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Exoskeleton – Marvel or Madness

October 16, 2019

I was sent the following link the other day, the latest in a line of reports in the development of bionics for the purpose of enabling the paralysed man to walk again.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-exoskeleton/paralyzed-man-walks-again-with-brain-controlled-exoskeleton-idUSKBN1WI2HQ?utm_source=applenews&fbclid=IwAR2H9ujovyWIo0slber_Mor3Jus7h5FMWjx_9HBaGoJo-SVTjqCQFGKQx7s

The science and technology is truly incredible, who would have thought that one day Robocop would start to become a reality, while at the same time it’s frightening! It’s with good reason that an image of the future, where machines dominate, is always presented in dystopian films. So let’s look at what is really going on here and what’s at stake for the paralysed man.

Living with paralysis is never easy. The tasks of daily living all become much harder and not only do you have to adapt to a new set of circumstances, you also have to accept that so much is no longer possible. Putting the day to day living aside, the limits placed on the more outgoing side of life are enormous. Before my injury I was a very active man. I walked and cycled a great deal, not just to get from A to B, but also for pleasure, climbing hills with my dog on my days off. I enjoyed motorcycling, camping and rafting down rivers. Not all of this became impossible and, apart from the walking, much of it I continued to enjoy in some way or another. There are always limitations, though, and the desire for the freedom and independence, that you once took for granted, niggles away at the back of your mind. What if there was a way to once again to go and climb a hill, just you and your dog, wouldn’t it be great. I believe this is the spirit that drives people to want to embrace the bionic man approach and the exoskeleton.

At the moment such technology is a long way from becoming a functional reality, but even if it could one day get there, would it really be such a good idea? The vast majority of disabled people use mobility aids of some description or another. Where would we be without wheelchairs? I do not live in a wheelchair I use it as a ‘mobility aid’, but life would be unthinkable without it. I would be totally reliant upon the help of others. I also have a handcycle which my husky worked in harness with for many years. At the moment we are at a stage in my rehabilitation where it is unsuitable for me to be undertaking vigorous exercise with a handcycle, and the husky’s old and wouldn’t pull much anymore even if I harnessed her up, so these days I walk the dogs with an electric mobility scooter. I value my mobility aids, so isn’t an exoskeleton simply the logical progression of technology? After all a wheelchair won’t go up steps and even my tramper (a good off road mobility scooter) is extremely limited when it comes to climbing hills.

In terms of technology an exoskeleton may well be the logical progression, but from the human perspective the answer is no. A manual wheelchair you interact with by pushing it along with your arms, but the wheelchair does not interact with you. With a mobility scooter there is no interaction either way, it is simply a moveable platform upon which you have a seat. An exoskeleton, however, is a forced interaction with your body and that is another ball game altogether. I won’t even use a set of calipers to get me up on my feet because of the negative effect on the development of my body, despite the fact that I could probably get about reasonably well with them, and I definitely wouldn’t go anywhere near an exoskeleton for reasons that I will do my best to explain.

With the condition of paraplegia, and tetraplegia, there is damage to the spinal cord causing paralysis, in my case from the waist down. If it was simply a case of paralysis of the muscles , then propping yourself up on your feet would be a reasonable thing to do. When I left hospital following a spinal injury I was given a standing frame (we all were) and encouraged to use it on a daily basis. It was a wooden frame with straps to keep your knees locked, and then, when you haul yourself upright you fix a strap around your backside to keep you there. I persisted with it for a while, but never liked it and soon decided it would do more harm than good. What must be understood here is that a spinal injury is about far more than paralysis of the muscles. Alongside the paralysis there is catastrophic collapse of the structures of the body. Thanks to all the ABR Therapy my body is in pretty good structural shape these days, at least in comparison, however, when I was using a standing frame, in the past, this was not the case. My trunk was so depleted that my chest had collapsed down onto my pelvis. The lumbar region barely existed with the bottom of my ribcage sitting below the top of my pelvis. My pelvis, in turn, was so collapsed in upon itself that the hips weren’t properly inserted. So imagine the trauma to the body trying to force it into an upright position when it can’t even hold its own in a less demanding sitting position, and this is the case with paraplegics, tetraplegics and all severely disabled people.

