A great deal of interest has been expressed recently in Tai Chi for people with Parkinson’s Disease. For anyone, young or old, Tai Chi is a way of strengthening the body and the spirit. Practising Tai Chi develops an awareness of immense and subtle powers that reside within each of us. Long ago when our race was young and we lived in small tribes, we felt closer to our own natures. The lack of scientific explanations for the awesome world around us opened our imagination to the interplay of breath, movement, circulation and other forces which sustain us.
Tai Chi compliments Western medical therapy as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine. The individual with Parkinson’s Disease should take full advantage of all effective help. Pharmaceuticals give immediate and significant relief which cannot be provided easily with Tai Chi. However, many medications can cause side effects and therefore must be taken with caution. Traditional Chinese Medicine helps to ease the flow of Qi and Blood to heal the internal organs and nourish them to their optimum level.
Tai Chi is an exercise which helps to relax and strengthen the body. It is soft but hard as the same time as well as gentle allowing anyone to practice it. Even people unable to stand can do the exercises seated. Gradually the body changes, tendons and ligaments which had contracted and tightened through the disease become more elastic. Muscles become fuller and move willing to bear the body weight which enhances the individual’s confidence level.
Many changes of Parkinson’s Disease are not related to the underlying nerve disease. Weakness, loss of balance, cramps, fatigue, memory loss and other symptoms are present partly because of the decrease in overall movement. When the body moves less, the soft tissues change quickly. Muscles become smaller and tire more easily, ligaments and tendons become contracted and stiff, bones lose their calcium and become brittle. These are changes all people face as they age, not just those with Parkinson’s Disease.
It takes daily practice and patience to succeed with Tai Chi. Initially relaxation occurs and confidence returns. In time strength and flexibility gradually improves. The body moves smoothly, gently and rhythmically, making dance-like turning and stretching motions. It is important that the learning is done with the guidance of a teacher, but the student’s efforts and growing awareness and sensitivity are the driving force behind the progress. The student not only should be involved in Tai Chi for therapy but combine acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine as well to enhance the healing process.
Initially Tai Chi deals with the secondary changes of Parkinson’s Disease; the weakness and stiffness brought on by the gradual decrease in everyday movements. When there is sufficient return of strength and flexibility, movements of the spine gradually begin. The spine is the axis which the body turns. It becomes stiff as the body ages and much of the spinal turn is lost. This spiral turn involves not only the “externals”, the muscles and other parts that help support and propel the skeleton, but also the “internals”, the organs and circulatory structures. With development of the spinal turn, there are improvements in the functioning of the body in many aspects. With daily practice, Tai Chi can decrease the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease including tremor, rigidity and bradykinesia. This is done by the movements in the body which invigorate the movement of Blood allowing the flow to run smoothly. This is the Yang energy aspect of the body to create warmth and nourishment. Contraction of the movements stimulate the need for the body to reoxygenate the muscles in order to perform the movement.
The goal of Tai Chi is to return to a relaxed and powerful state of mind and body similar to that we have as children. We all spring from the same stack. There is a wellspring of strength within all of us. Allowing the mind to become quiet so that our original natures are revealed is all that is necessary to succeed. Tai Chi is one technique that with gentle hand shows the way.