Connecting People to the Stability of Aikido

Movement You is a balance and movement course which works to make the experiences and practice of Aikido accessible for individuals with movement disorders. The physical and philosophical goals of Aikido look to empower students to be at peace, in balance, and in control of how you move through your own physical and mental "space." Soft Aikido movements and meaningful drills offer many ways of learning and building your "center," while basic martial arts breathing imbues motion with stability and strength.

A hallmark of Aikido is it's partner-based practice. There are no long and elaborate forms to memorize or fancy footwork to practice by yourself. Rather, Aikido focuses on application of basic movements inside and in-between small spaces. Movements and drills are often done in pairs to fully explore the balance and strength in your positions and in your partners'. This empowers spouses or supporters of those with movement needs to become active participants in movement therapy in a direct and mutually beneficial way.

Movement YOU is the bold belief that martial arts principles which harmonize balance, breathing, and movement can be made accessible to those who need it most. Movement YOU is the practice of relationships and bodies growing stronger and more balanced together. Movement YOU is something I sincerely hope can bring you fully in control of your "space!"

I hope to join YOU in moving!

Witnessing Tai Chi & Parkinsons Disease

In many ways, Movement You began in 2002 when I witness a Tai Chi master perform his full form at a martial arts seminar flawlessly, despite his Parkinson\'s disease.  
Despite being visibly advanced in his Parkinson\'s condition when not performing Tai Chi, while the instructor moved through his techniques and form his motion was calm, controlled, and smooth.  

Being inquisitive, I\'ve been thinking about how such a difference could be possible between his stable and calm \"on\" movements during Tai Chi and his tremor-impacted \"off\" movements during daily life.  The story of Movement You is the story of trying to find an answer this question!

About Movement Disorders

There is a broad spectrum of movement disorders, many affecting people in both neurological and physiological ways.  The most often referenced - and the primary disease motivating Movement You - is Parkinson\'s disease.  

Throughout the general population, .05% to 1% of all individuals aged 65 to 69 are thought to have Parkinson\'s disease, with the percentages increasing to between 1% and 3% of the population of individuals 80 years of age or higher. (“Effectiveness of tai chi for Parkinson’s Disease: A critical review,” Parkinsonism & Related Disorders Vol 14 (2008) 589 – 594, Myeong Soo Lee, Paul Lam, Edzard Ernst)

To place these percentages in terms of Anne Arundel County Maryland\'s population, this could be between 320 to 820 individuals with Parkinson\'s disease (not counting the other conditions which make up those living with movement disorders!)

More concerning, 38% of individuals with Parkinson\'s disease will fall. When they do fall, they are 5 times more likely than the general population to suffer fall related injuries. (“Therapeutic Effects of Tai Chi in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease,”ISRN Neurology, Vol 2013, Article 548240, Hye-Jung Choi, 

It is specifically noted 27% of individuals diagnosed with Parkinson\'s Disease experience a hip fracture within 10 years of their diagnosis. (“Effects of Tai Chi and Multimodal Exercise Training on Movement and Balance Function in Mild to Moderate Idiopathic Parkinson Disease,” American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Article No. 0894-9115/15/9410-0921, Authors Tian-Yu Zhang,


A Personal Piece of Parkinsons Disease

Several years ago my mother was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease, and began her search for movement activities to supplement her physical therapy and medical treatments. Though she lives with tremors during her "off" activities, her "on" activities - much like the instructor demonstrating his tai chi form - remain a source of controlled and calm movement as she continues knitting and sewing.

When talking about her physical therapy or movement activities, I was often struck at the similarities between the goals of her exercises/class and the goals of Aikido, the martial art I study. I also found joy and value in working with her to address balance and movement challenges that I wouldn't have thought of, such as ways to move around an opening car door or how to open a drawer while maintaining balance.  In working with my mother to provide options and solutions for her movement and balance situations, I immediately saw how the basic stances movement exercises, and balance drills of Aikido applied to her daily life. 

The Goals of Movement You

The goal of Movement You is to alleviate the secondary symptoms of movement disorders by making the insights and benefits of Aikido practice accessible. A main element of Aikido is to simplify movement down to its core elements, often ignoring detailed things like “techniques” or “steps.”  Because of this, Aikido does not have forms, unlike most other Japanese martial arts. It is taught through basic balance shifting and movement exercises, and then applying these exercises to real-life situations.

Aikido is a direct study of economy of motion, or training to have the most impact with the least amount of movement. A core foundation of Aikido is to learn and apply the “shapes” of our body; the square, the circle, and the triangle.  By learning to create, fill, and/or move these shapes in various ways, Aikido students learn how to move with balance, strength, stability, and fluidity.  Aikido is learned without complicated forms or detailed techniques, but a persistent examination of the foundations of balance and movement - the core of what is impacted by the secondary symptoms of movement disorders. 