Forcing a spinally injured and seriously depleted body into a standing position will cause enormous pressures on the weakened structure, particularly, in my case, at the lumbar sacral junction, the hip joints and the knees, but also along the length of the spine and throughout the trunk, none of which has the capacity to support such a demanding position. Even with straps and supports your body will inevitably use all its strengths to maintain the position, overshadowing and further ingraining the weaknesses, and if you’re not careful, further deforming the structure. Take that to the next level of strapping your body into an exoskeleton and you not only force it into an upright position, but you force it to articulate when it is not truly capable of doing so, dramatically increasing undue stress upon the structure. The depleted trunk and compressed spine will be severely overloaded, especially at the disconnection of the lumbar sacral junction. The hip joints can’t even work as the joints they should be due to their lack of insertion into the pelvis. Rather than articulate at the hips a spinally injured body simply hinges in that region with ventral tightness and overstretched dorsal tendons. The knees and ankle joints will have very little, if any, hydraulic capacity to them so will be incapable of supporting proper separation of the bones. All of this risks damage to the joints and the ligaments, over tightening of what muscles and tendons are still functioning, over stretching of others and is generally an extremely abusive way of treating a spinally injured body. Do I need to say any more, because I haven’t even touched upon the insertion of sensors into the skull!

At first glance the use of an exoskeleton may sound like a great thing to do, but when we see the reality it is something to run a mile from (metaphorically speaking). Many para and tetraplegics have no feeling in their bodies below the level of paralysis and may be blindly unaware of the damage they are doing to their bodies, but I can assure you, that even if they feel no pain in the short term, they will suffer in the long term. Furthermore, even if the technology was perfected and you could accept the damage you would be doing to your body and afford the high price tag, what do you actually achieve by using one? Last year there was a walk up Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England. It was a ‘Save Leith Hill’ walk as the natural beauty spot was under threat from the oil drillers. Maybe I could have walked it with a perfected exoskeleton, but it’s a big maybe. The last stretch is super steep with tree roots and loose sand. If you lost your balance you’d be in big trouble. All you actually needed, though, was a couple of straps on the front of your wheelchair and a few strong lads, which is exactly what I had. People to help you will get you places that technology never will, with no damage to the body and companionship to go with it. The buzz of getting to the top of the hill was great.

An exoskeleton is nothing more than a gimmick and a dangerous one at that.

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Structure

September 22, 2019

 

For years I’ve been asked whether I’ve ‘got the muscles working again’, ‘can I move my legs’ or ‘can I brace my knees’? I understand people’s desire to to see and hear of signs that I’m overcoming the paralysis, after all is that not the task in hand? Such questions, however, rather miss the point as to what we are really setting out to achieve. This year all that has changed. People have stopped asking questions and instead have been noticing the differences; yes in how I move my legs and move around in general, but more importantly, noticing the changes in the shape and form of my body.

I was in the pub on New Year’s Eve and a friend of mine told me I must be proud of myself for what I’ve achieved. She pointed out that my neck and shoulders now looked liked everyone else’s where before they weren’t normal with my head sunk down into the body. Not only had she noticed the structural change, but appreciated that such structural improvement, way above the level of paralysis, was something to be proud of.

The following day an old member of my bodywork team came to visit. I was squatting on a stool and leaning on my knees. “Look at you!” she said. It was not a position easily, or comfortably, obtainable for a true paraplegic. It takes sufficient pelvic structure, and capacity in the trunk, together with structure in the knees and ankles to sit like that. In one glance she appreciated the improvements that had taken place. A couple of months later when back in Dorking, my home town, a friend suggested, in exclamation, that I’d been body building! I’ve been body building for years, but not in the sense of pumping iron. All those years of work are really coming to fruition with the structural changes resulting in a greatly expanded chest, broader shoulder girdle and muscular form that reflects the improved inner capacity, although any muscle bulk is incidental. Such comments have been the theme for the year and finally I can successfully promote ABR Therapy as a way of building structural improvements and not as a means to get the paralysed muscles working again.

Getting the muscles working again is, of course, the ultimate goal. Walking will never be possible without the use of the muscles in the legs and although walking remains a distant dream and not in the forefront of my imagination, I haven’t totally given up on the possibility. Structural improvements, however, are what we work upon. They are the achievable goals. Use of the muscles is dependent upon a nerve pathway from the brain, that which is damaged in the spinal cord, and there is nothing I can do to directly address that. Scientists have been working on that very issue for decades with little or no success. But what if we could get the muscles going again; wouldn’t that solve the problem I hear you say. Well, it would be like taking a wreck of a car with worn out wheel bearings, slack ball joints, broken suspension springs, cracked chassis, leaking brake seals and rusted through exhaust pipe and thinking that getting the engine running will sort the car out.

