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
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.)
"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
"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.