Managing Parkinson's Disease with Tai Chi and Qigong
– interviewed by Instructor Lis
For Alex, Tai Chi and meditation play a major role in maintaining his quality of life.
He began classes with Brett back in 1996 learning the traditional Yang form, but went overseas in 2001. On his return, he didn’t resume lessons due to various commitments. He continued to practise the Yang style, but found "attending classes becomes crucial, if you want to maintain integrity of practice and commitment."
It was not until 2007, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, that he decided to return to the Academy.
The key issue with Parkinson’s Disease is that a neuro-transmitter called dopamine, which facilitates electrical impulses between the nerve synapses, is produced by the body in reduced quantities. In extreme situations, it ceases to be produced at all. The result is a disconnection between the brain and the muscles, causing coordination problems and shaking. Medication helps to reduce these symptoms but does not cure the disease. Apart from medication, the key control factors are diet, exercise, meditation and personal management of the body-mind.
At first Alex was reluctant to admit there was a serious problem with his health. He has practised different forms of meditation and yoga since the 1970s. Sometimes, this intensive inward focus can result in a build up of energy which releases as bodily shaking. His wife and one of his sons correctly pointed out this was a new and different issue altogether so Alex saw his doctor.
Finding a management framework is difficult, but he discovered that Tai Chi and Qigong are excellent aids to do this.
"The practice of Tai Chi not only provides relief, but it also provides the philosophical basis for discipline, well-being and synchronicity. Tai Chi, as opposed to physical work-out, aerobics and hatha yoga exercise routines, has the integrity of a vast body of Taoist and Buddhist philosophy and meaning underpinning it."
Alex recalls his dismay when, on returning to Tai Chi, he was confronted with the completely new Hun Yuan style.
"I thought I would come back for a refresher course. It took some time to get used to this more fluid style. However, now that I'm doing Refinement classes, I'm finding it more therapeutic and rewarding than the Yang style – the more flowing Hun Yuan style helps me with coordination.”
“I want to express my gratitude to Fontane for her high integrity and clarity of instruction, and to Brett for his relentless quest to loosen us all up, to create better fluidity in our practice and to provide depth of meaning."
“Tai Chi makes me think because it’s a system of controlled movement requiring deep coordination of mind and body. This is ideal for managing Parkinson’s. Things people take for granted like coordination, muscle control for everyday actions etcetera are no longer automatic for me. I have to consciously control every movement. When I start a class, I’m not so good. I need to do the warm-ups to begin focusing, but by the end of the lesson I’m doing really well, I’m fine. I like the group energy effect, too. That helps a lot, the energy exchange.”
Movement was an aspect he’d always liked about Tai Chi. “I’d always found yoga a little passive and sought an external outlet for the energy. If it isn’t expressed externally, the energy can turn in on itself and lead to a more introverted personality. As I’m already that way inclined, it is not something I want to exacerbate. My son is a very good martial artist and I’d always been interested in that, but didn’t like the combative aspect. Tai Chi fits my requirements perfectly. I love the sequential nature of the movements and the constant flow between yin and yang, the inner depth and the centuries of tradition and knowledge bound up in it.”
“I like the integrity, the sense of connection with that heritage and past masters, which is provided in our classes by Brett and Fontane who I think are wonderful, caring teachers.”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)