The car analogy is exactly the scenario you have with scientists attempts to turn paraplegics into the bionic man. Julie Hill was the first to go down that road. They quite literally wired her muscles up to electric stimulation, via a computer, and although they never got her walking she did power a recumbent cycle with her legs. I happened to see her at a charity event at the time she was pursuing that approach. It was a cross country event where we the wheelchair users had a team of people dragging us around a hill (I don’t do that sort of thing any more, but it was great fun at the time). Julie’s lower legs, ankles and feet were so swollen that she strapped them, barefooted, to her wheelchair footplate. They were too swollen to put shoes on! I can only imagine that the abuse of shocking muscles into action in a structurally deficient body was more than her legs could bear. Not only was this experiment celebrated in a documentary on national television, some years later it was made into a film starring Caroline Quentin. I don’t knock Julie Hill for giving it a go or anyone involve for their quest to improve the lives of paraplegics. Personally, however, I would run a mile (metaphorically speaking) if those scientists came anywhere near me.

Conventional rehabilitation always seems to involve forcing the body into a standing position and working on what little muscle capacity remains. We work at rebuilding the underlying structure, all that is normally considered passive; the inner volume, joint capsules, ligamentous structures, skin and bone etc. In this way we recreate a structural framework that is capable of making best use of what little neurological capacity may remain. I am still totally paralysed below the knee and yet there has been substantial improvement in the structure of my ankles and feet, which is enormously beneficial, showing the importance of this work even if there is no hope for neurological improvement. From the waist down to the knees I have regained a great deal of use of my body, as a reflection of the structural improvements.

My old landlord in Brockham was sixty when I first knew him. He was arthritic then, the structure of his body abused by a hard working life, and he was still logging and fencing. He’s now in his early eighties and although he still tends his veg patch and his chickens and displays his collection of old tools at shows, he does much of it from a mobility scooter these days. He said to me, “It’s a grand life as long as you don’t get weak”. Muscles give us power, but it’s structure that gives us strength.

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Spinalroots the Movie

September 1, 2019

A film for the future of Spinal Injuries Rehabilitation

Now released online on my website, Vimeo and YouTube.

http://spinalroots.uk

http://www.vimeo.com/spinalroots/film

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxQ3sm9dpk

or watch it here

Please share links as you feel appropriate

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Byline Festival

August 22, 2019
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Eyesight

October 11, 2018

Two years ago I started to struggle a little with focusing on reading close up. I had never considered that one day I might have to wear glasses and so this came as quite a shock. Then last year I wasn’t well at all, ending up in hospital for a month, and the quality of my eyes plummeted. On leaving hospital my eyesight improved somewhat, but when picking up a book I still struggled for a couple of pages before my focus adjusted. By the end of last year I really thought I was going to have to bite the bullet and use glasses for reading. Not only did the thought of having to use glasses seem annoying, I actually questioned whether this decline in eyesight is something we should accept as inevitable. I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

I have come to learn, over the years of ABR Therapy work, that a spinal injury has a dramatic affect on the quality of the head. The spinal cord is the very core of your body. If you imagine a cross section of the body like the rings of a tree then your spinal cord is at the centre of those rings. With an injury to the spine the tension is flushed out of the spinal cord and this extends right up into the head; the spinal cord descending from the brain. Particularly noticeable is the caving in of the occipital region at the back of the head together with a weakness between the temples, but also a general depreciation in quality. For a number of years now I’ve been working on my head to reverse this decline, with dramatic effect at times. Bringing a body back to life from a depleted and even, to some extent, dormant condition does not come without its trials. My head has gone through numerous phases of expansion and consolidation, far too numerous to count, and with the expansion phases have come headaches. The fact that the head expands may sound alarming, but these expansions would not been seen with the eye and could not even be detected by a tape measure around the head. Only touch is sensitive enough to perceive these changes. If you are turning the pages of a book and inadvertently turn two together then your sense of touch will pick this up when to the naked eye there would be no discernible difference in thickness. What is more, only the sense of touch is truly three dimensional. The development of my head has taken years and at its most dramatic was going through expansion and consolidation phases on a daily basis.

