Mornings for PWPs, as many of you know, can be a struggle. A client I once had recounted the experience well. She told me that as she climbed out of bed, she felt like a stooped over, rusting robot in need of lubrication.
After a slow shuffle from the bedroom to the kitchen she would take her pills and wait. Looking at her schedule for the day, she began to feel anxious. How will I get all this stuff done? I can barely even move! She felt trapped, anxious and inept in both body and brain.
Then, she took out her iPod. She described the feeling of the earphones sliding into her ears and the music starting. It might have been David Byrne, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles or the Indian musician, A.R. Rahman - they were all her cheerleaders, she said. When the beat began, it was like a plane slowly revving its engine, anticipating take off.
She stood and began to walk again. Her steps grew wider apart. Her stride snapped into an upbeat, even pace. She felt close to normal.
Once her meds kicked in she could really fly. She glided through the next couple of hours until it was time for her next dose.
Since I was diagnosed 22 years ago music and meds have been my diet too. I could not live without either.
I, of course, cannot give you your medicine. That’s your doctor’s job. But I can show you how to use music to help you move when you otherwise cannot. In this post, we will specifically look at how music can free up and strengthen your gait.
If you can walk well, your world will open up.
Below, I have laid out a simple three-step process to help you do this. Progressing from the typically rigid PD shuffle to a musical march, the steps demonstrate how to use rhythm and music to structure your stride and propel your legs and body into an easy, even gait.
In each video, please take not that I am moving without medication. I am “off.” This is me in my worst state. I start here so you can see how music, just by itself, has transformative potential.
Of course you can use music when you are medicated as well. I do. It helps me tremendously. Practicing how to move in your best state not only makes you feel great, but it also serves to mentally and physically reinforce good movement patterns that are harder to perform when you are “off”.
But the main object of this post is to provide you with a way to move, to break free when you feel the most trapped by your PD.
Step 1: Begin to Move
Just begin to walk. Don’t try to do anything, to change how you move at first. You can even shuffle. Just move forward. Look at me with no medication and no music. I’m a mess. Be a mess with me.
Step 2: Add Rhythm
Ok, good. Now comes the next small step: rhythm. Very simple. Let’s explore a basic march. Let the marching chant push you forward. Left, (right), Left, (right) Left, Right, Left. Repeat. Let the rhythm activate your movement. Make sure to move with YOUR FEET FIRST! If you start to lean forward with your upper body, STOP and begin again with the lower half of your body initiating the movement.
Step 3a: Watch Me Walk to Music
Great. Now we can add the final and most exciting step: walking to a song. You can hum a tune to yourself, but music coming from an iPod or any other type of portable mp3 player will have the biggest impact. If you don't have one, get one. For me, it helps me move as much as my drugs.
You can watch the video of me below (still with no meds) to get a see how the rhythm of the song powers my stride. Make sure to walk with one earbud out so you remain aware of your surroundings.
Step 3b: Pick Your Own Music
Now that you’ve seen the full effects of walking to a beat, take your pick of music.
Below I have laid out a list of songs that have a range of tempos. The tempos are designated by "beats per minute" or BPM. Start walking to a slower song (but not too slow or you will have balance problems). As you get comfortable, you can increase the tempo.
The end goal is to walk to a beat that is slightly faster than your stride. Not only will this push you to transcend your normal Parkinsonian gait, it will also give you a longer lasting therapeutic effect after you stop listening.
Here is the list of songs:
- Fever, Peggy Lee
- 68 bpm
- Fugue for Organ in G minor, Bach
- 73 bpm
- Clarinet Concerto in A Major, Mozart
- 94 bpm
- Burning Down the House, Talking Heads
- 103 bpm
- Tumbling Dice, The Rolling Stones
- 111 bpm
- Moon Rocks, Talking Heads (favorite)
- 124 bpm
- Strobe's Nanafushi - Satori Mix, Kodo (favorite)
- 124 bpm
- Stars and Stripes Forever, Sousa
- 125 bpm
- Brown Sugar, Rolling Stones
- 129 bpm
You can, of course, choose you own songs. In fact, once you practice a few times with these songs, I encourage you to start using your own selections. I want you to look forward to turning on your iPod or Android, and that means having songs that make you want to dance, to move, to run. If you don’t know the BPM of a song you like, you can measure it at songbpm.com. If you want to change the tempo of a song that is too fast or too slow, I like to use the app "TempoSlowmo." You can download it for free in the Apple App Store for your iPod or on Google for your Android.
Perhaps your greatest difficultly in moving will be first thing in the morning; perhaps it will be towards the end of the day as your drugs have begun to peter out; or maybe it will be as you are trying to lug your groceries home. Whenever that moment occurs, tune in to your most loyal friend, music; it will help you take the steps you need to take to get where you want to go.
Good luck. If you have any questions or comments about the post, I’d love to see them! Write them in the comment section below and I’ll respond as soon as possible!