Discoveries made along my Parkinson’s journey
Exercise and Parkinson’s. If you have PD you have been bombarded since diagnosis with the message that you need to exercise. Whether it’s dance or walking, running or resistance training, swimming or boxing, the message is relentless that you should be physically active. Enough Already!
Since August of 2010 there have been precious few moments that I have not been aware of my bodies constant motion. The tremor rarely leaves me for more than brief periods. I long for periods of calm where my world is still. Add to the tremor the noise of a typical life and there are many days I just want peace.
Exercise. More motion, frenetic energy, the sheer effort required to make your body do what you want it to do. Now, lest you think I’m going to suggest that you don’t need to exercise, well, let’s clear that up right now. I help run a boxing club after all! We must exercise but there is more to it that I believe we often miss.
As I approach my sixth anniversary that second familiar symptom which so bizarrely sets itself up in opposition to my tremor has begun to affect my shoulders. Rigidity or stiffness. This is a ‘shake your head’ kind of moment when you go from moving too much to not being able to move at all or at best with pain.
I am left asking the question of how one addresses this twofold problem. How do you attack the stiffness in order to maintain your flexibility, increase strength and muscle tone all with a sense of stillness? It is possible.
Often I am left sore and even more stiff after exercising. While it does help with my ability to move better I have found a solution that for me far excedes any other.
Stretching and strengthening programs or what is better known as yoga. (Stop! Stop! Come back, come back, come back!) See I knew if I used that word too soon you would run off. Now, you can relax. There will be no ads for Lulu Lemon here. Bear with me just a few moments.
Look at your hands (this will include most but not everyone with PD) they may be shaking but you may also note that they are not moving either. How can this be? We have all noted the shaking hands that are none the less curved toward closing and unmoving. We have ourselves or seen others hold one shaking arm with the opposite hand. The effected arm is shaking but it is also unmoving. In an attempt to control the tremor we hold the limb, fingers, hand tight and still. Thus with time not only does the natural progression of rigidity steal our movement but we further the problem by purposefully not moving.
The purposeful and deliberate stretching that occurs in yoga helps me retain more of my ability to move. I have less pain and greater range of motion when doing yoga than I do with any other program I follow.
It may be important to note here what I am not talking about. I am not talking about the need to wear spandex and join a class of thirty year olds twisting their bodies into contortions you never imagined possible. I am not talking about religion either.
I am talking about exercises, yes, there is that word, that allow you to do all of this : reduce stiffness, increase your range of motion or movement all the while not adding chaos to your life.
Would you be willing to try one exercise if all it required was lying down? For all of you who have shoulder issues, are noticing you are walking more hunched over or your shoulders turn in toward your chest it is time to lie down.
Take what I call a ‘water noodle’ which is that long toy that kids play with in the pool or roll up a towel, pillow or blanket and lie down on it. Lie face up with the ‘noodle’ running from your head to your feet straight down your spine. With the palms of your hands facing up put your arms out to your sides like an airplane and rest. You are now exercising.
I am guessing that one or both of your hands will not reach the floor in this position. Your goal will be to simply let gravity work and over time it will stretch and relax your muscles until your hands can rest on the floor.
There you are, your first exercise that involved nothing more than lying down. It was even a very yoga like exercise that did not involve spandex or bending over in front of other people.
So what is my goal here? It is to help you find moments of stillness and quiet that also help your body. Did you relax while you were lying there? Did you take a moment to just rest? You can, you know, no one is watching.
Live Your Best!