I’m pleased to say that the expansion headaches seem to be long in the past and my head has developed a much improved form. Not only has my face filled out, it is visibly broader between the temples. The temples used to be like caves you could push your finger into, but have filled in nicely. There is still work to do and refinements to make, but my head is once again a strong foundation for the body. At the beginning of this year I was re-addressing my work on the head and developing new approaches, with a tapping stick, on the occipital region and on the sides of the skull. For some time now I have been aware of the correlation between the occipital part of the head, at the posterior base of the skull, and the eyes, and with the new approach to working on that region I experienced a substantial improvement in eyesight. All of a sudden I could pick up a book and focus on the print without my eyes taking time to adjust!

This begs the question as to why our eyesight tends to decline, bearing in mind that very few of us experience a spinal injury. I would suggest that there are two factors involved, both ageing and the quality of our bodies. Ageing is the inevitable process we all live with, but the quality of our bodies, at any given time, is dependent upon how well we live. None of us live perfect lives and all of us experience some decline in a certain aspect or aspects of our bodies. It would take enormous self awareness and dedication to bio-mechanical health to go through life maintaining 100% quality. When it comes to the ageing process, as we live we constantly input into our bodily system which leads our bodies to become more and more structured and more mineralised. This results in a hardening of the structure. When we are babies our bones are flexible and as we age they become harder eventually becoming so mineralised, in old age, that they can become brittle. So it makes sense that our eyes too can harden making it more difficult to adjust the focus. With a lapse in quality we have a different scenario. It is not uncommon for people to experience decline in the head / neck junction. This, coupled with weakness at C7 (neck / back junction), leads the position of the head to be shifted forward of the mid line of the body. If you observe enough people from the side view you will see this is typical. The lapse in quality of the occipital region at the back of the head, in connection with the head / neck junction weakness, has to be compensated for, in a structural sense, by the eyeballs. This structural overload of the eyeballs leaves them less able to do their job of focusing for vision, so improving the quality of the occipital region of my head has had a great effect on improving my vision.

For now I remain happily living and reading without glasses, but for how long I do not know. I am constantly working to improve the quality of my body, that has become my lot in life, and whether I can maintain my eyesight, or whether the inevitable process of ageing will rob me of that ability, only time will tell. Luckily, whether dealing with ageing or decline in quality, our technological age provides us with glasses to compensate.

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Brexit and the Health of the Nation

July 24, 2018

My New Year’s Resolution was to give up watching, listening to and reading the news for a whole year. I was tired of the news and I was inspired to give it up by a friend of mine who’s not happy that our nation voted to leave the European Union. Every time he writes on Facebook he’s angry and every time you meet him in the pub he insists that no one can tell him one way in which we’ll all be better off by ‘Brexit’. He’s a good friend of mine, and the driving force behind the fundraising campaign to help me pursue my therapy work, so of course I’ll put up with his rants, but it’s not good for his health nor for the health of the nation.

I’m a huge fan of our National Health Service. I’ve had to call upon them on more than one occasion, due to accident and injury, and when push comes to shove their brilliant and I’m eternally grateful that I’ve never been presented with a bill. But let us understand that they are actually an ill health service and, despite the fact that we may all be living longer, in this nation, and almost certainly across the globe, we are not living healthier lives. There’s no black death, little tuberculosis and smallpox has been virtually eradicated, but the physical stature of man is in decline. All around me I see adults that are struggling to live comfortably in their physical bodies and more importantly children that are failing to develop the strong bodies they need for a good start in life. So what has Brexit got to do with the health of the nation? Well, I would suggest that the dissatisfaction of people that has led to Brexit and the declining stature of man are both the result of mankind’s failure to effectively make the transition into the new age we find ourselves in, what I would describe as the ‘post civilisation digital age’.

Our civilisation, which was built up over the last six hundred years, ended in the 80’s. All the old institutions came to an end. Some had already crumbled and some are still lingering, but the 80’s was the turning point when we made the transition from the collective way of our civilisation into the new barbarian era, an age of the freedom of the individual. So why are so many of us disillusioned and why are so many struggling with their health. When transitions occur, in life, old ways come to an end and new ways begin with an evolved consciousness and what we lose in one sense we have to find in another. What we have lost in the old sense and yet to find in the new is ‘pride’. Now ‘pride’ has become a dirty word in our time. Many want to cling on to the collective pride of old which has had its day; pride in the nation, our imperial history or the institutions you collectively belong to, be they work or social, while others see pride as the arrogance associated with the decadent remains of old ways, but pride is important. To quote Matthew Fox, the renegade Catholic priest, “Pride isn’t a sin. The lack of pride is a sin. Pride is necessary; that’s what self esteem means. Arrogance is a sin. Under arrogance comes anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, homophobia. All that’s arrogant, that’s a sin, but not pride”.

