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'.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More about Conducting "Enable Me"

I know that my role in the "Enable Me" project is personal trainer / exercise lady.  However, I have been switching hats a lot lately -- mid session and discreetly taking my personal trainer hat off and slipping my conductor hat back on, barely stopping to notice how comfortable it feels, but noticing the change in my tone, the way sets and repetitions of exercises give way to rhythmically intended tasks, the subtle stylistic changes in the way the session is delivered.  The people I work with in this project are in their eighties -- if they notice the hat change they don't react though they certainly respond.  Whether what I am doing would look and sound normal in a CE group but seem a bit odd in the gym is irrelevant to these people for whom the concept of a personal trainer is as foreign as that of a conductor.

Don't get me wrong -- I am passionate about how valuable exercise is for people of all ages and abilities and firmly believe that exercise helps people stay strong and healthy and can actually intervene with what is often presumed to be an inevitable part of the ageing process.  But there are times when what is needed and what is more appropriate in a given moment or over a few weeks of working with a particular person is Conductive Education -- the learning, the structured approach to problem solving, the way of breaking complex movements into manageable segments, practicing them, and stringing them back together as fluent, purposeful movement, the use of speech and rhythm and intention and motivation as facilitation -- in other words the unique tricks specific to the conductive trade.

Mr LH's file says that he has had a frozen shoulder, has had a few falls, and has mild cognitive decline.  In reality Mr LH's movement and cognition is characteristic of something in the Parkinson's plus family of conditions -- I of course wouldn't try to guess or diagnose, that is certainly not my role, but I am pleased that the case manager and physiotherapist accept my experience based hunch that there is something neuro-motoric going on and have written a letter that Mr LH can take to his GP recommending further investigation.  I am even more pleased that Mr LH has spontaneously started rhythmically saying tasks and counting with me (it is often hard for me to get people to count and say tasks in individual sessions, especially if they have not experienced the power of rhythmical intention in a CE group); I am even more pleased that when he counts he can walk and swing his arms and get up from a chair and coordinate complex movements.  I hope -- as I often do about my 'hunches' -- that I am wrong and that there is no neuro-motor disorder creeping in.  Without my training and experience as a conductor I would have no entry point for working with Mr LH -- I wouldn't know where to start.

Mr GL had a major stroke 15 years ago -- at the time he was fit and healthy and his stroke baffled his medical team and shocked Mr GL and his family.  The 'Enable Me' case manager wasn't sure if this was something a personal trainer should be involved in and called to chat with me about how frail Mr GL was and about his increased risk of falls.  I reminded her that I had many years of experience working with people after strokes in my previous life as a conductor.  Today Mr GL and I had our first session -- within minutes it felt like we had been working together for years.  I knew right away which tasks would work and what tricks to start him with, where to put my hands, where to push him, what it must have felt like for him to have his posture and symmetry and weight bearing corrected after 16 years.  I saw his eyes light up when he conquered a task that moments ago had seemed impossible -- a few moments and a little conductive magic make a big difference when those moments are spent practicing and learning to apply nifty little CE tricks.

There have been a lot of people in the 'Enable Me' program that have been deemed too frail for personal training and who have instead received physiotherapy only instead of a combined approach -- there are a lot of people in the 'Enable Me' program that I would have been able to help if I had been given the chance to work with them.  I got the contract with the 'Enable Me' program because of my work as a Conductor -- somebody whom I used to work with at the local cerebral palsy centre referred me and people involved with the program saw me working at the gym with people in wheelchairs.  But I am contracted as a personal trainer, and what I bring to the table as a conductor is not fully understood or recognized, and therefore opportunities to help people as a conductor have been missed.  At this point I do not believe that Conductive Education will even get a mention when the reports about the 'Enable Me' project are written up.  I hope I can correct this but I am just not certain it will happen.   I wish that when the contract was negotiated I had had the guts to stand up for Conductive Education instead of just being glad for the opportunity to take part.

Over and over and over again I hear people relate the advice they have been given by well meaning professionals -- 'you have CP / MS / PD / stroke / old age / whatever, there is nothing that can be done, accept it'.  That is just not how we think in Conductive Education -- because I am a conductor I have a place to start and a unique bag of tricks and conductive magic, but more importantly I have a conductive attitude that makes me believe that there is always something that can be done, something that can be learned,  that it is worth trying, so I do start, and start again, and try something new if one thing doesn't work.  I'd like to think that I am the same when I am wearing my personal training hat -- and I know that if I am it is because that conductive attitude is so much a part of me now, or because no matter what role I'm in, I'm always wearing my conductor hat.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Free to be me

