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December 3, 2009

Author who suffers from Parkinson's teaches innovative yoga class

Renee Le Verrier leads a group of five women in stretching, balancing and relaxation poses on a recent afternoon at the Yoga Center of Newburyport.

The only difference between this class and others is that a chair and variety of other props makes the class more accessible.

Blocks, straps, blankets and cushions all help to make stretches lighter and bring the distance from hand to foot closer for the participants.

"This isn't chair yoga because we are not just in the chair," Le Verrier said. "The chair is just a prop to bring the floor closer to us."

Le Verrier teaches yoga for movement disorders, a weekly class aimed at making yoga possible for individuals who have any restrictions, including those stemming from osteoporosis or Parkinson's disease.

But it is also geared at those who just feel a little "creaky."

"If you can breath, you can do yoga," Le Verrier said. "Yoga can be intimidating to people especially when you go to a yoga studio, but yoga is most beneficial to those with limitations and movement disorders."

Le Verrier should know. As a child, she suffered a stroke. Five years ago, at age 42, she was diagnosed with Parkinson's, a brain disorder affecting both men and women. She has been practicing yoga for eight years and teaching for three at the Yoga Center of Newburyport as well as Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Bradford and Massachusetts General Hospital.

"I've learned through yoga to live in the moment," she said.

Le Verrier was recently chosen as one of 25 people nationwide to attend the Parkinson's Disease Foundation's Clinical Research Learning Institute. The training prepares participants to serve as advocates for bringing new treatment information to their communities as well as serving as a formal representative on clinical research and advisory boards.

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