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.


  1. Lisa, I have that hat on all the time too, as a conductor, as an art teacher and as an art therapist, sometimes on top of or underneeath a different one but always there.

    Sometimes I wonder if I was actually born with that hat on and that I chose to do the work that I do because of it!


  2. Andrew Sutton has asked me to post the following comment:

    We are all getting older
    We might all want a conductor one day
    Millions and millions of us

    Andria Spindel, President of March of Dimes Canada writes on her blog today about the Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology, that was held in Toronto from 5 to 8 June.

    Today, with modern health care, miracles of medicine and science, and rehabilitation, family support, and healthy lifestyles, people are growing old with a disability, while in our aging population there is a growing segment that is aging into a different kind of disability. Oddly, the treatment and support of older people has been through a parallel system to that of people with disabilities. I believe that is because the people we helped 20 or 30 years ago in the disability sector were young, and were opposed to being lumped in with older people and the frailty of age was not considered a disability. So, two social services, health care, housing, transportation and legal/advocacy streams of knowledge and interventions developed.

    Conductive Education grew from its roots and developed in an earlier time, when disabled people
    were not expected to live long, and nor were most older people! Perhaps it is time for CE's practices, its undertandings and its place in the world to evolve to match the new biological, social
    and personal realities of the world that we now live in.

    This is a growth sector. There were some eleven-hundred people at that recent Toronto bash. Andria
    reports –

    People from 42 countries were present, many presenting in one or more of the six concurrent conferences, and post-conference symposium, or exhibiting at one of 93 booths which were packed with information. Many presentations were via poster, many in plenary or panel, and some in workshops. This cornucopia of expert knowledge was actively being transferred to practitioners, policy makers, consumers and advocates for seniors and people with disabilities.

    I don't bet but, if I were to, then I should bet that no one there mentioned Conductive Education.

    Change creeps in
    Here and there, not programatically

    As in many aspects of conductive practice, developments are probably happening, undescribed, unsung, and generally unknown of, even to each other. Perhaps those who undertake such initiatives might feel unsure of the legitimacy of adapting their understandings and pedagogy, deriving by the large from work with children and relatively young adults, to older people. That is, not just older people who have had strokes or have Parkinsons', or who have cerebral palsy and lived on into a ripe old age, but also older people who do not have 'movement disorders' at all, they are not disabled, 'just old', becoming more frail, losing confidence and self-esteem, failing to adapt old-established skills, relinquishing independence.

    'Where might I find a job in future years? ' I hear conductors ask. Don't ask, look around, and take a chance.

    You will find the same text on his blog:

  3. Sorry -- also cited was Andria Spindel's blog:

  4. And finally -- my response...

    I could and hopefully will fill pages and pages of this blog articulating what I have learned over the last 8 years working with both people with cerebral palsy and able bodied people, watching them ageing gracefully and less gracefully in some cases. Over and over again I have seen what Conductive Education has to offer to people in both of these populations.

    I have said it before and I'll say it again -- Andrew sees me as a conductor. I think that it would be near impossible for him to see me otherwise, no matter what hat or other disguise I turn up in, and trust me, I have tried to convince him otherwise at times when I was questioning myself. Andrew sees me as a conductor, and sees my work as conductive, and recognizes conductive pedagogy in how I approach whatever work I do. And when he tells me so I have no choice but to believe him - and not just because of the oh so Andrew style and tone that he uses to 'tell' me things when I'm wallowing in self doubt. I trained under some wonderful conductors, but it was Andrew who taught me what wearing my conductor hat was all about, about the pedagogy that underpins the practice, and to this day it is Andrew that reminds me of how proud I should be to wear it, and it is Andrew that gives me confidence to get out there and 'just do it', to take risks, and to write about what I do.

    And he is right -- there is and will always be work for conductors who are willing to look around, to take a chance, and not to ask for permission or approval. Get you conductor hat on and 'Just do it'!