Yoga for Parkinson’s: The Optimistic Warrior

Step Back
May 26, 2011
This Isn’t Helping: Yoga for Movement Disorders
June 30, 2011

Yoga for Parkinson’s: The Optimistic Warrior

One of three main yogic warriors, Virabhadrasana II holds a special place in the heart of my practice. This pose builds core strength and enhances balance, a benefit to many bodies, especially those with PD, dystonia or recovering from stroke.

More powerful, though, than what this pose offers physically is its manifestation of something deeper, something that grows from the heart:  hope.

The Pose
We begin by pressing down evenly into where we’re grounded on the mat or chair. As the upper body moves into warrior II, one arm stretches back, the other extends in front. An important element of the pose, even when making modifications, is to maintain balance between the opposing reaches. Behind us, our fingertips nearly touch the past, but we don’t tilt into it. At the same time, we’re pointing toward the future, without leaning toward it. Our body remains centered between what was and what might be, balanced in the present.

The gaze, however, focuses forward. The warrior lives in the moment but with an unwavering eye to the promises ahead. Maintaining a view toward possibilities while living in the present defines optimism. This approach, a benefit to many, is essential for those living with conditions that currently have no cure.

The Variations

Supported Virabhadrasana II

The traditional expression of this asana can be modified through varying levels of support.  A light touch of the forward, bent knee into the edge of a chair seat provides balance assistance. Allow the front forearm to press into the chair back for more stability. This pose can also flow from a seated position.

It may seem counter-productive to use props for balance in a pose that develops better balance. When living with a movement disorder, however, the tension derived from fear of falling negates the traditional gains from the pose.  Rather than fight the intense concentration to stay upright, remove the distraction. Support the base. Strength-building replaces the tension in the legs as well as in important balance areas such as the upper back.

Seated Virabhadrasana II

The Gaze
I often preface a class that includes the warrior II pose – with or without adaptations – with a brief background on Virabhadrasana. This soldier wields no weapons, isn’t positioned to fight. Rather, armored with the mindfulness of the present moment, the yogic warrior is poised to face any battle with strength and balance, the gaze forward unwavering.

The Article
Who better to bear this hopeful warrior title in the public eye of PD than Michael J Fox? At the annual Team Fox appreciation dinner, optimism reverberated throughout the room from his speech, his gratitude for the Team Fox players, applause from and for all of us there.

A recent article in the National Enquirer, however, attempted to make modifications to the heart of this warrior. Editing the word “setback” from results of stem cell research, the Enquirer inserted it into the headline, “Michael J Fox Suffers Parkinson’s Setback?” He’s turning 50 and getting discouraged, losing hope, according to quotes from ‘an insider.’ None of the words quoted were spoken by Michael himself.

That’s because when we set our gaze ahead, we see new research findings daily. Recent studies, for example, have targeted a virus that can lead to better understandings; trials are underway on gene therapy treatment. And isn’t 50 the new 30? I hope so, because I too turn 50 this year and that face staring back at me in the mirror has not lost its youthful optimism.

The Needs
The goal of adapting yoga poses, even if it involves subtracting pieces of the pose, is to maximize the benefits based on a person’s needs. The tabloid made changes to meet its needs to sell more copies. I get that. I make shifts daily to meet physical challenges. I live that.

But it benefits no one to lose heart, to drop their gaze away from possibilities. Modify as needed, but don’t remove the hope.



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