To be a caregiver to my mom, Rose Beebe, 88, and my daughter, Jazlyn, 17, I must use my sense of humor to cope with life in the Sandwich Generation.
Dealing with the effects of Alzheimer's disease and the rollercoaster of the teenage years can take a toll if you're not grounded.
I have come to rely on my longtime yoga and meditation practice to sustain me through these challenging times.
I discovered yoga 16 years ago as a stay-at-home mom who needed to get back in shape after childbirth. I purchased some yoga videos and fell in love with the slow, flowing movement and the relaxation I felt.
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Yoga was a natural progression from the years I had spent as a dancer, and I immediately took to it, reading everything I could about the ancient practice.
Over the years, my practice deepened as I delved beyond the physical and experienced the more contemplative and subtle dimensions of yoga.
I learned how to steady my mind and shift my thinking to a moment-to-moment basis. I'm now able to remain more calm, focused and nonreactive. . It is with these tools that I manage the difficult emotions that arise as I witness my Mom's slow decline due to Alzheimer's.
Seven years ago, I became a yoga and meditation teacher and have worked with people of all ages to reduce anxiety, pain and depression, enhance immunity and manage a range of ailments from arthritis and high blood pressure to insomnia and cancer.
I have witnessed the preventive and curative power this mind-body medicine has to offer. Yoga has proven to be effective in treating dementia, and Mom and I practice regularly to keep her mentally and physically strong.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease provides evidence meditation and yoga can improve cognitive function in people with memory loss.
Practicing gentle yoga can help improve mental acuity, the ability to perform complex functions and can keep the mind sharp. Senior yogis may be able to reduce medication levels and decrease negative behaviors associated with anxiety.
My goal is to keep Mom mobile and active as long as possible. She has osteoarthritis and her bones and discs are deteriorating. Mom gradually is becoming more feeble, and a fall could be devastating. I work with her to keep her strength up and her central nervous system balanced.
Mom practices poses like Warrior and Tree and does stretches to increase flexibility and joint mobility.
Practicing yoga makes her feel graceful and dignified and gives her a sense of control over a disease that often makes her feel powerless. She is adorable to watch and her conviction to her practice is impressive.
"I'm pretty tough," Mom tells me. "I keep letting my body know that I should be strong. When things come up to me that something's going wrong with me, I know I should be strong. I want to keep things in line, because I want to live."
We finish each yoga session with pranayama, or controlled breathing, to enhance her life-force energy. I have Mom pretend she is blowing out a candle or have her count to five each time she inhales and exhales. This helps keep her lungs clear and strong and also relaxes her.
In yogic philosophy, it is believed we are allotted a predetermined number of breaths for our lifetime. If breathing is done hurriedly, instead of relaxed and slow, life may end prematurely. Yogis strive to lengthen life by slowing down the breath.
Mom takes her pranayama practice as seriously as any of my more advanced students.
"I sit and take my breath up and take it down. It's good for your oxygen. I breathe through my nose. It's quite strong," she says, speaking like a true yogini.
Mom and I are both utilizing yoga to fight Alzheimer's. I use it to stay calm and centered so I can help her through her final journey, and she uses it to stay strong to remain with her family as long as she can.
"I can make my body stay strong. I want to live, and I'm not making any bones about that," she said. "I enjoy my kids so much. I just love them, and I always have and I always will."
Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.