Seva Highlight: Yoga for Parkinson’s with Tamara Cookingham

Seva Highlight is a monthly column about those in our community who embody seva, or selfless service performed with a loving heart. Want to nominate someone for a Seva Highlight? Email Suzanne and let her know about your favorite yogi do-gooder.

Tamara Cookingham Yoga
Tamara Cookingham

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n my search for seva warriors in the area, I went to check out a class that’s been getting a little buzz at the Honest Weight Food Co-op. The class is Yoga for Parkinson’s, and it is taught by Tamara Cookingham—a loving and vibrant teacher.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, debilitating condition that impacts the nervous system. About a year and a half ago, Tamara  was asked to start a class for Parkinson’s sufferers by Mark Burek, founder of Hope Soars. Hope Soars is an awareness, education, and research foundation for the Parkinson’s community. With sponsorship from the Albany Medical Center Movement Disorders and Parkinson’s Disease Center, what started as a small class has now become a sangha (community) for those dealing with Parkinson’s.

The class is held on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, New York. The Honest Weight Co-op has excellent handicap accessibility and space to get to know your community members before or after class. Caretakers, spouses, and walk-ins are absolutely welcome. The class is free.

Tamara Cookingham teaches Parkinson's Yoga at Honest Weight
Tamara Cookingham teaches Yoga for Parkinson’s at Honest Weight Food Co-op.

It’s like a family, and I look forward to coming every week because you get feelings of well-being and Tamara is a wonderful, kind instructor. She is very encouraging, and that makes all the difference. There are many chair yoga classes in the area, but hers is special because she is a special loving person.” ~ Sherrie, class participant

[blockquote author=”Kevin McCarthy, class participant” pull=”pullright”]“I like everything about the class: it’s relaxing, it’s peaceful, it helps you stretch. I have been doing it for about a year and it helps a lot.”[/blockquote]

That is absolutely what I felt when I walked in the room: love. Tamara is well-equipped to handle the variety of symptoms that come with Parkinson’s. Stiffness, rigidity, tremors, sleep, and digestive irregularities are common issues related to Parkinson’s that the group works toward easing. Tamara’s personal research and toolbox are vast—she is well-educated and open-minded. Some of her students are immobile due to Parkinson’s, while others show no evidence of the disease. Yet, Tamara is able to teach them all together. Tamara is mindful of the range of ability in her classes and offers a practice that is appropriate for all. The class can help with balance and gait, voice projection, anxiety, and depression. Tamara has an organic way of teaching, responding to the unique needs of whomever is in the room.

Not only is the class beneficial for those with Parkinson’s, but caregivers and spouses can also get respite and tools for their own difficulties.

Tamara Cookingham - Yoga for Parkinson's

This is yoga, yoga is just taking things as they come but then, distilling the fluctuations of the mind and not getting all wrapped up and crazy with whatever it is that’s happening. The class is no different than a mainstream yoga class. Everybody has got stuff. It doesn’t really matter what the stuff is.” ~ Tamara

The tools of yoga can be used by anyone. Whether you haven’t exercised in a while or have been doing it everyday, whether you are overweight or skinny, sick or able. The point of yoga is not simply physical, so fear not if something is ailing you—you are perfectly imperfect. The point of yoga is to go inside and rediscover and reconnect to who you are, and then to share that with the world. While there are many physical benefits of yoga, it will also help you find inner peace and fall in love with life.

Yoga helps us learn how to serve our own needs best through continual self-inquiry and adjustment. Working from the outside in, we go from shifting physical patterns for more optimal alignment to shifting mental patterns for more optimal alignment. We all have work to do, be your own best applicant and love the work of your life. Join me for a great work-in.” ~ Tamara

[blockquote author=”Mary McCarthy, class participant” pull=”pullleft”]“Tamara gives us tools to help our well-being. She’s resourceful and inspiring. I feel loved and she shows it by carrying that huge gong into class every week.”[/blockquote]

Tamara’s work does not stop at the co-op. She would like to collaborate on a research study to compare the neurological changes associated with active gentle yoga versus those associated with passive restorative yoga in people with Parkinson’s disease. The goal would be to develop an evidence-based training program for other teachers. In addition to mainstream and private yoga classes in the Capital District, Tamara also offers an additional Yoga for Parkinson’s class at Heartspace Yoga and Healing Arts’ Albany studio on Tuesday mornings from 9:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m. This is a more traditional hatha restorative yoga class, and is donation-based. Don’t hesitate to contact Tamara via email at tamaracookingham@gmail.com with any questions. Her heart is wide open.

Suzanne June Martin

Contributor

Suzanne is a visual artist, instructor, devotee of Kuan Yin and practices therapeutic yoga. Suzanne completed her 200-hour Hot Warrior Yoga Teacher Training with Jennilee Toner along with Yoga Across America’s training in 2011. She currently teaches at Heartspace Yoga & Healing Arts, The Hot Yoga Spot, and volunteers at a variety of places. She continues to expand her yogic studies with Lauren Jay Toolin's school, Yoga Vidya.

1 Comment
  1. I love, love the idea for this column, Suzanne! So inspiring. Really looking forward to learning about all the awesome community members we have here in the valley:)

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