Synchronize Your Walk To Reduce Anxiety and Power Your Stride— Parkinson's & Entrainment


Here’s a post about how to give yourself an extra boost when your meds begin to wear off. I’m talking about the period of 5-10 minutes after your decline starts–when you can still move, but not necessarily that well. Your gait has probably slowed down, your balance has weakened, and your legs have lost a modicum of sensation and responsiveness.

For me, this usually translates to a slight limp in my walk, a stiffer spine and decreased dexterity. If I’m approaching a crosswalk, I’ll have more difficulty in looking both ways for traffic and be more cautious in deciding how long it may take me to cross the street. If I‘m at a store checkout counter, my fingers will be less nimble in getting money out of my wallet.

Transitioning to being "off" also brings anxiety. Will I make it home before I can no longer move? And the fear of oncoming PD paralysis often makes my symptoms even worse.

In this situation, I like to use something called entrainment to reenergize my walk and give my stride more power to carry me to a place where I can rest and re-medicate. 


What is Entrainment?:


The term is used in many fields, with many different particular meanings, but for our purposes the relevant definition is from a principle in physics: when two or more out-of-phase rhythmic cycles are next to one another, they will sync-up. This occurs because of the natural tendency of physical forces to seek stability. Small amounts of energy are transferred between objects when they are out of phase, and the energy transfer forces them to start vibrating at the same speed. Here is the classic example of synchronizing metronomes. 


But certain groups of animals and people also use entrainment intentionally to move in more efficient and powerful ways. 

One of the most startling examples is the way in which large flocks of starlings band together in flight to create reeling, constantly changing patterns. Each bird in the flock flies as close as it can to those around it, mimicking any change in direction or speed instantaneously. Hundreds, even thousands of birds merge to form a unified, pulsating mass to ward off predators.



A like phenomenon happens in Japanese synchronized walking competitions. Teams of 20 use entrainment to organize their steps into a coordinated chorus of movement. Unlike the flock of starlings, the group’s direction is predetermined and cued by commands from a director, but the strength, precision, and near complete unison of their movement comes from entrainment. 



Entrainment for Parkinson's:


As PWPs, we can use entrainment to help us move in a similarly powerful way:

When we are walking on the street and our medication begins to fade, we can entrain to the stride of another pedestrian. This automatically helps us organize how we move, allowing us to regain our momentum and ease out of our anxiety. Just as the starlings and Japanese walkers fit themselves into a collective rhythm to guide their movement, we can power our out-of-sync bodies with the cadence of someone moving free of neurological limitations.

Entrainment also helps relieve anxiety, because it forces you to focus your attention on something outside of yourself. You escape your head.

Below I've created a visual guide to entrainment. In the first part of the video you will see me walking, unmedicated, not using entrainment. In the second part, you will see me, still unmedicated, latch on to another pedestrian's gait and use entrainment to power my walk.



My gait is still not perfect, but entrainment can make a world of difference. I cannot tell you how many times my meds have begun to wear off five or six blocks away from home, and I have used entrainment to carry me through that last stretch. It’s my turbo boost at the end of the race. 


Steps to entraining:


When you pick a person to entrain with, choose someone whose walk is slightly faster than yours if possible. Keeping up with them will require a bit more concentration, which will engage you more fully. Once you sync-up with their tempo, their rhythm will power you forward.

(***Note***: a potentially awkward aspect of trying to latch on to people in this way is that if they realize what you are doing, they may be either offended or made uneasy. No one wants to be the object of attention they didn’t ask for. I always try to keep a reasonable distance from the person I’m following, as I think it is imperative to respect people’s personal space. In most cases, they won’t ever know that they are helping you in this way. But if the person should realize that you are following them, I suggest you simply confront the situation by apologizing for making them feel uncomfortable, explain briefly why you are trying to sync with their walk and thank them for doing you a favor.)

Here’s the video again to give you a good idea of the distance to aim for:



Trying it Out:


I first practiced entraining in city parks. Parks offer lots of people walking about in lots of open space. I have found that people also tend to be more engrossed in what they are doing at a park, so there is less chance they will notice you trailing behind them. If you have access to a park, I recommend it, but any open public space with lots of people walking (a street, a mall) will offer opportunities to try entraining.

I encourage you to practice entrainment when fully medicated, as well as when you are going off. If you become an adept entrainer while at full function, your skill set will carry over, and you will find it easier to entrain to other people when your medication is fading.


To Finish:


Entraining can also be fun. If you begin to look at more than just the person’s rhythm – like how they fling their knees forward, how their arms flop back and forth, if their chest is puffed out or caved in, you can get to meet their physical personality.  It can be fascinating, and a surprisingly intimate experience, especially in a city where so many pedestrians speed by one another without acknowledgement or awareness.

I hope all of you find equal pleasure and utility in entrainment. It helps me greatly--I use it almost every day--and it can help you too.

As always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comment section below, and I will make sure to reply.


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