Parkinson’s Disease and Taijiquan

Did you catch the NPR report about Parkinson’s Disease and taijiquan?

It’s also in the New England Journal of Medicine. There was a substantial reduction in rate of falls in the taiji group (one hour, twice weekly, six months). UCLA brain scientist Dr. Michael Irwin thinks that the practice of taijiquan re-trains the areas of the brain that control movement.

While this is hardly new ground for most of us in the body/mind/spirit integration network, it is always good to hear when the scientific community tests it out and confirms our experience. For many reasons, integrative activities like taijiquan don’t submit well to the narrow formulas demanded of scientific research. In Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert wrote about her contentious days at NIH and the resistance she encountered when her research showed that the brain affected the rest of the body and vise-versa. That was in the 1990s! So, I don’t take it for granted when a scientist says that doing taijiquan might have some effect on your brain. It may be obvious to us, but scientific research tends to lag behind in such matters.

Since I have no scientific reputation to protect, I am free to infer more from the Parkinson’s study. We know the disease apparently results from the loss of dopamine-producing cells. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning. It also has a role in fine motor function, emotional response, and the ability to experience pain and pleasure. Deficiency affects how we move and also our desire to learn new behaviors. It is dopamine that gets us excited about learning a new move in taiji, writing a song, or getting laid. Hungry rats that have had their dopamine levels reduced 90% sit listlessly with food in plain sight. Cocaine, amphetamines, meta-amphetamines, and tobacco all affect dopamine levels in the brain. Hence part of their addictive charm. They trigger the pleasure feelings even when they are doing damage to the body.

Even poorly done taijiquan will enhance energetic coherence. Do it well and the sky’s the limit. When I have shown the finger-pointing trick to people with Parkinson’s they are amazed at how stable they become. Instant Root! They don’t fall even when pushed. The whole body/mind functions at a higher level of integration. Motor skills improve. And, as I wrote in an earlier blog post, as coherence increases in any system entropy decreases. It slows deterioration.

So, let’s take that a step further. What if enhanced coherence actually heals the brain by restoring dopamine production? Healing is a return to wholeness. Coherence. And coherence begets more coherence. When we feel good we want to do it again. Reward-based learning. Dopamine?

The thing to remember with Parkinson’s people is to keep it light and fun. They should be encouraged to encourage themselves. EFT (tapping) can be used to remove mental/emotional barriers and produce a positive mind-set. But short daily practice is essential. That’s the only way you’ll get enough change to turn the corner.