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, April 23, 2011

rhythmic meditation

I have always loved the start of my adult CE sessions; the exchange of sincerely warm greetings and chit chat of friends catching up on life and the real world events from one session to the next; 'how are you's?' where the question is genuine and the response listened to; transferring or getting settled and ready to start; the tension of expectant silence before the first task which I always let linger for just an extra second or two so that we can all clear our minds, come together mentally, and prepare for the physical work at hand; and finally the first task delivered and repeated with rhythm so deliberate, connecting and uniting us, setting the tone, tempo, and mood for the start of the session.  I have learned that these moments are so precious, even if the session is not going to be a traditional session following a formal task series, and especially when the participant(s) are accustomed to formal CE.

AR -- my partner in crime (as well as in business an in life) -- is lucky enough to be the person who gets my unedited and often exuberant monologue response to 'Hey, how was your day?'.  A couple of weeks ago he said -- "...this rhythm thing you are always talking about, I don't understand it".  And I sort of froze.  Not because I don't know, but because I haven't been asked to explain it in such a long time, and because over the years it has become so intrinsic to what I do that I had to work out my response.  So, what exactly is this rhythm thing we talk about and how is it used in CE?  I wish I could explain it simply -- I can't -- but I can try to exemplify how I use it, as a traditional CE facilitation and otherwise, in this instance as a meditation.

For example, CW is an adult with mixed tone athetoid cerebral palsy who has been doing CE with me on and off for the past 7 years and who has accomplished some phenomenal things.  She is fearless and adventurous, quick witted and mentally agile, always open to trying new things, always working out ways to make something possible despite a relatively uncooperative body, particularly over recent years where suspected cervical myelopathy has wreaked havoc on her body.  We are working intensively at the moment to regain CW's leg strength following a hip operation, and she is awaiting major neck surgery.  We have agreed that our work will be more like 'physio' / rehab / training' for now -- focussed on regaining leg strength and nothing else, avoiding anything upper body because of the risk of doing further damage to her neck; repeating very specific movements several times and then resting and repeating; more like a gym session than like CE.  She is understandably anxious and frustrated.  I see it in her face, hear it in what she voices; when I arrive we talk about updates from doctors, and changing neuropathy, and how things have been since I've last seen her.  And then that pause; that expectant silence, and the first task, the tone, the deliberate rhythm, the counting.  I see her face relax as she counts with me; the familiar rhythm washes over her, the worry and anxiety and frustration shelved for later, the mind cleared and focussed and ready to take on that body.  For CW the rhythm is a meditation of sorts, powerful and soothing, without it I'd just be working with her legs, not her mind.

This meditative use of rhythm CW utilizes reminds me of a woman with late stage MS that my conductive mentor AB and I worked with years ago in Toronto who used rhythm in a very similar way.  I used video footage of this woman for a conference presentation years ago in South Hampton.  The video was of a session where this woman was working with myself and AB, all three of us verbally intending and counting over and over and over again, trying to coax a leg locked in extreme and painful spasm to relax millimeter by millimeter.  A senior conductor at that conference, in fact one of my university lecturers and the person who had taught me how to work with rhythm, challenged me on the use of repetition and counting in such an intense one on one situation.  At the time, I only knew that it felt right, and I was too intimidated to defend my choice.  Looking back, and I remember that session and the work with that participant so clearly, I recognize the same meditative thing happening that I now see with CW.  The familiar rhythm washing over her, giving her a way to use her mind to shift away from the pain of the spasm, to relax her mind so she could relax her body.  I remember that it was hard for her to count when the spasms were violent, but that when she 'caught the rhythm', breathed, counted that her face changed, softened; that her eyes were no longer squeezed shut, that her body stopped bracing, and if necessary tears could flow uninhibited.  The rhythm was not part of the task solution, but again the way in to the body, the body mind connection.

