Movement is Medicine: Nia presents at the World Parkinson Congress

Last week, Caroline Kohles and I attended the 4th Annual World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon. 

Caroline has been teaching Nia for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan for nine years as part of the Edmond J. Safra Parkinson’s Wellness Program, a partnership between the Fresco Institute for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders at NYU Langone Medical Center and JCC Manhattan. 

Her work with Nia is what I call special application, meaning, Caroline has adapted Nia to fit the needs of people living with PD. She is also involved in working with women that are living with and in treatment for breast cancer. As a Nia teacher and trainer, her dream is to focus 100% of her energy in working with these populations, and Nia is here to help her make this come true. Everyone will benefit.

Nia has been involved in special application programming since 1988. This is when some of the first teachers started sharing Nia in unique environments and markets, utilizing Nia movement, techniques and somatic teaching methodologies to improve people’s health and well-being. 

In Portland at NiaStudio, we have been working in partnership with Legacy Emmanuel Hospital for over twelve years, serving breast cancer patients with our Moving to Heal class. We expanded our offerings and opened up the class to support all people dealing with short and long term illness. 

Bottom line, I am passionate about using Nia to enhance people’s experience, to help them realize self-healing and offer assistance in how to live and deal with short and long-term illness challenges. We help them find ways to enhance their life and everyday living and give them and their caregivers training.

Nia & Parkinson's Disease

While Caroline prepared for her Nia class at the Parkinson’s Congress we discussed what Caroline has learned over the past nine years and what I have researched in the field of medicine and Parkinson’s. We both came to the same conclusion: Nia is an excellent program for PD. The 52 moves, the body’s way map, our somatic teaching methodologies, the integration of the body, mind, emotions and spirit, use of voice, extrinsic and intrinsic stimulation, the 5 sensations, 13 joints, 7 cycles, 9 movement forms, ultimately how we work with the form and function of the body not only compliments all other medical prescriptions but provides excellent body and lifestyle education for the caregivers and patients.

In Caroline’s class, having no knowledge of people’s ability at the conference, Caroline rocked it! Watching Caroline deal with the microphone falling off, chairs too close together, music volume coming and going, she clearly demonstrated she is a pro. We all loved it. According to the host, Caroline was better than ever.

At one point, I was sitting in a chair demonstrating so Caroline could stand up and teach and found myself connecting to the man across from me. We were watching each other. I was moving and he was mirroring me. I felt his connection and also sensed how much it took for him to just move! I was in tears.

Movement Impacts PD

We stayed in the room to support Caroline’s co-workers involved in the JCC Wellness Program. Candace Cox and Morgan Rysdon Moulitsas presented the Alexander Technique, one of my favorite movement arts. It is amazing how this magical movement art teaches people to get up and down from the chair with less pain. Magic!

Dance for PD with the Mark Morris Dance Company was next. Having no traditional background in dance, I was the perfect candidate to learn from those trained in ballet and modern dance. Our instructors, Madeleine Denko-Carter and Viki Psihoyos, chose to have us move to classic piano sounds. I left feeling relaxed, energized and deeply moved from having witnessed these challenged bodies dance their dance. Dance for PD is an amazing and inspiring gift to the Parkinson’s world.

My last experience at the congress was Power for Parkinson's Fitness for mind & body. Based on making big movements and being loud through using one’s voice, I was amazed at how challenging it was for my healthy body to work out in a chair. What was clever about this program was the coaching-like energy, simple, large repetitive movement, loud vocalization and use of paper plates placed under the feet to make sliding and moving the legs easier. Good news for us Nia teachers, we have been integrating large, gross movement with intrinsic, small motor movement and the voice since 1983.

Caroline and I left the congress feeling deep gratitude for Parkinson’s researchers, scientists, doctors, health care professionals and the courageous people and caregivers who live and manage this disease with such strength every day.

I was reminded yet again, never taking anything I want to do or can do for granted. All things matter. Small things like going to the bathroom, tying your shoe, walking and standing upright, getting up and down from a chair, swallowing, speaking, seeing and sensing are all acts of a Sacred Athlete living life in their body! We are blessed to be healthy and well.

By Debbie Rosas, Nia Creator & Founder