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June Parkinson's Spotlight

Learn more about Deb Foss

June Parkinson's Spotlight

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Deb Foss. Deb currently runs online yoga classes, including a weekly yoga class for people with Parkinson's disease. Deb's early  professional background includes nonprofit work with the Office of State Health Planning and Medicaid. She took her first yoga class when she was 21 years old and dismissed it as "too weird." Several years later, she earned her MBA in Health Care Management, received an exciting new job offer, and decided to celebrate with a vacation in the Berkshires. While away, she took another style yoga class and felt "renewed, centered, and alive" like never before.  Less than two years later, to the surprise of herself and colleagues, she chose to become a member of the Kripalu Center staff. In the 10 ensuing years, she became a yoga and meditation teacher, massage therapist, and program presenter.

While Deb loved her job at Kripalu, she yearned for a less insular life. She moved to Albany, continued to teach yoga part-time, and became the Staff Development Specialist for the Arc of Rensselaer County. She retired from this post and set her sights on expanding her yoga classes at assisted living facilities and adult ed programs. As grace would have it, she met Tamara Cookingham at Honest Weight and the two immediately hit it off. They were thrilled to discover they were both Kripalu yoga teachers. Tamara asked if Deb would consider taking over her yoga class for people with Parkinson's because she had recently moved to Red Hook and the commute was becoming too much with her very busy schedule. Deb jumped at the opportunity, presented a brief workshop for a conference where she received the okay from the Albany Med staff.

At her first class, Deb noticed how much people appreciated the community and also realized how much she needed to learn to meet the needs of her new students. Deb attended different workshops, was given loads of information to read from Tamara, but most importantly, Deb made an effort to learn what her students needed and not to rely on what she thinks they need. Deb's mom had PD and now she is paying it forward.

Deb also shared that she is a "Laughter Yoga" instructor. The idea of laughter yoga was born from Dr. Madan Kataria in India. He realized that people often become physically healthier but they still aren't happy. The doctor realized their whole wellbeing is as important as their physical health. One day, Deb started a class with a joke, but the following class she didn't. One student spoke up and jokingly demanded a joke. She realizes now how important even the smallest amount of laughter can be.

Deb's approach to yoga is generally gentle and meditative. "You won't sweat much," Deb shared. She believes we each have to learn the importance of self care and that stress management is one of the most beneficial aspects of yoga, in addition to balance, strength, and flexibility. Deb includes a lot of breath and mindfulness work in her classes. She offers alternatives for standing or seated poses that may be unsafe or too difficult for her students. "I try to make it work for everyone."

Since COVID, Deb has only been offering classes online. She has seen what an incrediable impact this has been for those who cannot drive or do not have consistent drivers. Some students even Zoom in while on vacation in another state. Deb shared her gratitude towards her partner, Joe Sweeney, who is an IT consultant and is available to help people get signed up. Currently, there are 6-10 people attending each class. She starts each class 15 minutes early to allow for connectivity between her students. Deb sees herself and her "Yoga buddies" as a family.

When asked what living welll with PD means to Deb, she shared "living well for all of us includes body, mind and spirit." She also shared that R.E.L.A.X. is the best formula for living well with any condition. R stands for rest, E stands for eating well (not perfectly), L stands for laughter and love, A stands for asking for help, and X stands for (e)xercise.

Deb's advice:
"Experience yoga at least once. It is not for everyone but you should know what is possible and available."

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