Primary vs Secondary Symptoms

These conditions and diseases are neurological in nature and their primary impact on patients have many different effects.  While neurological treatments, medical procedures, and pharmacological interventions are being pursued by many capable individuals and agencies, the focus of Movement You is on improving the lives of those living with movement disorders.  
Some of the physical symptoms impacting people\'s daily lives are: (\"Neural Mechanisms underlying balance improvement with short term Tai Chi training, \"Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, Vol 18: 7 – 19, 2006, Strawberry K Gatts and Marjorie Hines Woollacott)

Bradykinesia / slowness of voluntary movement

Reduced stability, especially in noticing and responding to backwards steps

Reduced lateral posture

Freezing of gait or delay / inability to step

Start hesitation

Navigation of turns/twists around their environments

Throughout research, it is made clear that there are currently no medical interventions that can help individuals improve or manage their balance - the key body process behind the above list.

Tai Chi and Movement Disorder Research

Tai Chi, as a martial art taught through slow and gentle movements, has been an ideal starting point for investigations into the impact of martial arts on movement disorders. One study found a 10% improvement from baseline in balance and an 18% improvement in directional control. (\"For Parkinson Disease Patients, Tai Chi can improve balance and reduce falls,” Neurology Today, 5/3/2012, Richard Robinson)

The results of study by Hye-Jung Choi and Carol Garber noticed improvements were significant in participants’ mentation, mood, behavior, and motor functions! (“Therapeutic Effects of Tai Chi in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease,”ISRN Neurology, Vol 2013, Article 548240, Hye-Jung Choi, et. al.)

To ensure an understanding of treatment modalities and their impact, many scientists are looking at Tai Chi. There is a general consensus that the practice of Tai Chi improves conditions, but no consensus as to the mechanisms of its impact. For example, one study finds that the \"...mechanism behind therapeutic change (caused by Tai Chi Practice) in motor control and mobility remain less understood and warrant further exploration.\" (“Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease” The New England Journal of Medicine, .Vol 366:6 February 9, 2012, Fuzhong, Li, PhD, Peter Hammer, et. al.)

In their critical review,  Zhang and Yong ( find issue with the complexity of Tai Chi and its degree of difficulty for beginners - especially the elderly. (“Effects of Tai Chi and Multimodal Exercise Training on Movement and Balance Function in Mild to Moderate Idiopathic Parkinson Disease,” American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Article No. 0894-9115/15/9410-0921, Authors Tian-Yu Zhang, BS, et. al. )

In their review of a partner-based program, authors Klein and Rivers cite lack of evidence as a reason they determined that, while the program was beneficial for the participants, it\'s impact on Parkinson\'s disease was inconclusive. (“Taiji for Individuals with Parkinson Disease and their Support Partners: Program Evaluation” Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, Vol Mar 2006; 301, 1,  Penelope J Klein Pt EdD, Lynn Rivers, PT PhD)

Tai Chi as both a martial art and a therapeutic intervention for Parkinson\'s disease is a wonderful approach; not to be derided or dismissed. Tai Chi has many answers and opportunities.  Our hope is to add the insights and inspirations from Aikido to the conversation of movement disorder treatments. Many exercise routines have been developed to assist the movement disorder population including traditional physical therapy, dancing, and even boxing!  The martial art which has received the most research attention is Tai Chi.  In working to create easy and accessible material, however, there is a core challenge.  Tai Chi – in it’s full form – is really complicated!  As the mechanism linking Tai Chi practice to secondary symptom improvement is not well understood, it may be that truncated Tai Chi classes do not impart the core elements of movement needed to master balance and movement.

The Research Guiding Movement You

While there is a varying amount of clarity concerning the mechanisms underlying the benefits of Tai Chi,  the overall importance of physical activity and movement has been definitively clarified in medical literature.

In their article, Grazina and Massano note that "It was observed in a cohort of males that those who engaged in regular vigorous physical activity or exercise have a 50% reduction in their chances of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease" While this is encouraging, the same authors go on to note that only 31.1% of all adults across the world, however, qualify as active. (“Physical Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease: Influence on symptoms, disease course, and prevention,” Rev. Neurosci,  2013: 24(2): 139-152, Rita Grazina, Joao Massano)

Movement is vital to health, even more so when addressing movement disorders. "Regular movement has a measurable effect on the signs and symptoms of the disease .. (it) Also improves dopamine levels" ("Effectiveness of tai chi for Parkinson’s Disease: A critical review," Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, Vol 14 (2008) 589 – 594, Myeong Soo Lee, Paul Lam, Edzard Ernst)