Parkinson’s knocks us off balance physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have written about this before, but the physical balance issue has been on the minds of many of you who have contacted me recently. Here is an excerpt from my October 28, 2009 entry in my Parkinson’s Daily Journal, with an explanation that follows:
“10/28/09. Up at 4. Slow as always. Got to the kitchen at 4:08. Today I learned something new…apparently, I have been walking and going up and down the stairs with my feet/legs in terrible positions — I imagine they have compensated for my lack of balance. When walking, my left foot is approximate 60 degrees left of center and my right foot is about 45 degrees right of center. I forced my feet to point forward and attempted to walk…this is the terrible part…I could barely walk, and walking came with lots of pain. I am back at square one learning how to walk again. One day, I will write in here that I learned something new about my physical ability and motor skills and that it is a good thing — that day is not today!”
This was a huge realization for me. My body’s balance was so poor, and then I learned that my feet were nowhere near pointing forward. It took some time, but I got in the habit of looking at my feet before getting up from a chair and taking a step. As a result of being hunched over and primarily shuffling my feet already, it was not too much of a stretch to look down at my feet before proceeding forward.
It was a constant battle to keep my feet pointed forward, and I had to practice when sitting in a chair. At first, my calves would be in terrible pain after a minute or so, but over time, my muscles remembered what it was like to be pointed in the correct direction, and they did not punish me as much. Once I was able to master walking with my feet pointing forward, I got a little relief in my leg pain and lower back pain.
I write about this because walking and balance are critical parts of our mobility, and also, they are critical parts of our confidence when we are around others. Lacking the confidence that I could walk through a parking lot, or down the aisle at a grocery store, or through the auditorium at my child’s school without everybody staring at me and wondering “what is wrong with him” made it even more difficult to walk than it should have been…and it made balance impossible…physically, mentally and spiritually. The more they stared, the shakier I got.
Getting over the self-consciousness was a larger hurdle than the physical part. Parkinson’s wants it that way. The disease likes to feed on our psyches and insecurities, and it makes us awkward in a crowd so we prefer to be alone. And alone is how we feel…very alone. To get beyond this, we have to take a huge step and be with other people, and go out in public, and get comfortable in our own skin again. It sends a message to Parkinson’s that says, “I have the power to heal myself and you are not going to make me sit at home and deteriorate.’”
So, before you get up, take a look at where your feet are pointing…point them straight ahead and then get up. Now, take a few steps (or shuffles). In the middle of a stride, look down and see where your feet are pointing. Unless they still are pointing straight forward, the rest of your body has no idea where you are going…physically, mentally or spiritually. I believe this is why some of us drag a leg; our foot has gotten so turned out to the side that it is beyond knee-bending range, so we drag that leg — and sometimes we freeze because we become completely unbalanced and our bodies are confused. From the body’s perspective, freezing is way better than falling down.
The remedy for this is not difficult, conceptually. Sit in a chair, put your feet flat on the floor, and turn your feet so they are pointing straight forward. I know, you are a little confused because I usually ask you to do something a bit more difficult like Qigong exercises or the Standing exercise or adjusting your dietary considerations. Sitting with your feet pointing forward will become harder than it looks and harder than you think.
1. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and pointing straight forward and lean a little on your thighs with some pressure.
2. Think to yourself, “this is easy.”
3. Think to yourself, “maybe Howard is the only one who is a little ‘unbalanced.’ This is too easy and boring.”
4. Minute or two goes by. Pain arrives. (a) Think to yourself, “I cannot take this pain. I better turn my feet back out to where they were.” Wrong thought. (b) Think to yourself, “This pain must mean my Parkinson’s is getting worse. I better turn my feet back out to where they were.” Wrong thought. (c) Think to yourself, “If Howard was here, he would tell me this is “good pain” and I am making progress.” Correct thought. (d) Think to yourself again, “maybe Howard is the only one who is a little ‘unbalanced….’”
If you can endure the pain, it will pass. For me, it usually took a minute or two, and then the pain disappeared. I call it “getting to the other side of pain.” And then, I would sit with my feet pointing forward for another couple of minutes with no pain. I repeated this every day until I could sit like this for 5 minutes with no pain. It took about 10 days.
It was worth every minute of sitting like this and every minute or two of daily leg pain because I fixed the problem. In working through the pain and fixing the problem, you will learn more about pain (physical balance), which will cause you to learn more about yourself and your resolve (mental balance), which will enhance your faith in yourself that you are on the right path because you did not get off the path to run away from pain and fear of pain, and the pain and fear went away (spiritual balance).
Who knew that something as simple as pointing your feet forward could be so liberating!
Aren’t you worth it?
All my best,