Below is journalist Peggy Van Hulsteyn's personal experience with Parkinson's disease, and how yoga is helping her cope with this illness.

When mortality tapped me on the shoulder 12 years ago, it was a transforming moment—a sea change, a lightning bolt, an epiphany.

My world turned upside down when I heard the life-changing words, “You have Parkinson’s disease.” I didn’t hear another word the neurologist said. All I could hear was the word “Parkinson’s” rolling around in my mind like a crashing wave on a sea wall.

My malady had begun as numbness, a stiffness on my left side, particularly my left hand. In my case, I never even considered Parkinson’s disease (PD). I had convinced myself that I had carpal tunnel, an inconvenient but kind of cool occupational handicap. I was already wearing a brace on my stiff left arm. Talk about an author’s hubris! I had the notion that signing too many copies of my latest book had caused this affliction. Wishful thinking; I am right handed.

My husband David’s face registered complete disbelief when we heard the diagnosis, but being of the English school of optimism, he tried to find something positive to hang onto. An exercise enthusiast—some, like me, would say a fanatic—he asked the doctor if exercise might help.

“Try it, if you like,” she replied briskly, “but I doubt that it will make any difference.” She showed us the door so she could dash to a hospital meeting.

She was completely wrong of course.

Luckily, I soon met other doctors and specialists who encouraged me to continue with my yoga, and in the 12 years since my diagnosis, I have found it to be invaluable. And I am not alone.

My yoga practice has spanned four decades, through wildly different times and places. Despite the variety, yoga has always accommodated my needs, providing a perfectly calibrated counterpoint to each phase of my life.

My Parkinson’s diagnosis shifted yoga’s meaning and impact in my life. Distressed and distracted, contemplating a newly foreboding future, I was regularly shuttling among various specialists as I learned a new and dreadful language of symptoms and medications. I threw myself into my writing projects, finding work provided structure and familiarity to a newly chaotic and alien life. During this turmoil, my yoga practice became more sporadic. I tried to explain to David my growing symptoms and how exiled I felt from myself. Words had always tripped wittily off my tongue, but now I would be disrupted by the occasional stammer, and I would unexpectedly stumble when I wanted to prance. I felt possessed.

During an early spring day when my symptoms were especially disorienting, I sought the warmth of our sunlit garden and struck a Warrior Pose. A wave of relief came over me as my muscles obediently flowed into the familiar position, one of my old favorites.

I felt restored to myself. That moment has stayed with me, and I have ever since turned to yoga to keep connected with myself.

Resuming my yoga practice was even more of a challenge since my PD progressed. At first I felt as if I was starring in my own private version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I became a character from The Twilight Zone. My body perception grew increasingly disoriented. My walk became more tentative and deliberate. I began losing motor control. My stiff left arm was not budging. And my voice was off on its own little holiday. I had never had a strong voice; now I was the ghost whisperer.

Yoga has made an enormous difference. Physically, it helps me to build strength, stability, balance, and limberness. Emotionally, it calms me. And intellectually, it stimulates me, boosting my creativity. “Yoga builds confidence,” as Dr. Becky Farley, a neuroscientist and researcher at the University of Arizona, once told me. “When people embrace yoga, they become more relaxed and able to control tremors, become more balanced and generally feel better about themselves.”

When I was first diagnosed with PD, it seemed as if mortality was calling me every five minutes. Mortality has been calling for 12 years now. During this time, I have learned not only to listen to her message, but also to appreciate it. To be sure, it is a wake-up call, but instead of alerting me to pending doom, I have found it to be an unexpected cheerleader. For, once I listened to what she had to say, I realized it’s not death on the line, but life. And life calls me to dive deep into the Carpe Diem pool.