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Handling Holiday Stress with Yoga

By Renee Le Verrier, November 30

To many, the holidays mean pumpkin spice aromas, festive preparations and family gatherings. To others, however, it’s a cold, dreaded time. Travel, get-togethers and baskets of goodies fill the calendar with social activity and plenty of pie. For people living with Parkinson’s, disruptions in routines and diet can be anything but festive. Schedule and mealtime shifts interfere with medication absorption and effectiveness. Navigating crowded malls and restaurants is akin to obstacle courses. Visits with relatives can become a collision of good intentions and misunderstandings. And when stress hits, symptoms worsen. To help keep the season warm and enjoyable, keep in mind that this is the season of giving. Be sure to give to yourself these next couple of months. Yoga – even ten minutes at a time – can help in a variety of ways. Movement Often, movement can relieve stress. A regular practice of lengthening and loosening stiff areas is beneficial any time of year. To relieve stressors that come with the season, try adding a twist to your day. •    Seated Twist: Sit towards the front edge of a dining chair or folding chair. Sit tall and try to stack your ribs over your hips, your shoulders over your ribs. Place your hands on your hips, elbows pointing away from you. Keep your chin in line with your throat through these steps, twisting from the hips up to the shoulders, not at the neck. Beginning with your hips, twist to the left. Follow in the same direction with your ribs and on the next breath with your shoulders. Uncoil, take a breath in and out. Repeat, turning to the right. An option if you’re feeling unsteady is to hold onto the seat of the chair with your right hand while twisting to the left and with your left hand while twisting right. Move slowly enough to be able to notice the how each segment of the twist feels. •    Seated Twist variation: Follow the steps for the Seated Twist but place your fingertips on your shoulders and extend out through your elbows away from you, as though you’re the letter “t.”  Awareness Yoga is primarily about awareness. Among yoga’s definitions is “a meditation in motion.” It’s more about the meditation than the motion. When the holiday season gets bogged down in expectations – around schedule, on and off times, wishing Aunt Betty understood that you can’t control your dyskenisia – bring your awareness to the present moment. Noticing the breath can be very settling because it’s something we can control. •    Counting Breath: Find a comfortable seated position, in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Focus on the inhale, filling your lungs from the bottom up. Focus on the exhale, letting air out from the top of the lungs down, squeezing the last of it out before the next inhale. Next, count slowly to four as you inhale. Match that same pace in counting to four as you exhale, making the breath in and out even. Do this for several breaths. •    Counting Breath variation:  For added relaxation, after a few rounds of breath on the count of four, increase the length of the exhale to the count of six. Keep the inhales at four. Do this for several breaths. It can be helpful in falling asleep and can be done lying in bed on your back. Whether you live with Parkinson’s or live with and care for someone who does, take time to de-stress. Give yourself the gift of ten minutes a day. Renee Le Verrier is a certified yoga instructor who teaching has included classes at Massachusetts General Hospital's Parkinson's Partner Center, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital's Neurology Day Program and a Parkinson’s Teacher Training Program. Renee specializes in creating adaptations and modifications for people living with movement disorders. Diagnosed with Parkinson's a decade ago and having survived a childhood stroke, Renee practices yoga to decrease rigidity and fatigue in body as well as increase flexibility and balance in body and in spirit. She is the author of the book Yoga for Movement Disorders and its Companion DVD. You can find more information about her work at LIM Yoga.

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