The 19th century was the pinnacle of our civilisation, when British and European empires ruled the world with the enormous power and might of an industrial age. They were harsh times for the working men and women, but what strikes me from old photos is the pride they took in their work, often with a whole community centred around a single occupation, be it shipbuilding, railways, mining or agriculture. They took pride in what they achieved collectively and this collective pride was not just limited to work. There was great civic pride in the infrastructure of towns and cities and the facilities they provided for the people; parks, schools, hospitals, libraries, museums. But that collective way in which we lived and worked has all but gone as we have evolved to become very much more individuals in our own right. The last remnants of our industrial past were swept away by Margaret Thatcher and her government. I don’t think she was wrong in doing so, but that transition into the new era was not made well. Thatcher’s idea of the ‘freedom of the individual’ was to cast aside regulation and leave everything to market forces, effectively unleashing the dogs. She created opportunity for anyone to enter into the world of business and make serious money, but at the same time, in this dog eat dog society, so many were disenfranchised and left on the scrap heap. This was not embracing the individual and how we must all come together having pride in ourselves, as individuals, and so for most people pride was lost and still hasn’t been found in that new sense.

Every year the gay fraternity march with pride and they have much reason to do so. It is not so long ago that they were persecuted. They, and other minorities are truly accepted these days as the individuals they are and in that respect society has moved forward into the new age and has cast aside the bigotry and intolerance of our civilisation. But the pride they march with is the collective pride of old and at the end of the day they all go home to struggle as individuals like the rest of us. Someone said to me the other day that ‘there has never been a better time to be disabled’. He was right in that not only are disabled people also truly accepted as individuals, but society bends over backwards to accommodate us, although I’m rather concerned for the future of those in need of care. What Leonard Cheshire began, shortly after the war, was ahead of his time. It was of the new age before that age had even began. He set up homes to care for people as members of an extended family, but they soon had to start employing staff and now they have been swallowed up by the corporate way. The more they are regulated and the more they become efficient modern businesses, the more the individuals are overlooked. Disabled people have become a business.

We all love the corporations. They give us fantastic motor vehicles, wonderful washing machines and computers and mobile phones for all the world over. They enrich all of our lives, but in this neo-liberal time, when everything is opened up to market forces, the corporations have come to dominate every aspect of life, domination for the pursuit of profit with little regard for the individual. As there domination has risen people have become more and more disenfranchised and subservient to what the corporations provide for us. This may be nothing new. It has been going on since the cotton mills out competed the cottage weavers at the start of the industrial revolution and the other side of the coin is that the automation of production releases people from a life of servitude, but I’m not sure what happened to the life of leisure. Now I’m not a Luddite, but when I was a child in the 70’s the town was full of family run shops and businesses while now it is full of brand names. There were several bakers, butchers and greengrocers galore, but now you’ll be lucky to find a butcher. Our land was covered with small family mixed farms and now you have lonely farmers with hundreds of acres of monoculture to manage with machinery so big it damages the very land they’re charged to care for. This disenfranchisement has led to discontentment, anger and fear and if you find yourself growing up in an old industrial town, stripped of its traditional employment, the situation is far worse. The European Union often gets the blame for this and so many voted to leave for fear of the unelected bureaucrats furthering this process while many others voted to remain for fear of making matters worse.

I voted for ‘Brexit’, but I’m not so naive as to think that leaving Europe really changes anything. As the Levellers sang, ‘the palace stays the same, only the guards ever change’. Our British government is as neo-liberal and embroiled with the bankers, their corporations and big business as the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission, however, I do think it is a step in the right direction. Some say you won’t change the system, but that neglects the fact that the system constantly evolves and has changed dramatically in my lifetime. I was born at the end of social democracy, often referred to as the ‘golden age of modern capitalism’. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was an era that brought improved working conditions, a welfare state, social housing, free education and healthcare. All that is now being eroded as we become subordinate to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power, so change the system we must. Leaving the European Union gives us an opportunity, but one that I very much doubt our politicians will rise to. It will almost certainly take more financial crisis before we are forced to embrace change. If we do not claw food and farming back, from the influence of the corporate way, to reclaim it as a culture of the people then we’re going to be in big trouble soon. Your average Western diet is already malnourished and it will get worse, as will the health and stature of man accordingly, but nutrition is not the subject here. The subject is ‘pride’.

