Out of the Head, Into the Heart

by Don Wenig, YogaKids Co-Founder and CEO

Early onset Alzheimers is proving to be a very different way of going through life. For Marsha and I this ever changing experience is the new normal. Everyday is a roller coaster ride. I watch Marsha going up and down, careening from side to side laughing, surprised, confused, scared, crying, and sometimes disappearing into a black tunnel that is both terrifying and sad.

Marsha Wenig, YogaKids creator and founder who has inspired so many with her insights into how children learn through yoga was diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimers in November of 2011. In retrospect her symptoms had already been developing for many years.

The diagnosis came as the result of caring friends noticing the change in her behavior which led to extensive testing with neurologists at at Chicago’s Rush Hospitals Memory Clinic. Its impact had effected her, YogaKids and our personal relationship long before we were aware of what was really happening.

While there are many challenges that Marsha faces on a daily basis one of the greatest is being aware that she’s not able to grasp the things that were once were so easy and second nature to her. Not knowing what to do next is often crippling. Most of all Marsha misses her day to day involvement in YogaKids.

Now life and learning is truly moment to moment. For Marsha clear and detailed memories can turn in an instant to a blank screen, paralyzing disorganization and then back again to a social ease that she has always been adored for. Internally she is often as active and communicative as ever with insight and humor to share but collecting the words to express her thoughts is often impossible.

Alzheimers has led us both to a different kind of deeper awareness and appreciation of the moment. Kindness, compassion and gratitude has become our practice in a new way. Our yoga. The new mantra being “out of the head, into the heart”. Reminders to breath into and feel from the heart are posted on bathroom mirrors, the refrigerator door, by the back door. This practice helps break a tendency for fixating and obsession with troubling thoughts.  If not revealing answers at least breathing into the heart (see heartmath.com) brings presence, some comfort and coherence.

Alz.org provides in-depth information about the disease with graphs, photos and illustrations of what happens to the brain in its different stages. At the same time the “best brains in medicine” don’t have much to offer in the way of explanations or the hows or why’s. This is one of Marsha’s most frequent and disturbing questions. “How did this happen?” 

There are many theories as to how early forms of dementia develop. The process is thought to sometimes start decades before symptoms begin to show. A slow build up of environmental toxins, heavy metals, manufactured fluorides, electro magnetic radiation and gluten are all suspected contributors.

New drugs, sadly with unattractive side effects, are in development stages and most hopeful is an ultrasound therapy that is in the offing. Aside from the one drug Marsha takes our approach to slowing any progression is natural, dietary and lifestyle oriented.

Friends often call or Facebook with research they’ve read or stories they’ve heard about the virtues of coconut oil,  DHA, vitamin D, turmeric, ashwaganda, CoQ 10, etc…we do it all. We’re gluten free, eat lots of organic, raw fruits and veggies, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and occasionally include fish.  Everyday starts with a couple of ounces of wheatgrass juice from our indoor farm followed by the Vita-mix blending up sprouts, greens, chia, maca, cacao and berries.

Googling the countries with the least occurrence of Alzheimers we found Fiji at the bottom of the list. Why? I suspect the high levels of silica in their water might be a preventative keeping the brain vital and healthy. There is no evidence that it is curative in any way but we include silica in our regimen and have explored everything from Fiji water, to horsetail, diatomaceous earth and Orgono Living Silica.

Our daily practice includes simple asana followed by breathwork, toning and meditation. It feels like the vibration of OM helps stimulate the brain. We visualize plaque and calcifications breaking up and tangles realigning. Yoni mudra also stimulates the pineal gland.  All of this follows a Merkaba visualization and a lengthy heart-centerd meditation.

Marsha gets out and walks…a lot. Being outside eases and quiets her mind. Usually she’s with her best friend and sidekick Cooper our 10 year old pug. She also looks forward to weekly Access Consciousness sessions to get her ”Bars” run. Along with being totally relaxing the Bars process helps dissolve old belief “implants” which destroys and uncreates negative thinking patterns.  As a practitioner I’m able to help with that at home as well.

Music also plays a big part in her day to day routine. Thanks to online resources like Pandora and Spotify it’s possible for Marsha to access the music she loves which ranges from yogic relaxation music to our daughter Dakota’s latest upbeat playlists. YouTube offers amazing binaural beats and isochronic music set to specific frequencies that promotes brainwave focus, health and wellbeing.

