May 24, 2019

Israeli Gets People With Parkinson’s Moving to a New Beat

What is life? According to Alex Kerten, it’s movement, rhythm, expression and energy. 

Kerten, founder of the Gyro-Kinetics Center in Herzliya, Israel, developed the Gyro-Kinetic Method to help people living with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. Gyro-Kinetics comprises Kerten’s blend of music, movement and martial arts to help people restore physical, emotional and mental balance in their bodies.

In 2015, Kerten wrote “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life” with Jerusalem Post Managing Editor David Brinn. The book has helped propel Kerten’s methods beyond Israel. It received “Recommended Reading” status from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and listings on the National Parkinson’s Association’s social media sites.

“Gyro Kinetics means finding the balanced state of your body movements,” Kerten told the Journal during an interview in Santa Monica, where he was leading a Gyro-Kinetics workshop. Kerten traveled from Israel at the invitation of Dr. Ralph Potkin, an internist who, together with his wife, Eugenia, discovered Kerten’s book while at the World Parkinson’s Conference in Portland in 2016. 

Potkin said he wanted to bring Kerten to Los Angeles because “music heals. Music is for everyone, everywhere. [Gyro-Kinetics] is just the beginning of a worldwide movement.”

The workshop drew about 35 people, many of whom suffer from Parkinson’s. Kerten told attendees that while the book is called “Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life,” what it really means is “Goodbye what I don’t want, hello what I do want.

“The mind,” he continued,  “is different from the body. The body has limits. The mind has no limits.”

Clearing or changing your mind about what is possible, and letting your body move, can produce incredible results, Kerten said. 

Putting those words into practice, there was a great deal of dancing in the weekend workshop — to a variety of music, from Sinatra and Streisand to improvisational jazz and Latin tunes. Kerten explained and then showed the power of the body in listening to and acting out music. 

“Parkinson’s is a progressive disease,” he said. “So are tension, fear and trauma. Don’t act Parkinson’s. Act differently.”

Kerten, 73, who holds seven martial arts black belts and studied mind/body integration online at the Trager Institute, said coming from a personal background of trauma is what ultimately led him to the work he does today.

“I was born in 1945,” he said, “when the people from the Holocaust came to Israel. Israel wasn’t created yet, so can you imagine [all the trauma I felt] as a small child?”

After completing his compulsory three-year army service in the Israeli Defense Forces at 21, Kerten decided to let go of his trauma mindset. 

“[I decided] I’m not going to stay there,” he said. “I’m not going to be with the Holocaust anymore. I’m not going to be with death anymore. I’m not going to see the bad things that are happening. [I decided that] a person can behave differently.” 

At that point, Kerten focused on his love of martial arts, the art of movement and the physiology of behavior, eventually going on to open his center, teaching martial arts, movement, dance and music.

That was 30 years ago. Today, people still come to him to help overcome their physical problems. And while Kerten acknowledged that “act differently” sounds simple, he knows it’s not. “It’s a decision everyone has to make for themselves,” he said. 

“The mind is different from the body. The body has limits. The mind has no limits.” – Alex Kerten

Several of the Santa Monica workshop attendees appeared to put this mindset into practice, particularly in Kerten’s music meditation session. Those who were shuffling and mumbling began moving and speaking more fluidly. Kerten instructed people to dance with their mouths open for better breathing, and participants noticed an immediate difference in their movements. 

“It was great because we don’t know each other, and there was lots of support,” Kerten said after the session. “People did incredible things.”

When Kerten asked what participants had learned from the sessions, one attendee said, “It’s OK to remove yourself from your comfort zone.” Another said, “So much of the power to heal lies in my own life.” Other participants spoke of how they rediscovered how much fun it is to dance again.

Kerten also emphasized the need to treat yourself well: “If you go to a restaurant, you thank the maître d’ for seating you, you thank the waiter for the meal recommendation, you thank the manager when you leave,” he said. “When was the last time you said ‘thank you’ to your body?”

Those particular words resonated with participant Harri O’Kelley. “This idea of being grateful for what your body can do instead of being angry at your body for not being able to do [things] any more was very healing and a mind shifter,” O’Kelley said. She attended the workshop because she said she’s always looking for new therapies to develop to help people with autism, which, like Parkinson’s, also affects the neurological system.

“Most of my life I have been a Reform Jew, so I am not in the practice of saying prayers before daily activities,” O’Kelley said. “I am not sure how thanking God for these small things that we are able to do in our lives ties in with us having a relationship with our bodies, but it made me think about how much integration, balance and awareness the Jewish religion calls to our attention.”

“It’s our responsibility to feel good,” Kerten said. “We have to love ourselves, be good to ourselves [and] respect ourselves. If I can respect myself and I have enough power, I can help other people. But if I’m tired and I’m diseased, I can’t help anymore.”

Kerten stressed that you don’t have to be ill to practice Gyro-Kinetic techniques. “They can and should be used by everybody for better physical and mental health,” he said. 

“We always have habits, even though our habits are bad for us,” he added. “But you see we can do [things] differently. We can be happy people.”