Until we regain pride, in the new sense as individuals, we will not overcome the discontentment, anger and fear. But how can you find pride as a nurse working in a hospital that is so overburdened by an unhealthy nation that it can’t provide proper care? How can you find pride working with the uncertainty of a zero hours contract? And how can you find pride living in a run down housing estate with no end to a life on benefits in sight? The communities of old, built upon that collective way of our civilisation, have all gone and we must learn to build new communities around new ways of working that embrace the individual in all of us. Then we will find pride as individuals and we will once again stand straight and strong.

And lastly a word about the children. Poor physical development of children’s bodies is becoming a serious problem. The conditions of childhood are no longer always conducive to that development. Leonid Blyum talked to me last year about how this has come about with the end of free range childhood. When children were free to devise their own play, in the streets and up the woods, they naturally self regulated exercise and rest which created the perfect conditions for the mechanisms of development. Children these days are either too sedentary, and putting their self into computer games, or, even more importantly, too pressured into constant activity. Some say free range childhood came to an end because it became too dangerous to let kids play out on their own, but I don’t think my home town is any more dangerous now than it was when I was a young child in the 70’s. It was drummed into us then to mind the motors and never talk to strangers as these were very real dangers. Parents may not be prepared to take the risks these days, but, more importantly, the collapse of the collective way of adults has meant that children no longer easily find that collective way amongst themselves. Children are always reflective of the soul condition of adults and as we are struggling to find a way as individuals so are they. So when we as adults learn to build communities anew and find pride in the part we play as individuals in those communities, so will the children once again find a free and easy way of childhood conducive to good physical development.

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Sun & Wind Therapy

June 25, 2018

Earlier this year there was a fundamental shift in the structure of my body. I knew something had happened as I felt so different, but I wasn’t exactly sure what had gone on. I was experiencing a deeper level of mobility which was particularly noticeable in my lower spine, sacrum and pelvis. The lumbar sacral junction, which had been disconnected for so long had suddenly grown so strong. Not by chance I might add, but through many hours of work. When I say disconnected we are talking about an extremely weak joint between the lumbar and sacral sections of the spine and a loss of connectivity between the elements of the body above and below that level. For so long the vertebrae in the sacrum were very much locked together and now they had regained a mobility I’d all but forgotten about. In turn the pelvis had gained volume and I had greater strength and mobility in the hips. This is really helping me to move around with ease. For years the only way to move around, without a wheelchair of course, was to physically lift one leg and move it, then the other leg, then my body and repeating the process. This has slowly improved over the years as strength has returned and I gained more and more ability to move my legs independently until now I find I can pretty much dispense with the need to use my arms in assisting with lifting the legs. This one’s worth a video blog but that will have to wait. Although the improvements in the lower spine and pelvis were the most noticeable, they were far from the only increase in mobility. My whole body seemed more connected and mobile at a deeper intrinsic level.

It wasn’t until May that I went for my bi-annual visit to ABR Belgium to meet up with Leonid Blyum and was interested to hear his take on what had changed. A quick feel of my body and he realised there had been a dramatic improvement in the connection of the flesh to the bones and this was throughout the whole body, the arms, legs and trunk. It’s funny how our perceptions of the same fundamental shift can be so different. From an external viewpoint his trained eye sees the structural changes, whereas from my internal perception I appreciate the resulting functional improvements and often miss the structural changes they have resulted from, until they are pointed out to me.

The structural shift has been brilliant, but as with many changes in the body it hasn’t come without its difficulties. As a result of the improved connection of the flesh to the bones, and believe me the flesh used to slide around on top of the bones, there has been a freeing off of the dermal layers. The layers of skin had been clamped together, so to speak, in order to compensate for the lack of stability from the disconnection of the flesh to the bones. This freeing off in turn resulted in renewed lymphatic activity in the skin and the need to discharge the toxins that had been unable to be removed from clamped up skin layers. It started with a rash on the back of my hands and ended up with a breakdown of the skin there and six weeks of weeping hands. I’ve never known anything like it. An absolute outpouring from the body of all that had built up in the skin over years of inactivity there.

