Archive for the ‘Alternative therapies’ Category

Yoga and Parkinson’s: A Healing Path for Every Side

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

We are sometimes asked “What is the best exercise for a person living with Parkinson’s disease?” The answer – the exercise you will actually do. For some people, it is yoga. I first met Renee Le Verrier several years ago at a Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease conference  in Providence, RI. I was amazed at how she transformed the room while leading a chair yoga class for people living with Parkinson’s disease. We are grateful to Renee for sharing the impact that yoga has had on her life and her Parkinson’s disease.

Renee Le Verrier, RYT, is a certified yoga teacher and author of Yoga for Movement Disorders:  Rebuilding Strength, Balance and Flexibility for Parkinson’s and Dystonia (book and DVD). She teaches at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Parkinson’s Yoga and Lecture Series, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital’s stroke rehabilitation program. Renee also collaborates with the MA Chapter APDA and TriYoga Boston in offering a five-day certificate program for yoga teachers who want to learn how to work with students with Parkinson’s. For more information, please visit http://www.limyoga.com/.

Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

DSC_2301I stumbled in to my first yoga class, literally, when I was in my 30s. I didn’t notice the half-step up and I entered the quiet space with an aayee, whoop, and oof. Embarrassed, I tugged my hoodie around my reddening face. Though my left side moved slowly and felt uncoordinated – the result of a childhood stroke – I’d never quite gotten used to the limp, the stumbles.

When I snuck a peek around the room, I discovered that no one seemed bothered by my noisy, clumsy interruption. A peacefulness lingered in the room.

The teacher led us through poses and I felt my body absorb both the movement and the calm around me. Sore muscles softened, my breathing had a rhythm to it. Even a bit of the residual hypertonia and imbalance in my left arm and leg released. I felt taller.

The biggest surprise came as I realized that my mind relaxed, too. All that brain chatter – mental to-do lists, a review of the morning’s appointments in my head, automatic self-correcting (those should’ves and could’ves, as in: should’ve seen that step) – hushed. Even the song lyric that had replayed itself over and over for the past three days was gone. Yoga had led my mind from planning ahead, thinking back, judging myself. It guided me to the only moment that there really is: the one happening now. I felt free.

mod1childMy Parkinson’s diagnosis occurred after a decade of practicing yoga. I’d started to stumble because my right side moved slowly and felt uncoordinated. Thoughts rushed into my brain: What will happen? How will I manage? Can someone please help me open this jar? I was 42 and I was running out of sides.

Parkinson’s provided plenty of opportunities to stumble and to worry about the future and yearn for what was.  Yoga helped ease the physical struggles by making me stronger and more flexible. It also calmed the emotional struggles because it continued to guide me along the path to the center within me.

I decided to spread the good word about yoga for Parkinson’s while I was attending physical therapy sessions early after my diagnosis. In that six-week program, I worked with therapists in the pool, socialized with fellow patients during lunch, attended counseling sessions. There was a bit of almost everything therapeutic. The one thing missing, I commented at one point, was yoga. As engaging as the rehab was, no one session linked body and mind, providing that freeing sense of well-being, of being in the moment.

I still remember the look the OT gave me when I said that. She gazed across the table, raised her eyebrows and with a dramatic blink, tilted her head and stared wide-eyed at me. What she said without saying a word was: What are you going to do about that? Can you think of anyone who knows yoga and knows what it’s like to live inside a movement disorder body? Um, I remember thinking. Me? Within the week, I had registered for teacher training. That was seven years, countless classes, and a published book ago.

When I stumbled into that first yoga class, I stumbled into something bigger than an approach to movement. I discovered that I do have another side. In addition to my left and my right, there is a healing, centering side: my inside.

Renee Le Verrier

Reel Therapy: Irish Set Dance & Parkinson’s Disease

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Happy St. Paddy’s Day! We think this is the perfect time to share Terrance O’Dwyer’s knowledge of the therapeutic effect of Irish traditional (“Trad” for short) dancing on Parkinson’s disease. One of his goals is to get the word out: Trad “reely” helps!

Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

Reel Therapy: Irish Set Dance & Parkinson’s Disease by Terrance O’Dwyer, Team O’Dwyer
Which is more probable – the chances of winning $50 million in power ball super lotto or, the likelihood of an Irish dancer and Irish composer naming a newly composed Irish jig tune after an Italian neurologist, who just happens to be a member of an Irish traditional music band (Trad for short,) and who has documented the therapeutic effects of Irish set dancing for those of us with Parkinson’s disease (PD)?

Trick question, to be sure, and I am not sure we have an answer. Clearly, the two events are pretty improbable. Nevertheless, two selections from Mary Beth Taylor’s new DVD entitled Sean Nos Jigs for Everyone are named in honor of Italian neurologist, Doctor Daniele Volpe. The story of how this all happened is remarkable.

