Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Conducting "Enable Me"

The Phys. Ed. Studio is the name of the personal training studio that AR, my partner in crime (as well as in business and in life) and I plan to open when the time is right.  It will house a fully accessible studio suitable for training people with disabilities and their able-bodied counterparts and a purpose built Conductive Education classroom.  Until we are actually able to open the doors to the studio it will exist in our dreams and goals, and here in cyberspace in the form of a blog about our passion, life lessons, and work.  Until then we both work as personal trainers out in the community at large and in local gyms.

Over the past several months my personal trainer alter ego has had the chance to work as the personal trainer / conductor on an amazing pilot project run by Community Care Northern Beaches called Enable Me.  This is a government funded research project looking at whether pro-active, preventative allied health and exercise can help elderly people remain living independently in their homes for longer, improve their function and confidence on activities of daily living, and can impact their overall health and wellbeing.  Self motivated senior citizens who meet the specified criteria receive 9 weeks of personally tailored, fully funded therapy and exercise in their home.  Interviews carried out by a case manager before each person starts and after they have finished the program provide detailed information from the individual client's perspective on their progress towards self identified goals and most importantly on their sense of well being and quality of life in order to ascertain whether the intervention has been effective.

Normally I am very reluctant to participate in research projects, and when I have done so it was under duress.    However, this project appeals to me for a number of reasons.  For one, it is not seeking to determine the efficacy of Conductive Education.  Also, it comes from service providers recognizing a population trend and trying to pro-actively address a gap in service provision.  And most importantly to me,  I was invited into the project as a personal trainer because of the combined skill sets I have as a conductor and  personal trainer.  So far, it has been amazing.  I have been given a licence to work conductively with a 'non-motor disabled population'.  With every participant in every interaction I have to pick, choose, and combine both professional disciplines -- adapting exercises to make them suitable to this population, teaching functional mobility and specific task solutions, finding the why and the how so that the what is worth doing.

And I get to hang out with these awesome people in their 70's, 80's, and even 90's -- I don't know, maybe it is because I'm so far from home, or because my grandparents aren't around anymore, or because I'm an old soul but I love the eccentricities, the words of wisdom and words of a completely different nature, the stories of days gone by.  I hope when I'm in my 80's I can bear the idea of some personal trainer with dumbbells and  exercise tubing showing up at my door a few times a week for exercise.  My time is appreciated and I am rewarded in so many ways.  I am grateful that I am one of the lucky few people in the world who gets to make a living doing something that I love and that every day something happens at work that thrills or inspires me.

My words of wisdom today come from Mrs.BP.  Last week, while walking through her retirement village, I was treated to a running commentary on everybody who passed by.  We were taking the scenic back route so as not to pass by the reception lounge where a farewell was being held for a retiring manager.  As Mrs.BP explained, she was lots of things, but definitely not a hypocrite, and she didn't like this manager and had expressed this to other people, so absolutely would not be going to the farewell for nibblies and farewell drinks.  I asked why she didn't like this manager -- and Mrs.BP said that it was because at the age of 86 she only had time for people who made her happy, not people who made her upset.  She went on to say that some people were so draining with their complaints and their 'poor-little old-me-itis', while others were so uplifting and always had a pleasantry to exchange, and that in fact she could tell by the look on someone's face and the way they were standing whether it was was in fact a good idea at all to stop and chat or to just pass by and nod.

"Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys.  If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it."
                                                                                                                   ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seeing is believing -- and believing is seeing

We often say seeing is believing -- and this is taken to mean that whatever we it is that we want to believe must first be demonstrated, must be proved, must exist, and must be objectively true.  Skepticism is considered healthy - be critical, suspend judgment, just the facts ma'am.  Our society values evidence over experience and intuition, and faith and hope are considered charlatan.  Conductive Education has been ridiculed and denounced and disregarded -- we haven't figured out how to quantify and clearly articulate what it is that we do; nor have external researchers, and why should they -- it is their job to be critical and objective.   And we, the 'global conductive community' -- for lack of a better way of describing the flotsam of people around the world working in the field of Conductive Education, supporting and fighting for Conductive Education, and benefitting from experiencing Conductive Education -- don't help the situation.  We talk about the intangible and psychosocial defining elements of Conductive Education and then try to find a tangible and objective way to be measured and defined so that we can fit in to wherever it is we are trying to eek out an existence.  Or we quietly do what we do and hope to remain unnoticed and therefore unscrutinized but never actually articulate what it is that we are so passionate about and protective of.

