My Dancing Warrior
An excerpt from Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life!
Alex is my teacher, my guide, my coach, and my healer in my recovery journey. A year ago l was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It took me a few months to decide that I wasn’t ready to accept the verdict that says that this is an incurable disease, and I became determined to find a way to recover. After a few months of searching, I found Alex. Thank God for that.
Alex is a dancing warrior. He is teaching me to become a dancing warrior too. He teaches me to fight. He does it by fighting alongside me and by showing me how to fight. It is not an easy thing to do, because Parkinson’s is a very tough opponent and because I tend to give in from time to time and feel sorry for myself.
In these cases, Parkinson’s wins and takes over my body. That’s when Alex needs to fight me — my Parkinsonian side — until I refuse to give in anymore, until I join him and start to fight my Parkinson’s with him.
This is a very tricky task; this is where his dancing ability is crucially needed. How do you deal with someone’s despair and resignation and turn him into a fighter again and again?
By fighting me, Alex can easily make me feel like he is my enemy — which makes me want to refuse to cooperate. Alex needs to fight me in a way that will make me trust him, follow him, and join him.
So he dances. He dances with me, with my fears, frustrations, shortcomings and despair. He listens to me. He understands my body and my limitations, and he leads me — as great leading partners do — to start dancing with him, and to start fighting my Parkinson’s with him, not against him.
Then and only then — when he sees that I am ready — he puts on some great music and makes me dance. I begin to dance by myself while Alex instructs me how to move my stiff limbs and body and how to let the music guide them.
I meet Alex twice a week for enthralling lessons that include exercises of movement, listening to the body, breathing, and profound emotional conversations. In every encounter with him I get to know myself and my body, my possibilities and limitations and the ways I can break my own limits. And I actually break them. My body, hands, and legs achieve a range of motion that I thought I would not get to anymore. My back is less stuck, my range of facial expressions has increased, the joy and vitality are coming back to me and my body, and my walking is more energetic and light. As homework, I free dance every morning for half an hour and I feel much, much better.
When I first met with him, Alex did not promise to cure me of Parkinson’s but opened a whole new way of relating to it, to my body and to the new situation.
In the first diagnostic meeting with Alex he said, “What I see in you, Shmulik, is 80% panic and anxiety and 20% Parkinson’s. You are not breathing because of the panic. It causes your diaphragm to be stuck, and all the muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms adapt themselves to your locked diaphragm. We will begin to release your body from the panic and anxiety, and only then we will deal with the Parkinson’s disease.”
Alex explained to me that my anxiety did not result from Parkinson’s disease, but an old anxiety that has been with me for years, to which the Parkinson’s simply attaches itself. I understood well what he was talking about because I was aware of this anxiety, which has accompanied me for a long time. I told him, “If by working with you, I can succeed in freeing myself of this anxiety — I will thank God for Parkinson’s.”
And this is what is happening. Working with Alex has freed me from the panic and anxiety.
I feel that I have invited Parkinson’s into my life to wake me up and make me listen to my body, enjoy it, and enjoy life. For decades I’ve heard many therapists who treated my back pain problem saying that I spend most of my time in my head and forget that I have a body. I do not listen to my body and have been neglecting it. I always knew they were right and I always began to listen to my body and relate to it during bouts of pain.
But when the pains were gone, I went back to my old ways and engaged in my thoughts, my ideas, and my work. It is clear to me now that the Parkinson’s is telling me: “If you do not start to live a full life, balanced, where your whole body participates, your Parkinson’s disease will get worse. You will be stiffer, slower, shake more.”
Parkinson’s is the last call for me to live… to enjoy… to feel good in my body. Alex teaches me how to do it and I happily oblige.
I find that my body is now moving in ways that I thought were not possible anymore. And I realize that through the dances and the movements of daily behavior, I am succeeding in my fight against Parkinson’s. I have begun to learn how to become a dancing warrior myself, just like my great teacher.
Excerpted from Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life! Shmuel Merhav is a management consultant and facilitator, working with CEOs and management teams in Israel. Translated from the Hebrew by Andy Darby.