we can find) only class in the Philadelphia area for Parkinson’s patients.
Pairing Yoga with Parkinson’s is an innovative practice but is proving to be a powerful tool. “Because Parkinson’s is a movement disorder, the mindfulness of Yoga helps the brain re-learn as the dopamine neurotransmitters are dying off” Theresa explains. Though formal, clinical studies have not yet been conducted, Theresa has worked with Parkinson’s patients for five years now, and has seen “tremendous results."
For decades, Parkinson’s patients were often told not to move, or were afraid to move for fear of the shaking. The typical progression was one of confinement and deterioration. But now doctors are discovering that exercise is beneficial for Parkinson’s patients. And, since yoga has techniques that teach people to focus their minds as they control the body, it is an especially empowering form of exercise for Parkinson's patients.
The class takes specific yoga asanas (poses) that are simple but have profound results. Some focus on the limbs, others on the core. One yoga technique for strengthening the abdomen, also helps to strengthen the pelvic floor. Parkinson’s can effect bladder control, so engaging in this exercise can help clients have better control in that area – which can greatly improve quality of life!
I visited Theresa’s class and spoke with one of the participants. He said that involvement with this class has changed his life. He has seen great improvements in his posture, his ability to control his body, and his overall quality of life. Throughout his week he will have “moments when I think, ‘What would Theresa tell me to do now?’ Then, I know what to do and can successfully get through the moment instead of being afraid.”
Theresa explains that depression often accompanies Parkinson’s disease. She is not sure if Parkinson’s depression is a result of the disease itself since it decreases dopamine production which, among other things, is a feel good hormone. Or if it comes as a response to the disease as a person's quality of life declines. People are often afraid of the judgment or the embarrassment that comes with shaking or muscle spasms or vocal degeneration. Many remove themselves from social settings and become progressively more isolated. Loss of independence and social interaction can both be large factors contributing to depression.
Yoga empowers people to regain independence and enter social settings with more confidence. “Within one hour, some people have results where they go from hunched over and shuffling to standing straight and walking,” Theresa explains. When they experience these kind of results, it can help bring joy into their lives to replace some of the depression. Yoga may also have some effect on the production of dopamine, since dopamine production can be increased with exercise and has been seen to increase with things like prayer and meditation. Though this is merely a hypothesis, it may be one worth following up on.
Meanwhile, for those who suffer from Parkinson’s, I highly suggest checking out Theresa’s class. She has worked with some patients for up to five years who have not had any progression in the symptoms of the disease – and that is a big deal. She also takes one-on-one clients.
This is not a one-and-done medicine. Rather, it is an ongoing practice that empowers people to live a better life. The weekly class time is like physical therapy that clients can continue to practice on their own through the week. Coming back to class the following week reinforces techniques, gives encouragement that comes when people who share an affliction can receive from each other.