Dale Carnegie taught us how to “win friends and influence people,” which served us well until Norman Vincent Peale taught us the “power of positive thinking” 30 years later. By then the trickle of self-help books they spawned was fast becoming a torrent.
Today, self-help is a $10-billion--a-year business in the U.S. alone. Can’t sleep? Read one of the hundreds of books serving up a remedy. Cranky, depressed, in a rut, forgetful, unlucky in love? Name your need. There’s a book out there for you promising a cure, usually miraculous.
The lineup of advice givers is long and varied, ranging from sober and serious to spacey and silly, with the latter seeming to out number the former. That’s of little consequence when the stakes are low. There’s no harm done if you’re advised to burn incense, play soft music and take deep breaths to shake a bout of the blues.
But if you have a diagnosed medical ailment that needs the attention of a qualified medical professional, you should wade into the waters of self-help with caution.
That bias should govern your thinking as you read Goodbye Parkinson’s, Hello Life! The Gyro-Kinetic Method for Eliminating Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Good Health (Divine Arts, $18.95) by Alex Kerten, a black-belted martial arts expert who appears to be a self-taught physical therapist specializing in Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disease whose symptoms include palsied shaking, muscle stiffness, depression, compromised gait, a tendency to “freeze” for a second without warning, perhaps even the eventual loss of cognitive ability. Actor Michael J. Fox and former Attorney General Janet Reno are two of PD’s highest-profile sufferers.
PD is a somewhat mysterious disease, perhaps genetic, perhaps environmental, perhaps — to some — behavioral. Kerten argues that it is behavior that accounts for 60 to 80 percent of PD’ symptoms , a position that is unsupported by medical research. But it is on that belief that Kerten hangs his Gyro-Kinetic method.
He believes a PD suffer can “rewrite the script” that says the disease has only one way to go — down. Once you realize that the script is yours to rewrite you’ve leaped a giant hurdle and you can move on to the next phase — deep breathing, freeform dancing, conducting music, making faces, moving.
None of this is without merit. The National Parkinson’s Foundation sponsors “Moving Days” across the country, urging PD suffers to limber up and shake the stiffness. Study after study by mainstream researchers shows that regular exercise reduces the severity of PD symptoms. A massive study by the National Parkinson’s Foundation found that 2 1/2 hours of vigorous exercise a week will slow the progress of PD.
And researchers have found that a positive frame of mind is helpful in the fight.
NPF researchers are sifting data on the value of such regimens as boxing, Tai Chi, yoga, meditation and “big step” therapy, all while under the care of a qualified physician and taking an appropriate level of prescribed mainstream Parkinson’s medications.
The publisher of Goodbye Parkinson’s is himself a PD sufferer and an advocate for Kerten’s approach. Support for its efficacy is purely anecdotal. One study quoted is a group of 12 over a period of six months, hardly enough data to generalize.
But for believers, Kerten is a savior. The danger posed by this book and, many others like it, is the wedge it can drive between patient and physician.
Gyro-Kinetics is fine for the clear-headed realist. But it isn’t for everybody. The unanswered question: Is it for anybody? Only serious long-term study will tell. In the meantime, let the buyer beware.
Doug Clifton, former executive editor of The Miami Herald and former editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, has Parkinson’s Disease.