Where am I going with this ranting raving opening to this first blog, you ask?  I don't pretend to have the answers, just my experience, my stories, and my thoughts.  In this blog I plan to write about some of the unmeasurable and intangible conductive magic underlying the practice -- because it is important, because it is what makes us different, and because it is what makes me and many of the others that I have conducted love Conductive Education.  And I will start today with some thoughts inspired by KD about seeing and believing.

KD is an adult with cerebral palsy -- she attended a CE group I ran here in Sydney a few years ago.  She is also an elite boccia player and has represented her state and her country at major competitions.  KD thrived in the Conductive Education environment -- she came into the classroom with a determination of steel and an attitude that roared "I will until".  And she did, regardless of who told her she shouldn't or couldn't.  I'll never forget the relief and joy she expressed when we first met for our initial consultation when she expressed her goals and her dreams and I said let's give it a shot.  She was amazed that I didn't tell her it was impossible, and I continue to be amazed that there are people out there like KD who despite decades of discouragement still have the guts to have goals and dreams, let alone express them.  Over a few years I watched KD go from a few assisted steps with two conductors and a walker, to practicing with a friend outside the classroom, to walking across a beach promenade with her walker, unassisted, as part of a fundraiser that she organized so that she could afford to travel with the boccia squad to compete overseas.

KD contacted me a few months ago asking if we could get started again.  She said that she had had a rough year -- not just any old rough year; frequent and severe seizures, injuries, hospitalizations, life support; we had nearly lost her on more than one occasion.  KD said that as a result she had lost a lot of motor and sensory function affecting her entire life and well-being and, most importantly to KD, her boccia.

When I met with her for consultation, it was clear that she had not exaggerated any of what she had described.  Her struggle and fatigue were apparent, there was less fire in her eyes -- it still flickered, but it was dim.  I imagine a couple of years of illness, loss, grief, fear, worst case scenarios, and being told that she was lucky to be alive but that no recovery of function could reasonably be expected would extinguish most people's fires -- but KD was still fighting, dragging herself up for the next round.  We struggled through a first session -- very basic movements.  It was challenging for both of us -- because the last time we worked together everything was very different.  KD got teary as we tried movements that she hadn't tried since her down turn, and added more things to the mental list she was keeping of what she could no longer do.  I asked about her goals for our sessions she met my eye (which in itself is a big challenge for KD at present) and said, pleadingly but with determination "I don't care what or how much, I just want to get some of it back".  And I saw the fire -- I stopped seeing all of the deterioration and stopped wondering where we would start -- I saw the fire in her eyes, and I heard myself say "you will".  I couldn't see, but I believed.  And because I believed, KD believed -- without question, without proof, without a promise, without seeing, she believed.

We believed in hope, in possibility, in potential.  I believed in KD -- more importantly, she believed in herself.  And because we believed instead of doubted, the next week when we worked together it was totally different.  Same bedroom, same body, same debilitating last few years.  But it was totally different.  Her ability to initiate and control movement was different; her pain free range of motion was different; her ability to stabilize non moving parts of her body was different; I'm talking about significant, noticable differences in her head, trunk, and limbs -- despite a stressful week of seizures so severe she nearly missed her own 40th birthday party.  I knew it, she knew it.  No miraculous recovery, but certainly some conductive magic.

When I commented (excitedly and amazedly) KD smiled and said she had been practicing.  Practicing basic movements physically when she could, in her mind -- visualizing -- when her body was too tired.  Thinking the movement commands to herself or having a friend repeat them out loud to her over the phone.  I lift my arm; I hold my head up; I move my leg.  There was no reason that this could not have been happening previously -- except that despair and frustration and hopelessness probably made trying and practicing seem futile.  A bit of belief -- an attitude adjustment -- refuelled KD's natural determination of steel -- I can; I will.

We talked that day about the verbal intention used in the CE task series -- not in terms of what rhythm was used or in terms of connecting intention and movement through  external and internal commands and involving higher brain functions.  We talked about the affirming power of the statements in positive present tense expressing and painting a picture in her mind of what she wants.  I lift my arm; I hold my head up; I move my leg -- out loud, in her mind, over and over again stating the goal in present tense as if already achieved, speaking what she wants not what she doesn't, replacing conscious and subconscious I can't with I am; I do; I will until.  Creating an image and holding it firmly in her mind's eye -- believing, seeing; seeing, believing.

We say 'listen, say, do' when explaining verbal intention --
Perhaps we really mean 'listen-say/believe/visualize-do'; perhaps the conductive magic is about what happens mentally in those precious seconds before the 'doing' starts.  There is no shortage on literature about the power of positive thinking, goal setting, and affirmation -- perhaps this should be included in our quest to define and make sense of Conductive Education.

"What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve"
   ---Napoleon Hill