Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The discipline of movement in Yoga and Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is primarily a movement disorder caused by loss of dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain. It manifests as slowness of movement, rigidity and tremor. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in April 2012; I was only 33 at the time. I’ve found the disease makes my body disobedient to my conscious intentions; it pushes me away from my body.

Moving with Parkinson’s requires substantial concentration (the type of concentration reserved for complex maths problems!) to initiate, sustain and complete the action. Parkinson’s randomly breaks the movement down into its component parts and requires you to reorder each part. It is a strange feeling when you are so used to smooth, almost automatic, movement. Parkinson’s forces a deliberation to your movement.

Yoga requires of its students a discipline of movement to set up the various poses. It encourages the mind to become clear to allow you to focus on completing a series of regimented movements. Yoga, by focusing on disciplined movement, cuts through the noise of everyday life and reconnects you to your body. For example, yoga lays great emphasis on breathing as a way to take over an automatic function of the body and assert conscious control.

I find yoga to be ideal training to help me control my movement. The deliberation and clarity that yoga requires helps me to become accustomed to focusing my mind on the action of my body. This makes the deliberation that is forced onto me by Parkinson’s much more a possession of my consciousness; I can choose the best way to order my movement. The goal of a specific pose and the precision needed to achieve that goal helps me to inhabit and control my body more, which is beneficial in countering the impact of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s pushes me away from my body but yoga helps to push back; it maintains communication between the action of my body and the conscious will that is meant to drive it. Thus, yoga strengthens the feeling I have of a connection to my body.

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