Starting a Conversation: Pilates and Parkinson’s

Jessica Schatz

For the ninth year, the United States Senate has officially declared April Parkinson’s Awareness Month. The greater Parkinson’s community continues to raise awareness about a disease that affects roughly 1 million people in the United States.

The Parkinson’s Foundation has set this year’s theme as “Start a Conversation,” a call to action that urges people to engage with loved ones to talk about Parkinson's. #StartAConversation - their official hashtag - aims to encourage conversation and discussions about how care and treatment can be improved.

I have had the benefit of working extensively with a gentleman currently living with Parkinson’s. The work gave me immense satisfaction in getting to know him and watching his progression. My goal is to make each individual feel better, function better, and live better - despite any challenges. When we began the process, almost 2 years ago, this man was intently searching for relief from many difficulties. My rule always is to first treat the "person" and then treat the "problem." Therefore I did a complete assessment and evaluation of his physical challenges, and thoroughly considered the emotional and psychological factors connected with his situation.

Beyond physical limitations, one of the most debilitating influences on one living with Parkinson's is a loss of self-confidence. Not surprisingly, this condition is often accompanied by depression and anxiety. For this gentleman, I custom-designed my instruction to address the physical capabilities and challenges, while encouraging his self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.

I determined his issue was less about tremors and more about the stiffness of limbs and joints. Also, I noticed a definite shuffling in his gait, and overall low energy. He lacked a "spring in his step" he likely used to have.

At the onset we focus our sessions on balance and coordination to target a neurological connection. In this way he could learn to recognize and sense how movement "feels." This is the value of the "Mind-Body" connection that is fostered by my methodology based on Pilates principles and techniques. Once he strengthened his mind-body awareness, we then worked on combating the rigidity of his muscles and joints.

I started with simple balance and coordination exercises on various pieces of Pilates equipment. This helped him learn to focus on and master each exercise, and therefore build his confidence. He was then able to move on to additional levels of exercise that promoted greater spinal and pelvic mobility.

As he gained the ability to add layers of skill and movement, he achieved greater core strength, ease of movement, sense of certainty and well-being, leading him to better stabilize and control his movements and thoughts. To a Parkinson's client such control and ability are worth their weight in gold.

Keeping physically active is integral to achieving one's potential no matter the stage of life or the physical or emotional challenges one faces. I have found that Pilates, incorporated into my particular methodology, provides tremendous benefits and offers the optimal environment to learn and maintain physical wellness and function. This work gave me the gratification of seeing my client’s improved control, balance, coordination, ease and function, as well as the smile on his face, better color in his skin, and "spring in his step."

Rick Krusky