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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Yoga and Parkinson’s: An Interview with Kim Brooks

Aug 29, 2016 09:50PM
Kim Brooks is a Yoga for Parkinson’s instructor with the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA). She recently spoke with M. Teresa Vandergriff, to discuss yoga’s benefits for people facing this condition.

Yoga seems demanding with its “pretzel” poses; can it work for Parkinson’s?

KB: Yoga is the union of breath and awareness of the moment, and there are different types. The right fit depends on a client’s interests and goals. Some floor work or standing poses might be too hard, but there is always something the client can do.

What can yoga do for strength and balance?

KB: Yoga increases strength and flexibility, and fights fragility. For example, yoga leg poses strengthen the thigh muscles—essential for walking, getting out of a car, etc. Strong muscles here keep one independent. And studies show that, surprisingly, leg muscles affect brain health.

Balance, while important for everyone, is critical for Parkinson clients due to increased risk for falls. Seated poses for the back and legs help clients improve their muscle strength and flexibility so they move easier and feel more confident. Along with leg strength, the upper body is important because the weaker the upper frame, the higher the risk for falls. The stronger the muscles that support the skeletal frame, the better they protect bones and prevent serious injury if one does fall.

Another benefit is that yoga helps memory improve. When you focus on tasks like holding a leg in a pose while breathing a certain way, the neurons grow stronger.

One more point: Yoga is life. It is living in the moment and noticing what we feel. When we start living in our body we start to hear the body’s important messages about stress, like shallow breathing or tight shoulders. As we begin to understand the relaxation response, we can counteract these stresses. Also, through yoga breath work and stretches, we learn to relax and engage in new behaviors for our well-being.

What do your clients enjoy about yoga?

KB: Once they become open to guidance with breathing, they love the relaxation response that different yogic breaths offer. There are so many to try! As clients experiment, they often find ones to incorporate into everyday life. Chair and standing poses become favorites as clients see themselves improve. And clients feel great about moving more easily. The good feelings multiply, too, in classes with other Parkinson clients, where everyone supports one another!

Still, not everyone is an instant fan! If a client has taken a class and was not happy, I stress that it’s wonderful—and good for the brain—to experience something new. It may be difficult or uncomfortable, but as the client proceeds, and tries different ways, the experience may become more interesting.

But I encourage clients to make sure nothing hurts, that they feel safe and secure and that they never risk injury. Always talk to the teacher and ask for alternatives!

For more information about PFNCA and to learn about the 170+ monthly programs provided, including yoga, at no cost to help people with Parkinson’s, visit

M. Teresa Vandergriff, MSW, is a retired grant writing consultant now studying senior health and wellness.



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