Dr. Daniele Volpe

Dr. Daniele Volpe

Daniele Volpe is not an ordinary Italian neurologist. In addition to heading up the Parkinson’s Rehabilitation unit at the St. John of God hospital in Venice, he is a musician who loves Trad and who visits Ireland frequently to play in a band.The story began in June of 2010 in Peppers’ Pub, a Trad hot spot located in the tiny village of Feakle (population 126), in County Clare. Pepper’s regularly offers Trad nights where customers can enjoy music, and if so inclined, participate in set dances. One night, just as the band was about to start, the Italian doctor noticed a man with an unsteady but familiar gait enter the pub. “Someone with Parkinson’s,” he remembered thinking.

About 20 minutes later, the band opened the floor for a set dance, and Volpe was surprised to see the man with Parkinson’s among the dancers. What followed was incredible: the man who walked so unsteadily required no assistance to dance. Indeed, the man went through the moves effortlessly, as if he were a different person. Dr. Volpe was quite puzzled, and asked one of the band members about a particular leg movement he noticed. Thus Dr. Volpe learned about the Reel step.

Dr. Volpe made an important observation. For many with Parkinson’s, posterior-anterior advancement of the lower limb during the swing phase of the gait’s cycle is compromised. Yet, the Reel Step enabled a dancer with Parkinson’s to override these impediments.

But why? He surmised the answer may be dance steps associated with the strongly accented upbeat music that characterizes Trad. To test his idea, he ran a small-scale 6-month randomized study involving 24 patients who presented moderate stage Parkinson’s symptoms. While all forms of therapy were beneficial, the Irish set dance group improved more than the control in every measurement category.

Doctor Volpe presented his initial findings in June 2012 to the International Congress of PD and Movement Disorders in Dublin, and, followed his medical summation with the best presentation possible: his patients performed a set of dances before the audience of nearly one thousand.  Talk about pressure!

A report from Ireland prior to conference

A report from Ireland prior to the 2012 International Congress of PD and Movement Disorders in Dublin

One man’s reaction. I first read about the Volpe discoveries in October, 2012 and was overjoyed. I was first diagnosed with PD in 1997. I also love Trad and noticed that when listening to it, I could perform some dexterity tests – such as tapping my thumb with my pointer finger – for significantly longer durations than when without music. Moreover, I found my improvement with dexterity occurred only with Trad, and a few distant relatives, like a Cajun two-step. While I still have not learned to dance, I knew that Doctor Volpe was onto something, and I thought it would be wonderful for someone to name a piece of Trad music after him. The question was, how do I do this?

Enter Martin Tourish, one of Ireland’s leading Trad composers when he is not pursuing his doctoral studies in music at Dublin Institute of Technology. I sent an e-mail to Martin and within a day he wrote back saying that he had just finished composing ten Irish jigs for Mary Beth Taylor’s new DVD entitled, Sean Nos Jigs for Everyone. Eight were not yet titled, and pending Mary Beth’s approval, he would be delighted to name two of the jigs in honor of Doctor Volpe. A day later, he again wrote to say that she enthusiastically agreed.

Next steps. Follow-up testing is now underway with an international randomized trial being conducted by researchers from University of Limerick in Ireland and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

And the tiny village of Feakle will celebrate Doctor Volpe’s discoveries with two major events in August of 2013. As part of the 26th Annual Traditional Music Festival, organizers have invited Dr. Volpe’s dance group of Parkinson’s patients to be special guest performers. And, Doctor Volpe will present his latest findings at a conference on “The Therapeutic Effects of Irish Set Dancing in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.”

Finally, for anyone who does not know what set dance is, and for those that love it, here is a video of ‘reel music’ and its effect on happy feet!

Youtube set dancing

Aikido makes the difference for Ken Marvin

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

3rd degreeKen Marvin has participated in the Unity Walk since 2003. In this guest blog post, he shares his experience with Aikido, the martial arts practice that he and his doctor believe has slowed the progression of his Parkinson’s disease. This is another example of what our walkers CAN DO to be proactive in managing this disease. It’s different for each person. Let us know what is working for you.
Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 35. The most important decision I made about treating this disease was made five year before my diagnosis. In 1994, I decided to take a Martial Arts class called Aikido (Nihon Goshin Aikido) with the idea of getting my son(s) into it later. You see, my oldest son at the time was 3 years old and very skinny. I was afraid he was going to get picked on. I wanted him to have self-confidence and be able to defend himself. I did not plan to continue once he got going. Later, I realized I needed Aikido more than I knew.

It was October of 1999. The world was worrying about the year 2000 and its effect on the computer systems (Y2K). I was working for a large company’s Information Systems group in charge of the Y2K project for their Telecom department. It was a typical “bite off more than I could chew” day. I was in my office preparing for a meeting, getting a late start because I had just come from my flying lesson early that morning. I was a bit worn out having stayed up late to work on a project for the MBA program I was enrolled in. This is when I felt a flutter in my left pinky. My pinky was moving on its own. My assistant at work said “Maybe you have that thing Michael J. Fox has.” I just laughed. I thought it was a pinched nerve or something. See, I was also in the process of testing for a black belt in Aikido.

