2013-08-23 / Front Page

Video would help Parkinson’s patients

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Elizabeth Burd teaches weekly yoga classes Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to noon for students with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders at the Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland. Here, she leads a seated exercise as Neal Weiner, center, and Dana Hodgkins follow. (Jack Flagler photo) Elizabeth Burd teaches weekly yoga classes Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to noon for students with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders at the Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland. Here, she leads a seated exercise as Neal Weiner, center, and Dana Hodgkins follow. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – Judy Lombard remembers the exact date she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease: Aug. 6, 2009. The symptoms of the incurable nervous system disorder had started before then. As is often the case, they were originally misdiagnosed as other conditions before Lombard found out she had Parkinson’s.

Lombard said after she learned of her diagnosis, her neurologist told her yoga classes may help alleviate joint pain and feel generally healthier. Initially, she was somewhat skeptical.

“It’s sometimes easy with Parkinson’s not to make the effort,” Lombard said. “I didn’t realize I needed the class until I took it.”


Burd, at right, is raising funds online to release a DVD, “PD Yoga for ME,” which she hopes will help others with Parkinson’s disease or movement disorders discover yoga. Dr. Ed Drasby, a neurologist from Scarborough, said yoga helps the “mind-body paradigm” for his patients, both increasing their physical mobility and helping them gain confidence. (Jack Flagler photo) Burd, at right, is raising funds online to release a DVD, “PD Yoga for ME,” which she hopes will help others with Parkinson’s disease or movement disorders discover yoga. Dr. Ed Drasby, a neurologist from Scarborough, said yoga helps the “mind-body paradigm” for his patients, both increasing their physical mobility and helping them gain confidence. (Jack Flagler photo) However, Lombard said when she started taking classes with yoga instructor Elizabeth Burd, she not only noticed less pain and an improvement in her physical well-being, but she also began to feel more confident and more positive in general. Today, Lombard continues to take classes with Burd. She is one of about 10 regular students at the yoga instructor’s weekly classes for students with movement disorders at the Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland.

Burd, a personal trainer and yoga instructor, started teaching yoga classes specifically for those with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders in 2006. At the beginning, Burd said she had reservations about teaching.

“I was initially very frightened. I didn’t know anything about it. I was nervous,” Burd said.

However, after discussing the benefits of yoga for Parkinson’s patients with a neurologist near the gym where she worked and doing some research on her own, Burd said her reservations began to fall away.

“I could see that I could find things (the students) could do and be successful – which is what you always want – your students and clients to feel like they’ve succeeded.”

Now, after six years of teaching, Burd plans to release a DVD, titled “PD Yoga for ME,” to help expand her work in hopes of helping individuals with Parkinson’s disease improve their physical and mental well-being.

Megu Hirayama is a yoga instructor who has assisted in Burd’s classes for more than three years. She said although many students with movement disorders are initially intimidated by the idea of yoga, Burd creates a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

“People feel safe in the space and they are all very comfortable around one another,” Hirayama said.

The yoga classes for students with movement disorders still focus on deep breathing and exercises to loosen the shoulders, neck, arms and legs – just as they would for other students – but they move at a slower pace. Burd encourages students to find the “sweet spot” in exercises that work for their personal needs, and students often use chairs, blocks and straps to support their bodies during the exercises she leads.

Neal Weiner, a student from Gray who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, recently started taking Burd’s classes. He said he’s noticed his range of motion progressively improve.

“You get better each time and feel you have more mobility,” Weiner said.

Burd said the mental health aspect of yoga is just as important for students with Parkinson’s disease as the physical exercise is.

“Confidence is also a big piece I hear when I get feedback from people,” Burd said. “They feel more connected to their body they don’t feel as precarious walking around.”

Dr. Edward Drasby, a neurologist from Scarborough who specializes in Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, often recommends his patients to Burd’s classes. He said Eastern exercise practices such as yoga and tai chi are often just as effective, if not more so, than Western physical therapy, in part because of the mental benefits.

“Parkinson’s isn’t just a physical disorder. Most people with Parkinson’s notice their cognitive speed will not incorporate things as quickly and as well,” said Drasby, who treats both Weiner and Lombard. “Any type of involvement that works on the mind-body paradigm is of real importance.”

Burd agreed, noting yoga can improve students’ outlook on life both for those with Parkinson’s disease and for the general public.

“It gives you that at-peace feeling in your mind to calm thoughts down. It ends the mind racing, and stops bad loops repeating that may not be positive or beneficial things to focus on,” she said.

Burd has started a fundraising campaign through the Indiegogo website to help cover the editing and distribution costs for the “PD Yoga for ME” DVD. To donate to the campaign, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/ projects/ pd- yoga- for- me. For more information, visit her website at http://www.pdyogaforme.com/.

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