This morning I sat in the sunshine after my yoga class, and thoroughly enjoyed my still warm cinnamon and raspberry muffin and even warmer hot chocolate.  This in itself is an achievement.  More often than not, for me the enjoyment of such a moment is negated by feeling guilty about eating something I probably shouldn't be eating, or by biting in and realizing that indulging in a fleeting craving is so completely out of line with what I want for myself that I'm put off of eating it, or by analyzing the macronutrient contents and calculating what that indulgence will do to my bottom line which for me literally is my bottom.  For the most part this is actually a good thing for me -- the guilt and the mental and psychological drama are seldom worth the muffin, and knowing this helps me make better minute by minute and meal by meal choices.  Don't get me wrong -- I love food.  I really really love food.  I have a great relationship with food -- a much better relationship than when I ate whatever whenever, and I am much happier and healthier as a result of learning to make better choices.  As a personal trainer I always tell weight loss clients to look for balanced eating that is sustainable forever, with occasional guilt free 'cheat meals' and indulgences.  As a real person who always has and always will struggle with my weight and with the headspace that comes with struggling with your weight over years, I appreciate that even when the eating is right, until the headspace is right the struggle with weight is one waged mentally and heavily worn psychologically, regardless of what is happening physically and aesthetically.  For me, eating well comes fairly easily now; the headspace, however, takes a lot more effort.  That is why it was an achievement to simply sit in the sunshine and enjoy my still warm cinnamon and raspberry muffin and even warmer hot chocolate.

The muffin and the hot chocolate weren't actually part of my plan for this morning -- the plan was to powerwalk to yoga, have a quick and suitable protein snack after yoga and then head up to the gym for a  huge workout to make up for one that I had missed earlier this week.  But the sun was shining, and on the walk in I'd stopped to look out over the horizon where a bunch of surfers were gathered -- I expected to see ocean and I got to see a whale, which is clearly a good excuse for being a few minutes late for yoga.

And the yoga teacher, FF, is wonderful.  He is Italian; his voice is calming, gentle, and reassuring even though he speaks quickly and passionately.  He uses phrases like 'big time, big time' when leading the yoga which makes me laugh and relax.  I love hearing him call the yoga poses by their Sanskrit names through his Italian accent -- it helps me bring my mind back to what I'm doing.  He knows me well enough to be laugh at me (just a little) when my ego clashes with my body and my breathing and I fall over in a tangled heap.  He encourages the class to listen to their body and mind and makes the yoga work for us as individuals.

When FF is teaching I don't feel like a yoga failure because I haven't worked out the whole meditation thing.  Instead of feeling stressed out about not being able to meditate and getting impatient and twitchy and wishing that the class could be over or sneaking out -- I spend a few minutes with a gratitude practice.  I have been trying to make a habit of thinking through what I'm grateful for for a long while -- it is crazy that this is something that I have to try to do when there is so much to be grateful for.  I have to admit that often it is almost a chore; brush your teeth, crawl into bed, try to concentrate on gratitudes before nodding off.  After a yoga class, they just seem to flow.  I am always amazed at how many grateful thoughts pop into my mind in such a short time -- getting to talk to my dad on his 66th birthday when we feared he wouldn't see is 60th, a phone call yesterday from my oldest and dearest friend, waking up early for breakfast and coffee with AR, falling asleep talking about our upcoming holiday, getting paid to do work that I love in my business which is flourishing, a whale seen while walking this morning, a sunny day -- all in a matter of a few breaths.

I love the feeling of being all sweaty, stretched out, and bathed in gratitude.  I leave the studio -- the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and I feel happy -- and as I'm walking towards the gym I smell these muffins, fresh out of the oven.  The moment was right and I was in the moment.  The headspace was right -- and I knew that I could indulge and enjoy guilt and drama free.  So, this morning after my yoga class, I sat in the sunshine and thoroughly enjoyed my still warm cinnamon and raspberry muffin and even warmer hot chocolate.

"The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that til they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it"
-- Samuel Pepys        



Gombinsky, L. (2009).  "The Physical Me" in  Just Do It! Young Conductors in their new world.  Ed. A. Sutton and G Maguire. Birmingham, UK: Conductive Education Press. pp.11-17.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A day in the life...

Do you ever have days that you look back on amazed that so many wild and wonderful things can happen between leaving your house in the morning, and coming home that same night?  Days so rich in experience and life it seems impossible that they were only days?

My day started with an initial consultation for Mrs PS.  Mrs PS has just joined the Enable Me pilot project and I will be her personal trainer for the next several weeks.  She will turn 90 during this period.  She has started to be a bit wobbly on her feet.  Her goals were to improve her balance and walking.  When I asked what 'improve' meant to her -- she said that she wanted to feel more confident when she was walking, that she didn't want to have to think about every step as much, especially when she was turning, and that if she could learn some techniques that she could rely on she wouldn't have to work out where to put her feet every time she wanted to move.  Shhhh -- don't tell -- I switched hats -- this is a job for Lisa the conductor, not Lisa the personal trainer.  Mrs PS also said that since she fell -- and she quickly pointed out that over two years ago she had had one fall and nobody would let her forget it -- she has lost her confidence.  She is not the first person to tell me that it was hard to know if the walking difficulties were actually due to some sort of problem with the legs or were physical manifestations of lost confidence, but regardless, walking was a challenge.  I hope that if and when I turn 90 I can fathom the idea of some personal trainer showing up at my door with her exercises and equipment first thing in the morning.   I hope that if and when I turn 90 I still believe that that it is worth giving something a go, that things can get better, and that you are never too old to learn a new trick or two.