Less than five months later, at the ripe old age of 35, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). I remember looking at my wife and we both looked at the doctor and said, “So, what do we do?  What medicines, etc.?” There was no shock; no “why me?” moment. I think we both already knew. I was trained in Aikido to blend with whatever comes your way. This was no different. Over the next two years, I focused on what was important in my life. I stopped the MBA program because I was in it for the wrong reasons. I had to put down flying lessons due to medications. I eventually went out on disability from work to relieve the stress. I also realized how much the training and teaching in Aikido was helping me physically and mentally.  My neurologist, Dr. DiRocco, and I believe that my Aikido training has a lot to do with my continued health and slow PD progression.

Fast forward – I am now 48 with a wonderful wife and four boys ages 13-21. In the 13 years since my diagnosis, I’ve continued as a student and instructor in the art of Aikido and recently obtained my 3rd Degree Black Belt in our 5 Degree system. I teach classes every day but Sunday. Other than tremors and soft speech, I do not have many of the issues you would expect after 13+ years with Parkinson’s disease. Balance has never been an issue. No rigidity. Even the tremors stop when I do a technique in Aikido. Click on the image below to view the youtube video I created about Aikido and its impact on my Parkinson’s disease.

Youtube imageAikido is all about balance and being one with your environment. Continually moving from your center of gravity, keeps your body balanced. The discipline keeps the mind in balance. The exercise in general is good for the body. We even do stretches designed to keep your wrists flexible. This art is exactly what I need to keep me healthy.  Aikido found me before Parkinson’s set in. I believe it was by the grace of God.

Ken Marvin
Team Captain, Miracle Marvins

Finding your empowerment

Monday, February 11th, 2013

In keeping with our theme of “What You CAN Do”, we are deligthed to feature a blog post from Karl Robb, a blogger, Parkinson’s advocate, writer, inventor, speaker, photographer,  and Reiki master.  His new book, A Soft Voice in a Noisy World: A Guide to Dealing and Healing with Parkinson’s Disease is available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in paperback and eBook formats.
Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

Kar Robb asoftvoice_coverThe diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) at the age of 23 was both frightening and yet, cathartic. I didn’t know what I had but part of me wondered if it might be a brain tumor.  At such a young age, I was unaware of what PD was, but I knew that I was going to have to learn to live with it. My body was out of control. My feet shuffled, my posture was slouched, and my foot began to tremor for no apparent reason.  I received my diagnosis over 20 years ago, after seeing nearly a dozen doctors. Had I known what I know now, I would have taken charge of my illness even sooner than I did.

Throughout my life, I have observed how PD poses unique issues for each individual that is struck with it. My book, A Soft Voice in a Noisy World: A Guide to Dealing and Healing with Parkinson’s Disease is a lifelong collection of tips, suggestions, and advice that has served me well. There is no doubt that illness limits our capabilities but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have options. Parkinson’s disease changes your life, but it doesn’t have to destroy it.

There is still so much that you can do. A proactive and investigative search into complementary therapies, stress relief techniques, and an overall health regimen may serve you well. What works for one may not be of benefit to another. Finding the modality that works for you is vital to your health and healing. For me, my life changed at the introduction to Reiki.
Karl Robb
Fourteen years ago, I wasn’t looking for Reiki (a complementary therapy using light touch that reduces stress), but it found me. My friend and longtime teacher had just moved his practice less than a mile from my home in Virginia. Someone totally unrelated to Reiki and in another state gave me my teacher’s name. I was reluctant to investigate Reiki because it sounded so new age and indescribable.

Cautiously and a little reluctantly, I went to see what Reiki was all about. When my now teacher and dear friend explained the benefits of Reiki, it sounded too good to be true.  As unconventional as Reiki sounded, I needed something to boost my energy, reduce my dyskinesia, and help me with my balance. I was willing to give it a try with little to lose.

I skeptically got on the massage table (fully clothed) and 90 minutes after my very first session, I was hooked. My body felt lighter, all my stress had faded away, I felt invigorated, and my walking showed improvement. Since the first treatment, I received numerous Reiki treatments and over 14 years, I have trained and learned to work on myself and others. For me, I know that Reiki has allowed me to do so much more. Reiki has not cured my PD but it has quelled many of the symptoms that plague PD patients.

Finding what works for you can take careful and thorough investigation. Therapies like yoga, acupuncture, massage, cranial sacral, Reiki, and others may help you and have little to no risk. Working with your doctor on the medical side and finding a complementary therapy may very well prove that there is more that you can do for yourself.

Karl Robb