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Taijiquan and Parkinson's Disease

by Michael Koh

In 2009, when I was 61 years of age. I noticed that my left hand was trembling and it was a progressive tremor. Besides tremor in hand, however, I did not suffer from any other discomfort such as weakening muscle tone etc.

I took up Taijiquan lesson from Master Rennie Chong in May 2010. I joined his Taijiquan class at Kim Keat Avenue, Toa Payoh.

In December 2010, I visited a doctor for consultation on my hand tremor. The doctor diagnosed that it was Parkinson's disease. I was given medicine. I had learned that this is a chronic nervous disease that can lead to paralysis; and, there is still no specific drug for effective cure.

Five months later, I was so surprised and happy to find that the hand tremor had completely stopped. Everything is back to normal. I strongly believe that the recovery of the tremor has something to do with Taijiquan since that there is no cure for Parkinson's disease other than medication to help relieve the symptom.

So far, there is no relapse of hand tremor and I am still diligently practising Taijiquan. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my Taijiquan master, Rennie Chong.



A note on Taijiquan and Parkinson's disease

It is exciting that Taijiquan has been helping Michael. His account is a personal experience, though, and Rennie Chong Tai Chi Training Centre does not endorse any clinical conclusions or recommendations from Michael's story. 

Nevertheless, Taijiquan may be helpful for the sufferers, since for the last half century music and dance therapy has been very successful in providing a great relief to the Parkinsonian patients.

Below, I compiled a number of quotes that summarize the chapter Kinetic Melody: Parkinson's Disease and Music Therapy from the book Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, a well-known neurologist and author.

"A fundamental problem in parkinsonism is the inability to initiate movement spontaneously, parkinsonian patients are always getting "stuck" or "frozen"." (This is connected to the damage of basal ganglia in parkinsonian patients.) (p.277)

"Parkinsonism is usually called a "movement disorder" ... The disorder of flow can take many forms; sometimes, as the term "kinetic stutter" implies, there is not a smooth flow of movement but brokenness, jerkiness, starts and stops instead. Parkinsonian stutter (like verbal stuttering) can respond beautifully to the rhythm and flow of music, as long as music is of the "right" kind - an the right kind is unique for every patient." (p.274)

"The movements and perceptions of people with parkinsonism are often too fast or too slow, though they may not be aware of this - they may be able to infer it only when they compare themselves to clocks, or to other people." (pp.275-276)

"But if music is present, its tempo and speed take precedence over the parkinsonism and allow parkinsonian patients to return, while the music lasts, to their own rate f moving, that which was natural for them before their illness.

"Music, indeed, resists all attempts at hurrying or slowing, and imposes its own tempo." (p.276)

"While music alone can unlock people with parkinsonism, and movement or exercise of any kind is also beneficial, an ideal combination of music and movement is provided by dance (and dancing with a partner, or in a social setting, brings to bear other therapeutic dimensions)." (pp.279-280)

"It is music that the parkinsonian needs, for only music, which is rigorous yet spacious, sinuous and alive, can evoke responses that are equally so. And he needs not only the metrical structure of rhythm and the free movement of melody - its contours and trajectories, its ups and downs, its tensions and relaxations, - but the "will" and intentionality of music, to allow him to regain the freedom of his own kinetic melody." (p.283)

As Oliver Sacks says, any exercise would be good, but combination of music with the rhythmic and flowing movement of dance is especially effective. The same is true of Taijiquan: its movements have to flow, following the natural body rhythms. Practising Taiji in group also might help parkinsonian patients, who benefit from a kinetic lead. Possibly, at more advanced level, the fixed push-hands exercises could be of help for the same reason. And of course, it is usual to accompany a Taiji class with music. This makes regular Taiji practice in group very likely to be helpful for parkinsonian patients, although of course a proper clinical research is required to be certain. 


Vsevolod Vlaskine



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