So what if this stage of Alzheimers can be reframed as an invitation? An invitation to explore how one can function more fully from the heart. To expand and appreciate ourselves as infinite beings. What if thinking and functioning are not localized in the brain? What if the breath is a key to enter the “tiny place in the heart” and access a more global, universal consciousness? What if it’s possible to transcend the limitations of the human brain altogether? Could this be an opportunity to remember or discover if we’re more than the limitations we’ve grown accustomed to accepting as the boundaries of reality? So what else is possible?

Marsha has learned from all of the amazing, exceptional children she’s worked with over the years that with many there’s much more happening on the inside than is apparent to others from the outside.  And what if that’s ok? Is the early stage of Alzheimers a ravaging disease or a different way of viewing and being in this world? A new way of caring for and being present to each other…everything?

We’ll keep you posted.

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12 thoughts on “Out of the Head, Into the Heart

  1. Greetings Don and Marsha,

    Your sharing has touched a cord of response in my hopeful heart. I am amazed by your journey! Marsha!. Both your own and Don’s commitment to life is inspiring!. Thank-You. I bow to both of you for reminding me that even while we struggle to make sense out of our suffering, there is meaning in digging down deep” and allowing our hearts to open to life more fully. Both of you have given me a gift of gratitude and encouragement to once again go deeper into my reality of experience. I long to be able to look upon life, with more love and acceptance. Through your honest sharing, courage and hear-felt experience, I have been reminded of my need to take better care of my spirit and the world around me. I only hope I can re-commit to my journey, with as much grace, curiosity, and love, as both you have demonstrated.

    Love and Light to both of YOU
    Namaste’
    Doris Leslie

    • Thank you Doris,
      Quite a bit of time has passed but I still wanted to get back to you and your kind thoughts.
      It seems that when the work is to dig deeply to stay and do the work is the only way out. To stay honest, the journey has been filled with resistance, denial, frustration and anger. Any hints of grace has been gradual. Thankfully the light of acceptance, kindness and ease comes a little more everyday.
      Infinite blessings

  2. Dear Marsha, During our childhood years I always felt you had the biggest heart. It appears you still do. I understand this journey as my grandmother had alzhiemers and stayed with me for a brief period. She did not know me by name. She did not know me by our family connection. She did trust me and talked to me every day. You are exactly right we got thru each day with the heart. I was not upset or hurt she could not remember me because i could still feel her love. The why is so obvious to me as you would use this to help others! Be safe on your journey. Thank you for sharing. Big bear hugs to you. Shelley

    • Hi Shelly!!!
      Marsha was so excited when I read your note to her. She remembers you perfectly. Unlike your grandmother her long term memory is often very much in tact. She remembers your mom and that you were such good friends growing up. She’d love to talk sometime if you want to send your phone number.
      Thanks for reaching out. It means a lot to us both.

  3. Dear Marsha & Don,
    I grew up in Ridgefield as next door neighbor to Marsha, Gladys, Eric & Ruth. We shared many fond memories of back then. Thank you for your eloquent take on this difficult subject. Mom passed away 2 yrs. ago with dementia so your words echoed the journey we take when one of our loved ones has this condition. For us the difficulty was seeing a woman who was always so sharp with eyes in the back of her head could not even know who we were or what Ridgefield(where Mom & Dad lived for 45 yrs.). I live here in South Bend, IN. now. Sending my love to you Marsha & though I’ve never met Don you sound like a very caring husband! Hang in there!

    Maggie O’Toole Waltman

    • Hi Maggie,
      It’a amazing that you live in South Bend. Marsha would love to see you! I think she would love talking about Ridgefield. It would probably trigger some fond memories. We get to S.B. from time to time or if you are ever out this way it would be fun to meet. Let me now if this is something we could arrange.
      All our best,

  4. My heart has a seed that was watered by Marsha’s love for children. We shared during our first meeting the importance of helping our kids. I’ll always see the light in you dear Marsha!

    • Hi Tere,
      So sweet! Thank you. Marsha still radiates all of that light and her heart always bursts with the laughter of children.
      Infinite Blessings.

  5. Will forever and always do whatever is needed to assist you with Marsha’ new chapter.
    I have great respect for your selfish love and care for doing everything possible for ‘our’ Marsha
    Love you and your amazing family.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I too know this crippling disease. I was my mom’s caregiver for 8 years.
    Your journey is a difficult one, however your approach is magnificent.
    God Bless! You have already made a difference.

  7. Hi Linda,
    Thanks for your support. Caregiving is quite a gift…all though it doesn’t always seem that way.
    Infinite Blessiings

  8. Donnie, There simply are no words to convey the respect and admiration I feel for you and Marsha. I pray for the best outcomes possible and for peace in your hearts knowing that you are doing everything imaginable to minimize, survive and accept the changes and demands in your life. My heartfelt prayers are with you both. ❤

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