Community Yoga Therapy Class Provides Critical Relief and Teaching for Caregiver

Patti Vannucchi, of Hampton Roads, writes:

There is a Sunday afternoon yoga class hosted at Olde Pointe Cove, Poquoson by trained volunteers that lead us through, and teach us about the benefits of, a regular practice of yoga therapy. I have attended this practice routinely for the last ten years.

I began participating in this regular small-group practice the year after my elderly mother developed cancer (2008) that necessitated surgery, and then that she move into an assisted living situation, separating her from my father and their home in my area. The very next year, my sister, who lived in NY State, became seriously ill. I found myself struggling to find a sense of balance and relief between a challenging care-giving role with my aging parents, working full-time, and driving the ten hours to NY to tend to my sister whenever I could, and when it was absolutely necessary, such as during the winter when she was first hospitalized.

The only quiet moments I had were when I was at yoga class or practicing it on my own at home, as I tried to do before work in the mornings.

When it was clear that my sister was in for a long recovery, or what turned out to be her demise, I then had to arrange for her to come to Virginia. There was a time after that, when she was in a long-term hospital here, that I would visit her during my lunch break, go to my father’s apartment after work to take him his evening meal, and then visit my mother. Sometimes this meant getting home after 9 pm. Then at 5:30 am the next day, I was getting up for work and repeating the sequence, every day.

Things only worsened with my sister’s health and she died in 2010, leaving me with a stressful major legal situation to handle. Two weeks after she died, my father was diagnosed with cancer, and came to live with me while in hospice care. He died four months later.

My mother was then left with less money and I had to move her again. I have since had to move her twice, as she aged to a point that she needed more care, including a two-year stay living with me. During that time, I was still working full-time and had to hire caregivers during the day. I covered the other two “shifts” as the sole family member. I wasn’t always in weekly attendance at yoga class then, as aides didn’t want to work on Sundays, but I came when I could, appreciating it all the more.

My son was experiencing upheaval in his life as well, but to keep this from sounding like a soap opera, I will leave it at that.

Patti and friends join in celebrating her mother’s 101st birthday!

Needless to say, my external situations have been high on the scale that measures stress. Somehow I survived these pretty challenging years, and have gone on caring for my mother, who has recently turned 101, as her advocate in a nursing home.

Yoga has been my “soft place to land” throughout this entire “rough flight”!! For instance, during my 40 years total of practicing yoga, I had never learned about the reverse prayer position, (with hands behind one’s back) until I learned about it at our yoga class. I especially appreciate knowing this, as I now face my own elderly years ahead. I do not want to have the posture of my grandmother and mother as I watched them grow into their 90s!

As another example, during the nights that I had trouble sleeping, I plugged my ears and did the “bumblebee” pranayama (breathing exercises).

My parents were told that I was a “high strung” child when I was young; today I am certain I would have been diagnosed with ADHD. My mind has a tendency to race, and it has always been difficult for me to sit still. Yoga asanas and meditation has been the perfect “medicine” for someone like me.

Even though the stresses in my life have ebbed at this point, I will never stop doing yoga. It is now my arsenal against aging! Even though the stresses in my life have ebbed, I will never stop doing yoga. It is now my arsenal against aging!

When I look at Auntie, a frequent participant in our Olde Point Clubhouse class, still doing yoga at almost 97 years old, I look forward to doing the same in 30 years. Auntie exudes the beauty and grace of a much younger woman and is an inspiration! Thank you for keeping the class going, all these years — I hope it continues for a very long time!