A guy with Parkinson’s walks into a bar. The bartender yells “EARTHQUAKE, EVERYBODY HOLD ON!” And the Parkie says, “What earthquake?”
To the general public jokes about Parkinson’s disease might seem taboo. But at Rock Steady, jokes and laughter are a common thread that fosters togetherness. The Rock Steady method combines forced intense exercise with a heavy dose of silliness and laughter. We call this “The Fun Factor.” People can’t wait to return to class, partly because they love getting their butts kicked, and partly because they don’t want to miss out on all the fun!
Rock Steady’s founder, Scott Newman, understands the importance of being silly when it comes to facing this challenging disease. In March 2017, Newman checked an item off his bucket list when he did stand up comedy for the first time at Rock Steady’s “Comedy for a Cause” fundraiser. He was hilarious, poking fun at his career as a lawyer and making fun of his Parkinson’s.
“Humor is a large part of how we deal with our disease. As a group, we come together and we tend to have, what some doctors call, ‘The Parkinson’s Personality.’ Rock Steady is funny! It’s goofy! People dance and do all sorts of weird things. But you’re still the same person … and the people we are, are a lot of fun to be around,” Newman says.
Holidays are a perfect excuse to release the silly beast at Rock Steady. Come to class on St. Patrick’s Day and you’ll find dancing leprechauns jumping rope to the rhythm of Irish folk music. April Fool’s Day turns into April Fool’s Month. Halloween is epic and if someone forgets to dress up, it’s 25 pushups! The Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays are all great excuses to get extra silly, but even on any given normal day, Rock Steady puts the “party in Parkinson’s.” (We even have a silly shirt that says this slogan this in our online store!)
As it turns out, there is some scientific evidence that laughter has many health benefits! A good hearty laugh can relieve tension, reduce stress, is good for the heart, the brain, and can even boost the immune system.
According to research done by The Harvard Neuroscience Institute, “Laughter and humor can be a healthy tonic for our brain. Triggering the brain’s emotional and reward centers spurs the release of dopamine, which helps the brain to process emotional responses and enhances our experience of pleasure; the release of serotonin to improve our mood; and endorphins to regulate our pain and stress, inducing a euphoric state.” (1)
In another recent project, The University of Kansas reviewed 39 different studies on relationships combining 15,000 people to find the key to long-lasting love. The conclusion? Sharing a good sense of humor with your mate may be the single most important factor in successful long-term relationships. Couples that laugh together, stay together! (2)
Could it be that laughter and fun is the catalyst that has kept some of our Rock Steady Boxers coming back for over 10 years? Certainly, it would seem that Rock Steady’s Fun Factor makes forced intense exercise classes more appealing.
On a personal note, I had the privilege of growing up with the funniest person I’ve ever known, my father. He was ridiculous. He turned every event, situation and moment into a joke. I idolized my dad for making people laugh. With his bright red hair, he almost resembled Bozo the Clown. It wasn’t uncommon for him to enter a room walking upside-down on his hands, talking in made-up languages or ending up in his underwear on the dance floor during a wedding reception. He would do anything for a good laugh and people remember him for his wild sense of humor.
I believe that the hilariousness of our day-to-day Rock Steady classes is a reflection of people’s desire to connect with others. Laughter is a way we communicate to others a feeling of acceptance and can alleviate some of the stress of awkward situations, like having Parkinson’s. Speaking of awkward situations, when someone has a “natural moment” in class (cuts the cheese), you would think the room was full of 2nd graders laughing uncontrollably! Those moments never get old, and we cherish them.
We pride ourselves at Rock Steady for being a little “off.” We intentionally don’t want to appear clinical. We are a boxing gym. We are a family. And we are FUN.
Rock Steady affiliate coaches worldwide have countless stories about hilarious moments in their own programs that they share with each other. It appears that this Fun Factor is being replicated in every Rock Steady program because people with Parkinson’s have a great sense of humor. Laughter is contagious, reduces stress, combats depression and relieves pain. It’s become part of our Rock Steady curriculum.
- “Our ‘Get To Know You’ question was ‘What is your favorite autumn activity?’ Our quietest, sweetest fighter, Debbie, said ‘Smokin,’ drinkin’ and cussin.’ The room erupted. The next person replies ‘Hangin’ out with my new best friend, Debbie!’ Everyone was nearly in tears.” – Coach Ned, RSB Peoria
- “I had a boxer look at the fogged up windows at the end of class and then say, ‘I’ve fogged up a lot of windows, but never in a gym before.’ I didn’t know how to respond.” – Coach Daniel, RSB Metro STL
- “We did a ‘Get to Know You’ question which was your favorite thing about spring. I have a female fighter that lives on a golf course, and she said, ‘I love the frogs when they begin to mate because they are so loud.’ As soon as it came out of her mouth, she looked like, oh no what did I just say? The other fighters have never let her live it down. Now she gets frog paraphernalia and they say ‘ribbit’ to her every time they pass her. She just laughs and blushes.” – Coach Stacey, RSB Mid Michigan
Of all the things that we do at Rock Steady, laughter seems to be one of the best medicines. Work hard! Play hard! And, don’t ever grow up!
“The human spirit is more powerful than any drug and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter.” – Robin Williams
Kristy Rose Follmar, ACSM CPT/NASM CES, is the Program Director & Head Coach at RSB Headquarters. She is a three-time, world champion professional boxer and has been with RSB since 2006.
- “On The Brain” The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter – 2010, https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/HMS_OTB_Spring10_Vol16_No2.pdf
- “Laughter, then love: Study explores why humor is important in romantic attraction” The University of Kansas – 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/02/10/laugh-together-relationship-couples_n_14677638.html