BY ANGELA McHARDY
There’s a band in Scotland, ‘Del Amitri’ sing the tune ‘Driving with the Brakes On’. The title resonates with my journey with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). PD is described as a ‘degenerative neurological condition, caused by impaired dopamine levels, affecting physical, cognitive and emotional functioning.’ It feels a bit like ‘Driving with the Breaks On’. Wanting to do things normally: walking, talking. thinking, but something is slowing you down. Nothing is spontaneous. However, this is a story about taking those brakes off through yoga. A story of resilience and hope.
I am Angela McHardy and pre-diagnosis, 3 years ago, I had a husband, 2 children and a high-level job in Education. I live in a place called West Kilbride. My husband and I had our share of challenges over 18 years but got through them. Life was motoring along. I enjoyed the gym, running, other activities. I was a black belt in karate and I competed nationally. Annoyingly, my leg had a tremor which developed over a few months. It appeared every time I woke and throughout the day. I became unwell. I ended up having a month off work. At this time, my father had end-stage PD. Fortnightly I travelled the 200-miles to my parents who lived further up North in Scotland. Life was stressful, using my car analogy again, things seemed to be stalling a bit. I visited my doctor several times with my tremor, aching shoulder, imbalance and l feeling very unwell.
The professionals decided what was wrong. Stress, workload, hormones, discs…. everything got blamed. Three times I asked ‘Is this PD?’ ‘No ‘ I was told, but I knew they were wrong. Three years on, the lovely Dr Tyagi who is now my regular neurologist diagnosed PD. My husband was at my side, I never imagined I’d face this myself. In the space of nine months, I’d lost my dad, got diagnosed with PD and discovered my husband was having an affair which he conducted when I was at my lowest. Life in multiple traumas. It felt like the brakes were well and truly on!
My family and friends saved me, but what gave me hope back was yoga! Time for me to take control and not let this disease or other’s actions define me. I needed to place myself in the driving seat!
I go on my yoga mat and I feel like the PD melts away. My yoga teacher trained me as a yoga teacher! Relinquishing my career was another source of loss but I have built up a yoga business, ‘Upala-haven Yoga’, practising with various clients. People are surprised when I say I’m a yoga teacher with PD but come to classes and seem to love them. I am restricted to a few poses, but I am originally a ‘teacher’ so can teach any pose, even if I can’t demonstrate.
Exercise should be as mandatory as our medication for someone who has PD. My friends and I are organising a 2-day event ‘, in November promoting this message. Yoga will be a possible intervention. Yoga is not merely a physical activity. It’s a lifestyle which can help heal. Movement, nutrition, hydration, emotional well-being makes for an effective blend. Nutritionally I found that the emphasis on gut health resonated well with research on its impact on conditions such as PD.
My journey to Mysore began when I met the Acharyas in Edinburgh on a course. I gained perspective from their disciplined approach, promised I would come to Mysore. I immediately warmed to these 2 Acharya’s who practised with such integrity and passion. They practise pure yoga. Holding each pose for an extended time before moving. Friends commented on the difference they saw in me after a week. Imagine the difference a month could make? I don’t need to imagine ……I’ve been here at their yoga course in Mysore for a month now and I know the difference made.
The main improvements in my symptoms:
* Improved walking/gait. Improvements in posture created by Venkatesha’s attention to detail sees me steadier on my feet. Acharya’s message is slow things down and focus. He uses the car analogy well: If a car is going too fast it quickly goes out of control. The opposite is also true. I’m walking more slowly, taking time with my movements as well as yoga. The emphasis on patience
* Elevated mood. While here with a focus on the now and positivity I have, slowly stopped using antidepressants
* Alleviating brain-fog. The space in the course allows to truly reflect on situations, I feel my general clarity of thought much improved. This has also been helped by the focused breathing and posture work transferring, from the body to mind.
*Less rigidity. The flexibility aspect of the training programme established space in my spine and joints. My joints feel more fluid.
* Strength: The highly motivational way of increasing strength by holding poses longer each time really worked. Focussing on my ‘personal bests’ improved my emotional and physical strength.
* Detaching from toxic situations. My broken marriage has been difficult to overcome, but the philosophy of attachment made sense. I feel ready to detach Yoga avoids fluctuating towards feelings of anger or injustice
* Return of weakened movement skills I was amazed that when in Mysore I was able to re-establish my ability to swim! I’d be disappointed to lose this skill but it has now returned!
The next step in improving my condition will depend on transferring this model: Daily movement practice, nutritional continuance, while drinking 4 litres water daily and detaching from toxic heartache past. I have never felt stronger and while this approach may not work for everyone it has for me.
What will be missing home in Scotland will be 2 of the most inspirational teachers I’ve met. I am so grateful for their belief in me, their belief in yoga. The brakes are now off!
Angela spent some time studying Yoga in Mysore with Yogacharya Ventakesha & Acharya Hema who run the Atmavikasa Center of Yogic Sciences.