Getting the skin to heal up and grow strong again has been proving difficult, but a long weekend break camping in Denge Marsh has helped move it forward enormously. The camping trip also allowed me to realise just how much this shift in my body has brought improvements to a way of life. I’ve always loved camping ever since I was a kid, when our parents used to take us on three week long camping holidays each summer, but until now camping as a paraplegic has been a damage limitation exercise. Great fun but I’d go home depleted and with a real need to spend extra attention looking after myself. This time, however, I took everything in my stride. I went on my own, or rather myself and my two dogs, to explore Denge Marsh in Kent, an area on the Dungeness peninsula rich in aquatic bird life, not to mention the Marsh Frogs croaking at night around the lake next to the campsite. I loaded the van with my Tramper (a fairly all terrain mobility scooter) and all my camping gear, including everything necessary to cook over a real fire, and managed to pitch my tent in the wind and set up the camp with ease. I spent the best part of four days exploring the area, including the local pubs of course, cooking, eating and living outdoors and lazing around with my dogs when the time came to rest. The sun was out each day and there’s plenty of wind blowing across the Dungeness headland. I could tire of the wind if I spent too much time there but the wind has a real spirit to it. Relaxation combined with ‘sun and wind therapy’ worked wonders for my hands and having the ability, and energy, to take everything in my stride made it all very enjoyable and I came home invigorated. All spring I’ve had plenty of energy and a stamina I haven’t known for years. I’ve got so many jobs done around the garden and smallholding, but it wasn’t until I went camping that I realised just how greatly this fundamental shift in my body has improved my life.

There’s much more work to do and many more structural improvements to build within my body, but as those major structural changes occur I get exited for the future.

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Breathing – the Great Driver

May 17, 2018

 

The third commandment in the book of Exodus is, ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain’. I was brought up with Church and Sunday School and we were taught that this meant that you shouldn’t use the name of God as an exclamation or, when we got older, worse still to swear. But in ancient Judaism, where the commandments originated, it went much further than that. The name of their God, ‘Jaweh’, could not even be spoken. God did not live in the words of man as an abstract concept, but was the very life of man. ‘Jaweh’ is the sounds of the breath. ‘Ja’ (pronounced ‘ya’) the in breath and ‘weh’ (pronounced ‘whey’ or ‘way’) the out breath; try it and you’ll see what I mean. So God lives in the breath. In Ancient Greece the word for breath is ‘pneuma’ and the same word was also used to mean ‘spirit’.

In the past breathing was obviously highly venerated, but it’s easy, in our time, to take breathing for granted. It happens naturally. In certain activities, singing, the playing of wind instruments, sports, yoga, the breath is focused upon and utilized, but most of the time we give it little thought and yet if you try to hold your breath you realize what a powerful force is behind it. It is impossible to stop breathing. With practice you can hold your breath for a long time, but eventually you are forced to breath. The human will is not strong enough to overcome the spirit of breathing.

Jesus was wrapped in ‘swaddling clothes’, but today this is a lost art. People like to encourage their babies to use their limbs whereas with swaddling (wrapping the body of a baby up with a length of cloth) the limbs are bound to the body preventing their use. This is because primary development does not happen through conscious effort, but through the unconscious rhythm of the breath. By wrapping a baby, the movements of the breath are reflected, by the tension in the cloth wrapping, back into the body, so making full use of the breath to work the structure and develop core strength in the trunk.

Not only does breathing play a huge part in the development of a strong body in babies, it also , in the same manner, contributes to the maintenance of our bodies throughout life. We think of exercise as physical activity, but our breath is constantly exercising the core of our bodies while we rest. However, when a body is as badly damaged as mine was, the core structure is so depleted that breathing not only fails to contribute to the maintenance of health, it can actually become a negative influence. To understand this we need to understand the nature of how we breathe.

