By Angela McHardy, trained as a yoga teacher after Parkinson's Disease diagnosis.
HEALING WITH YOGA
The first topic to be covered is a consideration of what I’ve learned from my teachers (Achayras). So much I could talk about! Hope, purpose, a sense of letting go. An altogether holistic/total yoga approach. The overall learning message I've taken from my teachers is that it is this combination and integration of approaches which is most effective: nutrition, hydration, movement and emotional well being.
Three years ago my life fell apart! I lost my beloved Dad, got diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), had to retire from a high profile career in education that I adored, oh, and just to add icing to the cake, my husband had an affair, conducted in the cruelest way possible, and left me after eighteen years, at my most vulnerable time! However, this is not an article of despair, but one which will ring of hope, resilience and looking forward. All that was just my starting point
YOGA TO THE RESCUE
I had been ill three years prior to my diagnosis. The medical profession decided what was wrong. Stress, workload, hormones, discs... everything got blamed. I’d watched my Dad regress with PD, eventually unable to move from bed. Three times I asked one neurologist 'Is this PD?' 'No definitely not' I was told but I knew what was wrong. In time, my lovely and now regular neurologist diagnosed PD. I cried like I never have before, making good use of Dr Tyagi's tissues! My husband was at my side at this time. I never dreamt I'd face this journey myself! A very different journey indeed. Our strength must come from inside. That’s a tough shout sometimes. My family, my friends they've all been there and saved me from spiralling into a world of negativity... along with my yoga.
I practised this before and after diagnosis and for the 1.5 hours I went to yoga class I could temporarily switch off. When I go on my yoga mat I feel like the PD really just melts away. My yoga teacher, Joanna Ritchie, showed a leap of faith in me and trained me up as a yoga teacher! Giving up my career because of PD was another source of loss to me but I have built up a small ‘not for profit' yoga business, practising gentle yoga with a range of clients. Of course, I am slightly restricted with just a few poses, but I am a 'teacher' to trade so can teach any pose well even if I can't do it myself. Yoga is my life now and I feel it is majorly responsible for building the resilience I’ve needed to cope with the life challenges that have come my way. I have long believed exercise should be as mandatory as our PD medication is for someone who has PD.
In this course, Acharya Hema and Acharya Venkatesha have proven to me beyond a doubt that it's their 'total yoga' approach that works so well. Movement, diet, cleansing and emotional well being makes for a highly effective holistic blend.
In terms of nutrition I have found their emphasis on gut health resonated so well with recent research on its impact on neurological conditions such as PD. The recommended detox, now sees my gut in great health, so I'm looking forward to seeing the positive effects, which are already evident, continuing. Much has been written about the correlation between the slowing down of PD and having a healthy gut but very few neurologists ever offer nutritional advice. The additional recommended consumption of bananas, which are renowned for containing natural dopamine must impact positively on my dopamine deprived brain! At the moment I feel my nutritious diet, along with other aspects, has alleviated the brain fog so often associated with PD. The detox eating and drinking regime has also taught me how I can easily function without stimulants such as caffeine/alcohol. Alcohol exacerbates my symptoms so why would I drink?
VISIT TO MYSORE
I met Achayra Hema and Achayra Venkatesha in Edinburgh initially on their 5 day course, recommended by my own yoga teacher. I got so much from it then, that I internally promised myself I would come to Atmavikasa Centre for Yogic Sciences, Mysore, India. I immediately warmed to these 2 achayras who practised and spoke with such integrity warmth and passion. My friends all commented what a difference they saw after a week. Imagine the difference a month could make? Now I don't need to imagine... I know.
The main differences which have been made on my symptoms to date are:
- Improved walking and gait, the improvements in posture created by Achayra Ventakesha’s meticulous attention to detail sees me steadier on my feet, even on India’s uneven pavements!
- Elevated mood, while here with such a focus on the now and positivity I have, very sensibly, reduced my use of ant-depressants... I did this with medical advice, but this course has truly created a positive outlook towards life and real hope for the future.
- Disappearance of brain fog, due to the time and space the course allows to truly reflect and resolve situations, I feel my general clarity of thought is much improved - this has also been helped by the very focussed breathing and posture focus, transferring, I think, from body to mind.
- Less rigidity of movement, the flexibility aspect of the training programme has really created space in my spine and joints.
- Increased strength. Achayra Ventskesha’s unique and highly motivational way of increasing strength by holding poses for longer each time really worked, focussing on my own ‘personal bests’ improved my emotional and physical strength enormously.
- Ability to detach myself from toxic situations which negatively affect my PD, my broken marriage has been very difficult to overcome but the philosophy teachings connected to attachment really struck a chord - I had been hanging on to my attachment, a very toxic one, not a loving or heathly one: I feel ready now to detach and let go.
- The gradual return of lost or weakened movement skills, e.g swimming, I was amazed last week to re-establish my ability to swim - I’d been really disappointed to lose this skill but it now appears to have returned!
The next step in improving my condition will depend on transferring this holistic model to home. This will need to consist of 1.5 hours daily yoga movement practice, barefoot walking, continuing my clean diet while also drinking 4 litres water a day and detaching myself from toxic heartache of the past.
Of course what will be missing will be two of the most inspirational teachers I've ever met. For me this has been a life-changing experience. Achayras Hema and Venkatesha have hopefully started me on my journey to recovery. I am so grateful for their sincere belief in me, their belief in their yoga concept and the ‘magic of Mysore!’
My second topic is the new (to me at least) concept of barefoot walking. Hema mentioned the benefits of barefoot walking during one of our philosophy lessons. I immediately did a web search, finding multiple articles promoting the benefits of barefoot walking. Barefoot walking is essentially an act of grounding ourselves to the earth without the middleman.....shoes!
This process allows for the earth’s electro-magnetism to route directly to ourselves where we can immediately benefit from this earth through being directly rooted to nature.
The health attributes associated with this activity are said to be far reaching and seem to complement many aspects of the programme. According to an article by the 'power of positivity'' outline, some of the main benefits as re-energising the body, avoiding inflammation, improving strength and balance and more general well being. I was slightly sceptical initially of this's activity and its purported benefits. However going with the view that 'Hema is usually right', I took a 30 minute barefoot walk daily in the local park. I have grown to believe that this type of walking has made my own walking stronger and more stable.
Transferring this from India to Scotland may be problematic due to the adverse weather conditions which tend to prevail in Scotland.
However, taking time to really feel your foot movements and for pressure directly, raises a fresh awareness of foot mobility which has had a positive affect on my gait overall. Weather permitting I hope to continue with this back in Scotland on my dog walk at our local beach. The shoeless pursuit forces my ankles and toes to support and balance me themselves without the aid of a ‘prop’ ( shoes) leading to greater independent strength and balance when I do wear footwear.
The theory makes absolute sense so I hope to find some way to continue the practice at home.