Yoga for Parkinson's Disease

Yoga for Parkinson’s – Interview with Kaitlyn Roland – Part 3

Final post in our interview series with Kaitlyn (Kate) Roland, a Parkinson’s researcher, Yoga instructor and founder of Yogadopa. Check here for Part 1 and Part 2.

What yoga classes are you offering currently for people with Parkinson’s?

Currently I am working with a group in Victoria called ParkinGo. They are a nonprofit group and wellness society who run Parkinson’s-specific exercises classes 2-3 times per week in Victoria and Sidney. Starting in the fall I will be doing a weekly class with them in Victoria. The class will be open to the public on a drop in basis on Mondays at the Hall at St Nicholas Ukrainian Church on Cook/Caledonia from 11:30 am-12:30 pm starting Sept 14th. Check out parkingo.org for updated info (and we will update here on the blog as well)

What is unique about your classes?

 I always spend time at the beginning of the class teaching something. As an researcher I’m always asking “Why.” “Why should I focus on my feet? Why should I try to develop this posture?” “What impact is this having on my brain?” I like to bring that to my yoga classes. People with Parkinson’s tend to read a lot and know a lot about the brain. There is a culture of self-care and self-management, and people become very educated in their disease. So you can absolutely have a conversation with them about dopamine and how the brain works on a basic level. I think that can be very powerful, giving people information.

Your classes are open to people with Parkinson’s as well as their caregivers. Why do you feel it is important to include caregivers?

Caregivers can be stressed, burdened, dealing with their own health issues and may not make time for themselves and their own activities. These classes give caregivers an opportunity to get some much-needed activity and relaxation. And often they’re driving anyways, so they might as well join in!

It’s also very powerful for people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers to do yoga together. And there’s some comfort in not having to walk into a class by themselves. I’ve had a lot of spouses and adult children come to the classes, and they enjoy getting to learn a little bit about Parkinson’s. The class obviously has a focus specific to Parkinson’s, but the benefits are the same for everyone. We’re all getting older and have postural bad habits and could practice balance and strengthen our core.

I’m very clear about setting boundaries for caregivers in my classes though. They are not the caregiver while in the class. Often caregivers feel like they need to help their spouse in and out of the chair, and this isn’t allowed. Occasionally I even have to separate them and put their mats on opposite sides of the class to help them understand that’s not their role during the class! Hopefully it helps them to forget a little about the care dynamic, and makes it just an activity you do together as a couple or adult child and parent.

Some of our readers are physiotherapists or other health or exercise professionals working with people with Parkinson’s. What can we do to incorporate the principles of Yoga into our treatments?

Incorporate something small but important, like breathing. I think having a basic understanding of the principles of yoga, combined with knowledge of the human body allows you to combine things like breathing with cueing strategies. The self-awareness and the mindfulness and the breath can be woven into any type of therapy.

Our work at PhysioCare at Home is helping seniors live healthier and more fulfilling lives. From your perspective, what is the ONE thing that a person with Parkinson’s could do to achieve this?

Do whatever it takes to get yourself out of the house and into the community. For me, it’s asking a client “What do you like to do?” and then figuring out how make that happen.

Some people aren’t motivated to exercise just for the sake of going to the gym or going for a walk. The motivating factor for some people may not be exercise, but the strength they gain by exercising so they have the physical ability to walk to the local coffee shop and meet a friend. And by getting out and going for that cup of coffee, you’re probably going down stairs or navigating sidewalks, improving your strength and balance along the way in addition to being social; this ultimately improves your health and well-being.

Some people get their diagnosis, they close their door, and shut their blinds. But I want people to know they just have to start somewhere. Whatever drives people out the door and into the world is going to make them move physically and be social.

And then you can think what tools do I need to help me do that? Physical therapy and yoga are both complementary tools for your “Parkinson’s management toolkit” and really good for developing good mental and functional habits.

Thank you to Kate Roland for sharing her knowledge and passion for helping people with Parkinson’s.  Readers, we will keep you posted on Kate’s upcoming classes!