Donna Brooks is a somatic movement educator and therapist, Yogi, and embodied meditator who has 35 years of experience teaching, counseling and coaching in movement and the healing arts.

Somatic Movement and Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease and Stroke Recovery

I offer gentle movement and Yoga classes for Parkinson’s Disease. These classes improve coordination, dexterity, strength, balance, motor control and rapidity. They also help you generate the emotional resilience you need to face this disease. Stroke Recovery is offered one on one and is suited to those who have made strides in walking and arm use but need continued coaching and prompting.

Parkinson’s classes are fun filled and include stretch, movement, rhythm, cognitive challenge and community. Classes emphasize fluid, spiral connective tissue movements that increase range of motion, ability to turn, better respiration, balance, good posture and relief from stiffness.When your body moves with natural curves and fluidity it transmits stress more evenly through muscles and bones, taking pressure off overly taut muscles and stiff joints. It also makes movement smoother and easier. There is a relaxation quality underneath the effort that stops making you feel like you have to fight with your muscles. You can learn to move with more grace.

They are based on my years of working with movement disorders, training through the Boston University Parkinson’s Yoga program and the Mark Morris Dance for Parkinson’s teacher training as well as my own insight and experience.

My approach is holistic approach and incorporates the individual needs of each class participant. We approach movement through connective tissue, a web like fibrous, gelatinous matrix that wraps organs, muscle and bone, gives the body fluidity, support, and creates the forces of tension provided by fascia, muscles, tendons and ligaments on the bones and joints.

This is so important for PD patients because they need to become more stable and efficient in movement. It’s use in stroke is to relieve rigidity and accompanying restriction. 

ather than seeing bodies as stable building blocks aligned from the ground up it’s beneficial to see the body as 3D with tension distributed throughout the body. This supports balance, flexibility and responsiveness to stress. This whole body response and integration helps the patient become injury free, stronger, and better able to sustain changes in body and mind. The tensegrity approach also allows PD patients to recover three-dimensional movement that is not usually addressed through conventional PD exercise. This positively impacts walking, turning, balance and visual focus.

Detail to hands and feet is also addressed:

“The lesson on feet was a revelation…I had been experiencing a numb prickly feeling in my foot with ankle weakness and tremors, and had been finding it difficult to stand for long periods of time. I mentioned this to Donna at the beginning of a class and she tailored that day’s lesson to focus on foot strengthening and alignment. Even before the class was over, my symptoms were practically alleviated. In the following class, Donna reinforced the previous lesson and extended the focus on feet. I am constantly impressed by the depth of her knowledge, and by how she is she is able to lead a cohesive class while addressing each individual’s needs. I now have greater insight into the mechanics and structure of my feet, and an abundance of strategies to continue improving their function. I am elated!” – Judy Bowerman, Northampton

Want to know more? 

You can increase Sensation and Feeling.

People who have experienced  neurological challenges often describe entire body parts as feeling numb or rigid. But actually, most people still experience some sensation, however small. When we identify and focus on the sensations you do have, together we actually encourage the brain to map out new connections to the area, which increases feeling. According to the latest neurological research, with adequate stimulation, the possibility of creating these alternate pathways always exists; we call this process “brain plasticity” or “neuroplasticity.”

Use it and keep moving.

It is essential for Parkinson’s and Stroke patients to keep on moving in any and every way. Yet the resistance to movement can be strong. That’s why story telling, songs, simple dance, play, and eye-hand coordination are part of both the Yoga and movement classes for Parkinson’s.

Use gentle and relaxing movements to increase connections between the brain and affected body parts.

It’s not enough to just feel sensation and pathways. Next, we work together on getting those “deadened” areas to move-smoothly, gently, and without causing pain-but still waking up the dormant parts and reminding them that open, comfortable movement is still a goal to strive toward.

Boost flexibility of the brain and motor coordination.

As the brain becomes more flexible, new movements occur. For instance, a student of mine believed he had no movement in his affected hip. Through gentle motion and increased observation, he has now achieved full rotation of that hip joint-and with full rotation, he can sit and walk with more ease and comfort, and decreased pain.

Improve walking.

Whether you’re walking stiffly or troubled with balance, working toward the goal of independent, steady walking is essential. One of the best ways to do this is to learn to let both legs support your weight equally. Another one of my students only put weight on one foot when we began our work. Now, she can now stand evenly on both legs; knowing that both legs can support her, she continues to work on reaching the point where she can once again walk naturally.

Learn to use canes and walkers as strengthening tools.

I teach you how to use these assistive devices with the best posture possible and to use them to actually improve your abilities and develop your strength and coordination.

Regain balance.

Learn how to stand up without tilting or falling so you feel more secure and use your muscles in a more balanced way.

Regain strength.

When ever we discover new movements we exercise them to strengthen the muscles and make the movements faster and easier.

Stretch gently for relief of pain and stiffness.

Body parts that compensate for lack of other movements can hurt. I teach safe, effective, and gentle stretches to relieve pain even as we work towards more balance in the body so that those parts of your body no longer risk injury by trying to compensate for lost abilities elsewhere. Similarly, stiffened body parts need to stretch out in order to prevent worsening!

Create the best possible postural adaptations so as to avoid long-term pain and compensation problems.

Particularly when sitting for long periods of time, you can develop stresses, discomfort, and even injuries unless you learn healthy ways of sitting. Learn how to “sit with integrity and ease” so you can live pain free.

Become skilled in using your breath to relax in the midst of an overwhelming and difficult situation.

The body and mind have all sorts of powerful tools and coping mechanisms; when you learn to tap into them, you can achieve more healing than you thought possible. Breath is one of the most powerful, but in our society, one of the most unused. You’ll learn to approach life in a healthier way, using your natural breath patterns.

“I came to Donna four years post-stroke and still suffering from neuropathic pain and stiffness, not to mention depression.Yoga was something I thought I could never do because of my disabilities. Thankfully, Donna knew otherwise! I feel better, move better, relax more and believe that my body is capable of things that I had begun to doubt it could do. Donna is an amazing teacher and I highly recommend her for any rehabilitation.” – Marcy Ayres, Florence, MA

For personalized instruction for stroke recovery or Parkinson’s in your home or Northampton, MA studio please call 413-230-1260 or contact Donna to get started.

Download Donna’s article on Yoga and Stroke Recovery »

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