Being mobile, whether it is on foot, driving a car or pedaling your bike, is something many of us assume is our birthright.
It is so linked to being independent that unless our mobility is impaired in some way we seldom give it a second thought.
It is easy to be unaware that simply getting around can be an important part of the journey of living with a chronic condition. I recently met a man at a meeting for people with Parkinson’s disease who was beaming. He has been disabled by the disease for years, finding himself in a wheelchair much of the time. Through physical therapy he has gone from the wheelchair to a walker. His apparent joy and positive attitude inspired us all.
The term movement disorders is common in the world of neurology. When I first encountered it there was something theoretical about it. Unless there was an accident, how could my movements become disordered? The reality is that as brain cells die with some diseases, walking, driving and balancing on a bike take on new dimensions. Physical movement is less dependable and requires more energy. Tiredness becomes a regular symptom and it’s harder to be sure-footed. Many people fall down frequently. As my mobility changes I have to wonder. Will I become dependent? What does the future hold? What’s going to happen to me?
Through the practice of Hatha Yoga. I find respect for my body—a way to care for it and calm down the voice behind the questions. Restoring inner balance is essential. Finding that respect within can put the spring back in to my step and support the journey to health and well-being.
The headstand in particular invites a fresh look at my Parkinson’s condition. Turned upside down, supporting my weight, the blood rushing happily to my brain, suspended in time and space, I often get a glimpse of the bigger picture. The Divine in me salutes the challenges of the present moment and my efforts to meet them. When I’m back up on my own two feet there is greater peace and inner strength. And there is a deeper understanding of mobility. Most of all, it is my spirit that needs to move freely, unhampered by fears, imaginings, accepted limitations. This can often mean going the extra mile for someone else. There is a great deal of independence available in my choice of attitude.
In a recent yoga class, as Savasana is finishing, I ask the students to bring their knees up to their chests, roll over onto on one side and take a moment to feel grateful for their bodies. The room is very still. Gently, people sit up and we close the class by chanting a mantra. Gary smiles and says that the idea of having gratitude for his body in that moment turned him around – gratitude penetrated the concept he has been holding about himself for the past two years. A knee injury and two subsequent operations have slowed him down and he is just now returning to yoga class. His athletic, streamlined body often refuses to do many of the movements he used to do effortlessly. The result is frustration and impatience. The mind is demanding a certain level of performance. Gratitude is a new idea, a route to acceptance and peace of mind.
Learning about the connection between the body and the mind and respecting this connection leads to outcomes that are fresh and unexpected. The challenge is to keep up the motivation to practice when the body is weary or feeling awkward. My Harha Yoga practice literally keeps me mobile and yet I can talk myself out of it, giving in to the idea that there are more important things to do.
Patience is needed with the process. We each have to work with the blueprint of our life to find out what needs a breath of fresh air, what needs life breathed into it. We can travel those beams of Light away from the ego, relying on something else, like the power of faith and hope.
While of course there is always the hope that we will get better, making the journey to a place of wholeness may mean cultivating mental-emotional health before physical healing can occur. This is where those finer feelings of gratitude, respect and reverence that keep us humble are so important. The feeling of gratitude is an interaction between the mind and the body. There is no question that we benefit deeply from feeling grateful. This attitude can help the healing process tremendously. It’s a Journey toward the Light away from the ego. Yoga can be an Important vehicle for the journey; helping us to travel the lines of Light, helping us find our lifelines, the threads of wellness and well-being.
Swami Radhakrishnananda is a disciple of Swami Radha. She lives in Spokane,Washington at the Radha Yoga Center. Because of her experience with Parkinson’s disease, she has a keen interest in yoga for health and healing.