Next I went to see Mrs BS -- we have been working on managing osteoarthritis and regaining core and leg strength and on mobilizing her hips and knees following hip injuries and replacements.  Mrs BS is motivated; she practices and works on everything I show her, and has made brilliant improvements, and is moving through the world relatively pain free.  Mrs BP is motivated; she is caring for a husband with a neurodegenerative condition who is in a nursing home and she needs to be mobile and well so she can help him.  I knew he was in a nursing home, I knew he had dementia, but today she told me about the neurodegenerative disorder, about how she tries to help him stand and how she gets him in and out of the car when she takes him out of the home for the day.  Next week and for a few weeks afterwards I will go with her to the nursing home to see if there is anything I can teach her to make it easier for her to help him; he won't remember that I have been but I hope that I can help her.  I will not charge her for my time -- she is a regular client, and I am my own boss and only have to be accountable to myself for how I spend my time.  Being self employed can be chaotic and challenging, but when things like this come up and I don't have to ask anyone for permission to do what I feel is right or justify decisions I make around the service I provide I am reminded that I am where I want to be professionally.

I then went to see FG, a young adult with atheosis and dystonia.  FG is a force to be reckoned with -- this fiery redhead is a policy officer working at the state disability and discrimination legal centre.  I admit it -- I was very intimidated by her when we first met 8 years ago.  At the time she was a law student and disability rights advocate, and I a soft spoken and shy little Canadian conductor trying to get an adult program off of the ground.  Over the years we have had some heated discussions and debates; she has been an incredibly valuable resource, an advocate for Conductive Education, and a friend.  A few months ago she opted for deep brain stimulation -- electrodes implanted into her brain to help her manage her dystonia.  It was a brave risky surgery,  I believe that she was the first in Australia with cerebral palsy to have the implant -- but it proved the right decision and has helped her tremendously.  Until about a month ago, when she had a fall and one of the wires broke.  Today we were 'kicking it old-school' -- pulling out the old and almost forgotten tricks that we had worked out several years ago to make living with dystonia a bit more manageable.  Today we were talking about emotional rollercoasters; what it is like to struggle, take a risk, get better and then have to go back to struggling again; about getting mentally prepared for another round of risky brain surgery next month; about consoling worried parents when you are worried and scared yourself.  I find myself taking mental notes on dealing with set backs and hoping that when faced with adversity, like FG I can 'fall down seven times, stand up eight'.  I find myself thinking, once again, how lucky I am to have people in my life that teach me life's little lessons.

From there I went to the hospital -- they had a special deal on just for me today -- I could see two clients for the price of one parking ticket.  CW has had her spinal fusion; her surgeon is very pleased with the way it all went.  CW looks a bit frankenstein-esque with a mad scar across the front of her throat and a another one from her head to the middle of her back.  Last week she pushed to be moved out of ICU -- as her husband put it, her brain was ready, but her body wasn't quite there yet.  Today, as CW said, both were ready and she had just moved into her room in the regular ward and is on the mend.  She is gearing up for a long rehab period, but already thinking about what we are going to work on first once she is out of the hospital.  CW's sister is a nurse and is very involved in everything to do with CW -- but she is currently on the other side of the world.  CW assures me that her sister is as involved as ever, calling ICU and getting the updates before CW gets the information.  I think about the special bond between sisters and wonder how my sister and my little niece way over there on the other side of the world are doing.

I then went across the hospital to the spasticity clinic where I met KD.  She asked me to accompany her to this appointment; we were hoping to get some sort of understanding as to why her spasms have become so constant, so violent, and so painful over the past few months, and of what could be done to make things better for her.  The disability health adviser for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and KD's house manager were there also -- everyone knew KD in different contexts and had different information to bring to the table.  As a conductor you never know how you will be received in a formal clinic at a hospital and whether you will be just dismissed because you are not a physio.  This doctor that we saw was amazing.  We were with him for nearly 2 hours answering questions and discussing what was happening and how things had changed for KD -- he listened to what everyone had to say and treated everyone with respect without regard for our professional disciplines and using the various perspectives to help him put a case history together.  Most importantly -- he spoke directly to KD , looked her in the eye, verified everything we said directly with her, and made it clear that he was genuinely interested in her and wanted to try to help her.  In fact when he saw the way that she was spasming he offered to come out to assess her in her home where she could transfer and lie comfortably and be spared the horror and indignity that being examined on a standard examination table would have meant for her.  I have never heard of a high ranking specialist offering something like this.  I was reminded that there are amazing people in positions of authority who are humane and kind and humble, and noted my surprise at this, and noted that I had come in prepared to advocate and fight for KD (and for the validity of my professional opinion), and, noted that my cynicism was perhaps an unhelpful attitude that required adjustment.

Do you ever have days that you look back on amazed that so many wild and wonderful things can happen between leaving your house in the morning, and coming home that same night?  Days so rich in experience and life it seems impossible that they were only days?  Amazingly enough most of my days are days like this -- actually I believe that everyday can be like this for everybody -- if you take the time to experience and live and learn.

"It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson."

--Frank Herbert (Dune)