I recently heard one of the most insightful and empowering messages of the thousands I’ve consumed in 10 years of living with Parkinson’s: David Leventhal’s Managing Parkinson’s With the Mind of a Dancer. In his talk, he captured everything I recognize as true in managing this disease in such a masterful way. Leventhal doesn’t have Parkinson’s, but there’s no doubt that his understanding of what it’s like to live with it is spot on.
Leventhal’s message is relevant whether you dance or not, which I don’t. Well, at least not in a traditional Parkinson’s dance class. I’m more the closed-bathroom-door-freestyler type. In my world, dance has no rules, but it is almost always associated with joy.
Sports are a reasonable substitute for many benefits of dancing. There is likely much overlap in the mind of a dancer and that of an athlete. I’ve aimed for an athlete’s mindset in managing Parkinson’s, and it’s been invaluable.
Rhythm and No Blues
There are many beneficial elements of a Parkinson’s dance program. The most intriguing to me is rhythm.
I’m obsessed with rhythm and have been for a while. Why? Because rhythm and Parkinson’s do not coexist.
Parkinson’s destroys rhythm. It changes the way we walk, speak, eat, drive, etc.
And unfortunately, rhythm doesn’t come in a pill. You have to go out and get it. I found mine through tens of thousands of shots on the basketball court, baseball swings, throwing pitches and various other athletic movements. The great thing is that once you manage to find your rhythm, it’s so cathartic and intoxicating that it produces a high. It’s the pre-cursor to flow, sometimes referred to as neuro-cocaine.
I view flow as a series of pleasing rhythms, which defy the existence of Parkinson’s. It’s also drug-like in its penchant for owning me.
I’ve spent countless hours after midnight and countless hours before sun-up striving to induce a ball of some form to behave as I want it to – over and over again. It’s all about finding the rhythm and staying with it, despite the distraction or pain or worry that tries so hard to take me out.
Rhythm’s therapeutic value has been immeasurable. Its carryover to daily life is practically constant. And I know that the physical pain or discomfort that result from doing what I love and attending to rhythm will offset Parkinson’s discomfort later.
I recently became a certified personal trainer, primarily serving clients like myself. In my work with clients, I attend to rhythm as much as possible, using anything from tennis to football, basketball, baseball, boxing, badminton and ping-pong to bring it out. Some may think I harp on the importance of rhythm too much; however, I’m okay with it because I know how much it can help.
Throughout this journey, I’ve discovered that I have access to rhythm, and all I have to do is allow it to surface and allow my mind and body to connect with it. I’m its resistance. I’m always my own barrier. Clearing space to bring more rhythm in my life has been transformational, and it has influenced many aspects of my life.
With rhythm, life flows. When life flows, Parkinson’s slows. Can I achieve the coveted slowing of progression? I’m not particularly concerned with that. If I constantly adapt (difficult but within my control), I get to the same place anyway.
If you’re not already a dancer, consider becoming one, or whatever most engages you. It’s never too late to grow or to find your rhythm. It may require fewer attachments and more attention. Nevertheless, given an opportunity to dance with peace and fulfillment, I’ve found whatever I need to do to keep moving is definitely worth the sacrifice.
Gavin Mogan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008. In early 2018, he founded Your Move Fitness, LLC, a Richardson, Texas-based personal training service. He primarily trains others with Parkinson’s, emphasizing fun, progressive and sustainable fitness that’s adapted to client-specific symptoms.
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