Book Review: "Parkinson’s Disease & the Art of Moving" by John Argue
Last updated: September 2022
In the summer of 1983, a woman in the San Francisco area, Marion Jackson Brucker, noticed a tremor in her left hand. When it didn’t go away, she went to see a neurologist and had the kind of experience familiar to many PWPs: she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, given a prescription for Sinemet, and sent home with no further support.
Though Brucker read up on the disease and joined an experimental study, she still felt scared and disempowered. But she was an artist, and she began to wonder if she could apply her creativity to the job of working with PD. She created a PD support group and began studying the medical literature more seriously.
Movement and voice class
That was when she hit on what turned out to be a life-changing idea. She asked John Argue, a local actor, art therapist, and movement teacher, if he would be willing to work with her. After working together privately for several years, Brucker’s good results began to draw attention from others in the Parkinson’s community, and Argue started his first Parkinson’s Movement and Voice Class.
The class and its offshoots were highly successful, and Argue ended up creating a book to document his teaching: Parkinson’s Disease and the Art of Moving (1999). (Argue subsequently put out a DVD companion to the book. Both are available on Amazon.)
As someone with a deep background in theater, Argue quickly saw that PWPs and actors have something in common. “Automatic actions do not work reliably for people with Parkinson’s,” notes Argue. “In order to deal with the loss of automatic movements, you need to learn to move and speak consciously, as actors on stage do.”
Addressing symptoms through new movement
With this insight in mind, Argue dug deep into what Brucker calls his “seemingly endless basket of ideas,” including Tai Chi movements and yoga stretches, theater games, facial expression, and voice exercises, and much more—all with the aim of providing PWPs with a range of ways to re-empower their bodies and voices.
One valuable aspect of his book and DVD is that they have distilled years of experience into a sequence of lessons designed to cover the entire body and address all of the most common symptoms of PD. Argue is the first to admit that his movement lessons will not be a miracle cure—they require effort and persistence. But once someone with Parkinson’s masters a new movement (for instance, how to stably get up from a couch), they own it and can work with it in a way most people who rely on automatic movements never have the awareness to do!
What to expect in the lessons
Parkinson’s Disease and the Art of Moving includes an introduction by Brucker, a foreword by a neurologist, and an explanation of the program by Argue. The main part of the book is ten multipart lessons illustrated with photographs: Sitting Exercises, Voice and Speech, Floor Exercises, On Hands and Knees, Leg Stretches, Going to the Floor, Standing Steady, Power Stances, Balance and Recovery, and Walking, Freezing, and Turning.
To give one example – in the Voice and Speech lesson, Argue teaches “The Vocalized Yawn,” a technique to mimic (and likely induce!) yawning. It opens the throat, exercises the facial muscles, encourages loud voice, and can also lead to a more active use of the diaphragm than we tend to do in daily life. This is only one of dozens of good exercises available in Argue’s method, and it exemplifies his effort to address multiple symptoms whenever possible.
Aside from a chair, a floor mat, and some tennis balls, no props or special equipment are required, though for those with more severe impairment, working with a caregiver or aide is a good idea to start out.
Argue’s talent and experience as a teacher are clear. He provides easy-to-remember slogans and breaks each exercise down into accessible parts. Most importantly, the lessons are variable and adaptable enough to be useful for people at any stage of the disease.
Argue urges his readers to stay motivated by setting achievable goals, being persistent, but also staying safe and, whenever possible, relying on the mutual support and camaraderie of a group setting. As far as staying motivated to move, this is one resource worth checking out!
Do you experience issues with spatial awareness?