This Isn’t Helping: Yoga for Movement Disorders

Yoga for Parkinson’s: The Optimistic Warrior
June 4, 2011
Living with Parkinson’s: A Moving Experience
July 3, 2011

This Isn’t Helping: Yoga for Movement Disorders

You’ve read that yoga is beneficial. Even though you can’t see yourself folding into a pretzel. Even if you’re like many who don’t move with ease and think, I can’t do yoga.

Imagine that you search for yoga and Parkinson’s or yoga and movement disorders. Site listings pop up. Perhaps you think that maybe, just maybe you can.

You click on one of the number of sites that bring you to yoga for movement disorders. If you click on one of the first few, an image appears on your screen. The beach. Yoga for movement disorders is taking place on the beach.

If a picture paints a thousand words, this image paints the same five words 200 times: See, I can’t do yoga. See, I can’t do yoga. See . . .

Yoga for movement disorders begins with the breath. As it moves into asana practice, second to the breath is the environment.

The beach, a traditionally soothing, natural setting doesn’t set the appropriate tone for yoga practitioners with neurological conditions that affect their movement. Actually, it can drive away a newcomer who lives with Parkinson’s, who is recovering from a stroke, who battles dystonia. Sure, we love the beach. But the setting for yoga needs to be:

* safe
* supported
* accessible

Poses and Flows
And once we move into asana practice, the poses also need to be:

* safe
* supported
* accessible

Safe refers to physical safety as well as emotional protection.

Physically, the fear of falling travels alongside most with movement disorders. The edges of rugs, thresholds, curbs can be challenging. Walking down to the water’s edge in squishy, uneven sand only adds to the likelihood that we won’t remain vertical.

In addition, we tend to be cautious of being in the sun. Studies show that for Parkinson’s patients, for example, the risk of skin cancer is significantly higher than for those without the condition.

Emotionally, exposing our physical limitations to any passing beachcomber is not relaxing.

The flows also need to be safe. With nothing to hold onto, to break a fall, no asana will release the tension or bring the mind and body together if we’re afraid of falling.

Creating a safe environment includes places to sit, to reach out to for extra stability. The wide open sand does not do this. Chairs on mats on solid flooring provide this.  Close proximity to walls provides this. A bathroom nearby provides this  (many with movement disorders have overactive bladders that create a frequency and an urgency to need a restroom).

Surrounded by others of like ability helps provide support emotionally. Props and modifications invite a Can Do spirit that replaces the fear. Breath can then be combined with movement as tools to open the areas that are particularly rigid and tight, allowing relaxation to permeate throughout.

See Safe and Supported.  Please also see and

If you’ve read about the benefits of yoga for movement disorders and think that  maybe, just maybe you can do it (you can), don’t end at the beach. Find the image that paints you in the picture. Find a teacher whose studio and approach are safe, supported and accessible.

If you’re a teacher and want to  help your students with movement disorders benefit from all that yoga can offer, please create an appropriate space, one that matches our needs.

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