This time two years ago, as the pandemic first began to change the way people connect, socialize, and exercise, the Team DPF leaders took action. In doing so, they helped the Parkinson’s community take action, too. Now, a virtual community and an online exercise program they created out of pandemic necessity has become a don’t-miss weekly event for individuals in the Davis Phinney Foundation community.
The program, Wednesday morning yoga with Team DPF, was developed after the Team DPF staff hosted various virtual meetups in March 2020, from online happy hours and coffee breaks to indoor cycling and dance classes. At all events, attendees were invited to participate in an ice breaker and catch up or get to know each other.
Lauren Kehn, Team DPF manager, says it was quickly evident that this time for connection and conversation was a critical part of the meetups. It also became clear that participants needed a program offered at a consistent time and day of the week. With this in mind, the Wednesday morning yoga program was born.
“Yoga is a relaxing form of exercise that people of so many different abilities can participate in,” Lauren says. “And we do more than yoga. The program provides an hour of connection, activity, and a space to make every victory count.”
For Helen Power, who has been part of the group since August 2020, the program became a lifeline during the height of the pandemic. “During that first summer, I received a wonderful phone call from Polly Dawkins asking if I was doing okay,” she says. “It was such a surprise and is such a memory. She asked if there was anything the Foundation could do to help me in that difficult time, and somehow that lead me to Lauren and Rebecca and Wednesday morning yoga.”
A Shared Space for Victories
Then and now, each session begins with attendees sharing a victory or success from the week. “I love that Lauren holds us responsible for a victory,” Helen says. “It’s so easy to get in the weeds and forget the good things in our lives; now, on Wednesday mornings, we can’t do that!”
Fellow yoga regular Patti Burnett seconds that. She says her favorite part of the group is learning what others are grateful for. “It really makes us concentrate on those positive things,” she says.
Lauren says that the group has always been strong, supportive, and welcoming. “This community is open with one another, often bringing up hardships or sharing new connections made within the Parkinson’s community,” she says.
“Having these mornings together means we have a place to share our triumphs, and where we are all supported in our valleys. We learn from one another and lift each other up. It’s really special.”
-Lauren Kehn, Team DPF manager
William Matulewicz, who has been part of the group since its beginning, agrees. “Everyone is genuinely interested in supporting the members,” he says. “You can get solid, personal information about dealing with Parkinson’s from other folks during the chat before things get started. The group is small enough to allow friendships to develop, and you get to learn some interesting backstories.”
Open for All
Both Lauren and the participants agree that for best success, potential yogis should have a basic understanding of yoga before taking part in the exercise portion of the class. “While I think anyone could jump on and follow along, it’s helpful (and safest) to have had some experience doing yoga previously,” Lauren says. “The benefit to in-person yoga is that an instructor can correct any incorrect postures that might put strain on someone. During our online classes, we’re simply following along, and no one is watching to make sure the attendees are using good form.”
While stressing that it’s important to stay safe during yoga (and all workouts), the group also wants the wider community to know that everyone is welcome at Team DPF yoga.
“I would strongly encourage anyone who’s part of the DPF family to join the group,” says Linda Cusimano, who has been part of the program since the first session. Despite having heard of the benefits of yoga, she says she felt “too intimidated to join an in-person class because I had NO idea what I was doing. Doing this class online gives me the benefit of being part of a group without being self-conscious about my abilities, or lack thereof). It’s exciting to experience my body getting stronger and stronger!”
And the mental outcomes are just as powerful. “I always smile when I think of my Wednesday mornings,” Helen says. “The session begins at 6:30 am for me, and it can be so hard to get out of bed and to the yoga mat. But I always feel so complete and optimistic when we say goodbye.”
For more information about Team DPF and how you can get involved, click here.