Yes, And...eXercise! (YAX) was built off serendipity - as much in improv is. YAX Founder Robert Cochrane has performed improv for over 20 years. He began using it in the classroom about 10 years ago as a communication and team-building exercise. At the time, he wasn't aware of other practitioners, like those at ComedySportz (produced by CSz Worldwide), developing and training with what's known as Applied Improvisation. The lightbulb moment about improv's potential positive effect on PD, came when Robert introduced his dad, who has PD, to one of his favorite improv instructors, Rob Belushi. A clip of that interview from the documentary, Boys of Summer, "Second Base", can be seen below.
WHAT IT IS, WHO IT'S FOR...
...And How it Can Help
LAUGHTER IS MEDICINE
While improv is not stand up comedy and we keep performance anxiety to a minimum, as we'll do our exercises together, laughter and humor are natural products of the work we do. You know laughter feels good, but did you know it's also been shown to:
Boost the immune system, release endorphins, stimulate circulation and improve respiration (1, 2, 3).
PD can be a frustrating, painful disease. However, patients don't usually die directly from it. Anxiety and depression, caused by isolation, are comorbidities that can lead to significant losses in quality of life. The good news is, improv can help.
"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators." - Julianne Holt-Lunstad
After the Northwestern study came out in 2016, Robert ran some workshops of his own across the country. He met with many neurologists, sharing the Northwestern study and what he learned. They all loved the idea and said there needs to be more research.
So it began.
He is a PhD student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, studying the effect of improvisation on Parkinson's in the Kinesiology department. He began running classes for the Davis Phinney Foundation and its ambassadors in January 2021.
WHAT IT IS
Improvisation is a transformative exercise, engaging your body and mind. A simple and elegant definition for improv is: "unplanned collaborative response." While it often elicits laughs, and it is fun, it's also much more.
Improv can help increase socialization in the Parkinson's disease (PD) community, decrease depression and reshape the thought process of those affected by PD. It helps us remember and understand that though we may have or be affected by PD, we need not be defined nor unnecessarily limited by it. In short, by participating and communicating, the players will be transformed.
WHO IT'S FOR
Improvisation has the power to transform and connect groups. There are frequently communication gaps between people with PD and their care partners, as well as medical and wellness providers. By bringing people together to see and hear each other as people, rather than disease states or titles, we can increase understanding, empathy and quality of life.
“Improvisation is a process applicable to any field, discipline, or subject matter which creates a place where full participation, communication, and transformation can take place."