You have to be able to focus, to control your energy. You need to make it your ally, instead of trying to harness it, to muscle it. That wastes energy too. There has to be a harmony between you and your body. Your mind and your body, and your soul have to connect in order to move forward. And this comes through relaxation.
                                 ~ Elvis Stojko, Canadian world champion figure skater


  1. Rhythmical intention - the individualized use of rhythm, speech, visualization, and affirmation to facilitate and problem solve movement and to empower participants as masters of their own movement - is one of my most versatile teaching tools, and offers a wide breadth of possibilities that vary between people yet can be modelled and adapted from one person to the next. I use it when working with groups of people, for addressing individuals within a group setting, as well as when working one to one with somebody. And for the record -- I use rhythmic intention in some of my mainstream personal training sessions and certainly with my able-bodied elderly clients. And again for the record -- sometimes I choose not to use it, or ask the person to use it in their head, to think it through using rhythmical intention, but to move without actually having to verbally intend. I use it completely circumstantially and individually. My participants will tell you that is is how they learn to understand how their bodies work, how they learn to work around the challenges posed by their motor disorder, how they structure and remember solutions for movement problems and the individualized application of these solutions to normal everyday activities, something they can consciously and cognitively fall back on when things aren't going right, and most importantly, something that they can use to approach challenges faced beyond the scope of the classroom or training environment.

  2. C'mon, Lisa, or rather Come off it.

    Does CE really know enough of itself and its brief past for anything to merit the term 'traditional'? And even something to do so, where is the a prori virtue in being traditional?

    There is a mall hill of beans written in English (and derivatively in German too, I believe) on the 'rhythmical intention'. The reader might be forgiven for thinking that this comprises essentially pre-set drills without which a particular practice in not really properly conductive. At then same time, other practices that lie outside this limited canon might be equally regarded as non-conductive.

    (Such reified 'rhythmical intention' is not alone in such fetishisation within the CE discourse. The wretched wooden furniture is another crashing example.)

    Conductive pedagogy depends rather upon sensitive, flexible adaptation and adoption of any activity that appears to advance learners' development. You seem to have hit upon one that fits the circumstances of your own personal pedagogy and the spirit of the given conductive group.

    I myself first came across 'rhythmical intention' a little over thirty years ago in the teaching of Ester Cotton, who made a big thing of something that (as described) seemed rather little. She invoked A. R. Luriya in its support but I have to admit to never having been able fully to concretise this link in my mind.

    In those distant days I had occupied my mind a lot over ARL's ideas and experiments so when I first went to Budapest, in 1984, one of the first things that I did was to quizz her on the nature of 'rhythmical intention'.

    The gist of her reply was that there is no such thing and that the term had been wildly misunderstood by Western observers and commentators. Rather, she said, there are two quite separate constructs, both vital towards implementing and understanding conductive practice.

    The first of these is rhythm, a sine quâ non of motor activity. The second is conscious intention to achieve something, a sine quâ non of conductive pedagogy. In conductive pedagogy for motor disorders, there is clearly considerable account to both.

    I put it to her that the two could be represented as separate valences, coming from separate origins and each making important contributions. Where and when the two valences intersect, then you have rhythm that is intentional and intention that is rhythmical (and many other beneficial things things besides that benefit from being simultaneously both). But this triangulated space should not be reified, fixed, decontextulised as a technique or principle, but rather recognised as part of an essntially dymamic process.

    She went along with this model and I myself have found it a useful analytic tool. It might have been useful to you too at that conference years ago.

    As for the notion of beneficial meditational states induced by such means, I need hardy tell you that there are very anchient and powerful traditions to draw upon here. I am sure that András Pető would have agreed and approved!


  3. Thank you Andrew --

    I will 'c'mon and come off it' and accept your 'challenge' and find time to start to answer the questions you posed about 'traditional CE' in your opening sentences of your response in the next few days -- or at least to try to explain why I am so trepidatious about talking about what I do.

    I do think that there is a bigger challenge in what you write though, for conductors everywhere to think about the how and why of rhythmical intention and task series.

    Rhythm, intention, thought, visualization, planning, speech, and their respective relationships to motor activity and motor learning are indeed part of a 'dynamic process' essential to conductive pedagogy. As I tried to articulate in my first 'comment' to this post, it is not a specific technique or a memorized task series being chanted by a conductor in auto-pilot mode and repeated and responded to by a group of hypnotized participants. I think it would hardly be exaggeration to say that there are kids and perhaps adults who clasp their hands and lift their clasp up and down on hearing 'are you sleeping brother John' -- Pavlovian style.

    When used well -- purposefully, deliberately, intentionally , and as you have said dynamically -- rhythmical intention is one of our most powerful teaching tools in CE. More importantly, when taught and shared well, it is incredibly empowering for participants who can better move through their personal worlds with rhythm, speech, and intention as allies in their challenges to best manage their motor disorders.

    ps - latin translation in case anyone is wondering:
    sine quâ non - without which not - an indispensable action, condition, ingredient, 'without which it would not be ....'