For quite some years now I have spent time focusing on my breath, feeling for the rhythmical expansion and contractions and seeing how it has changed over the years. To start with this was very difficult, due in part to the fact that the rhythm wasn’t working properly in my depleted core structure, but even now that we are getting closer to finalising the rebuilding of my trunk and the natural rhythm has returned, it is still difficult to appreciate. As soon as we focus on our breathing we bring conciousness into breathing which overrides that natural unconscious rhythm making it impossible to truly observe in ourselves. However, if we breathe gently it is possible to gain an understanding, through observation, of the rhythmical expansion and contraction of all five chambers of the trunk. Breathing is a process whereby air is drawn into the lungs by the expansion of the chest, but we must not see it as an act of the chest alone. The entire trunk plays its part in breathing. The trunk is made up of three convex sections to which limbs are attached, the head, the chest and the pelvis, and yes our head does have a pair of limbs; they are the two halves of our jaw fused together at the front. These three sections are connected by the two concave sections, the neck and the abdomen. The convex forms expand and contract in a vertical direction, while the concave expand and contract in a horizontal direction, in a radial manner (please see fig. A). The abdomen, and even the pelvis, play a considerable role in assisting the expansion of the chest and although the head and the neck play less of a role in this respect, their expansion opens up the airways allowing for the inflow of air.

As fascinating as the manner in which air is inhaled and exhaled is, what I find even more fascinating is manner in which this unconscious rhythm maintains the capacity in our bodies. The rhythmical pulsation of the structure constantly works the internal tissues to maintain their strength and form. The trunk with its five sections is essentially a pneumatic structure; not that it contains air as the lungs do when inflated, but that it has a volume, a density and a pressure as a container of air with an elastic membrane would, ie. a balloon. If the living nature is allowed to decline then the density and pressure will decrease and, in conformity with Boyle’s Law, the volume will increase. If there is further decline then the volume will also decrease. This can be seen by simply observing those around you. We all live less than perfect lives and many end up with expanded bellies. In those that are very weak we can see there is no volume to them.

Comparison of healthy torso with the depletion in a paraplegic

With an injury as drastic as breaking your back, the quality just drops away. With the trauma of the accident there is a shutting down and then because of the seriousness of the injury and the following weeks of bed rest (ten in my case) the body doesn’t get to start up again. This results in a terrible depletion of the trunk. The inner capacity is lost. You end up with a body that has no volume to it let alone density and pressure and this is both above as well as below the level of paralysis. My chest had no more depth than the width of my arm and my abdomen had so little quality that you could feel my spine through my belly. The pelvis had collapsed to have virtually no inner volume at all. Even the head and the neck do not escape this depletion. With the head being a bony structure it is not so obvious, but the occipital region in particular, at the posterior base of the skull, was collapsed in.

The quality of the internal organs was so low that it is amazing that metabolism, digestion and even breathing could continue to function. More importantly, without that the capacity to the trunk you have no foundation of strength and this is the primary essence of paraplegia and the real barrier to recovery. The quality has fallen to the point that breathing is disrupted and can no longer work to maintain, let alone build, capacity. Rather than operating in a vertical manner, the chest expanded and contracted in a horizontal fashion and the bottom third of the chest belonged to the abdomen, as shown by the dotted line in fig. B. Although the internal diaphragm existed to separate the chest and abdomen, in the bio-mechanical working of the cavities the division had shifted. Breathing did not work down into the pelvis whatsoever. Not only was the pelvis getting no inputs from breathing, with the chest working in the wrong direction breathing had become counter productive to the maintenance of internal capacity.

The quality of my body had fallen beyond the point of no return, in any natural manner, so in order for it to recover we have had to deliver mechanical inputs by hand to rebuild that primary structure. This we have been doing over many years now and slowly but surely the power of the breath has returned. For some time now the division between the chest and the abdomen has been back to the diaphragm, where it belongs, and finally breathing is working down into the pelvis in a manner that is truly working that structure to increase its volume. Breathing is a long way from taking over from the need for ABR therapy, but with sixteen breaths per minute that is 23,000 inputs per day or 8 million a year, It is now a huge contributor.

The great driver is back!

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May 13, 2018

FacebookImageDespite the best intentions I have only managed to write two blog posts this year. I’ve been distracted by yet another big challenge in waking up this body of mine. A loosening off of the dermal layers resulted in renewed lymphatic activity causing a problem with discharge through the skin on the hands and arms.. It all sounds quite scary, but is actually good news, although it has been a struggle to deal with. I’ll endeavour to write more about this transformation in a blog post. Just as importantly, I’ve been diverted to setting up a Spinalroots Facebook page. Far more people read my blog through Facebook links than actually sign up, so it’s an important media and Facebook posts attract more viewers than will ever follow a link to my blog. So if you’re interested to watch the videos I’ve posted then click on the image below to get directed to the Spinalroots Facebook page.

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Blog post on ‘breathing’ to be published this week.