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To Simply Be

August 3, 2021

A friend of mine is such a doer. He goes from work to the golf course, to the gym, to the pub in a never ending drive to fill each day. He doesn’t stop! I on the other hand am happy to sit in my rocking chair, outside the back door, gazing up the garden and listening to the birds. I admire my friends energy, and often wish I had more myself, but I can’t help thinking he’s somewhat lacking in the ability to ‘simply be’.

One of the toughest things about being disabled is living in a body that can deny you the ability to ‘be’. Being is not just a state of mind, it also requires sufficient structure to the body to physically be, without effort. These days I have little trouble in that respect, but that has not always been the case. Sitting used to take constant effort. Muscular involvement was necessary to make up for the lack of intrinsic capacity and the need for muscular involvement takes effort and so an inability to switch off and truly relax …and that was from the waist up. Below the waist I had no usable muscles and the structure was very collapsed, so although there was no conscious effort, that paralysed part of my body very much contributed to the struggles in what I could still consciously use. Even if there is no awareness of paralysed body, and no feeling of aches and pains, then the poor structural quality will still have a negative affect on your overall physical health and it is that wholeness of health that is so important for the ability to simply be.

These days my body is so much better that I can sit in my rocking chair and very much relax, with maybe just a slight tension in the lumbar sacral junction. Having lost the ability to be and having now very much regained it, I may have more appreciation than many of the importance of simply being. Western culture is such a culture of doing. Not only is there a constant drive to work to provide for living, there is then the tendency to find things to do to fill the rest of our time. As a society we have gone from earning money out of the work that needs doing to creating work for the sake of earning money. We find ourselves more and more embroiled in a reliance on manufactured goods and with less and less time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Is it any wonder that nature’s turning round and saying enough is enough. Maybe we all need to learn the art of being rather than doing and good physical structure plays it’s part in this.

Native Americans are the epitome of being rather than doing. Did we miss an opportunity to learn from them?

One of the things I love about the therapy work I do is that, not only does it build up the capacity to ‘be’, in it’s way of achieving improvements in structure it actually encourages the art of being. No pain no gain does not come into it. The work we do is about delivering gentle inputs into the body. It takes hours and hours of repetitive work to make the changes, but the work itself is really quite relaxing. Perhaps my friend would be wise to do a little less rushing around and give up the no pain no gain work down the gym, after all gyms are for building up strength in a well balanced body and not for getting into shape once your body has lapsed. If he’d allow me to show him how to rebuild that root of weakness in his neck and shoulder girdle and alter his ways to a more gentle therapeutic approach then maybe he’d find more pleasure in the art of simply being.

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Paradoxical Shoulder

July 8, 2021

When I moved into my cottage there was a garage / carport / workshop in the backyard. The roof, a heavy boarded felt roof, was held up with 2 x 2 uprights. For those of you not English, or too young to know inches, that’s 50 x 50 mm lengths of wood, incredible flimsy for the job. The whole thing was leaning so I anchored it to the Laurel hedge, winched it upright and braced it up. Years later in 2015 it was time to replace the uprights and build a decent side to my workshop. I laid a footing and a row of blocks, inserted much stronger wooden posts, built in a window and then came the job of cladding. I used 16 foot lengths of 8 inch feather edge, not too heavy until you have to hold them up with one hand to get the first nail in. The following morning my left shoulder was in agony.

Before
….and After

When I broke my back I also broke my collar bone to which the consultant’s answer was that collar bones mend themselves. The two halves were so overlapped that it was only possible for them to join fibrously and the more active I became the more the two halves moved. Two and a half years after breaking my back I finally persuaded a surgeon to bolt the two halves back together, but the damage was done. Having to use a wheelchair with catastrophic collapse of the core structure of your body is bad enough. Top that with a broken collar bone and you end up with serious weakness and deformation of structure. Amazingly, for nearly 20 years my left shoulder rarely troubled me, until I built my workshop wall.

The body has an incredible capacity to compensate and had locked in the weakness using the outer muscular shell to provide the necessary stability for the use of the arms. The shoulder blades, that should play a substantial part in stabilising the arms, were sunk into the body and floated around playing no functional role and yet I could use my arms for strenuous activity, albeit not in a good way. As we slowly but surely improved the structure of my trunk we opened up the collapsed structure and exposed the weaknesses that had been buried for so long. The alignment of the structure was improved but the connections so weak that all of a sudden I had to be so careful as to how I used my upper body. Nailing up the cladding to the workshop wall was too much for the newly exposed weaknesses.

Since then my shoulder has gone through so many stages. We have worked deeper into the body exposing and strengthening level after level, little by little getting to the core of the problem. Strangely, the more we rebuild the structure the more strength I find to lift my weight and move my body around while at the same time small movements can become difficult. At one point I struggled to lift a dinner fork to my mouth. The shoulder blade is so much better anchored these days and we are now exposing weakness in the connection of the humerus, at the ball and socket, and the upper arm. Although stronger than ever sometimes when sitting still my arm will lock at the shoulder joint and I physically have to lift it with the other hand to free it off. The paradox of improving strength on one hand and difficulty with gentle movement on the other is fascinating, but the great thing is I continue to improve and one day my left shoulder will cease to trouble me.

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Infection

June 19, 2021

I had trouble a couple of months ago with an infected testicle. The infection was savage and I was concerned enough to go to hospital for intravenous antibiotics. The doctor explained that because I’m catheterised this can cause infection in the bladder and bugs can work their way down to the testicles. I have a different explanation.

It hasn’t taken me two months to get around to writing this because I’ve been poorly. Quite the opposite. It was a very short stay in hospital and I bounced back quickly and have merely been absorbed with another project. Infection is often seen as bugs invading the body, and even doctors talk about it in such terms, when in reality the bugs are always in us and only get to work when encountering poor quality tissue. When living with a spinal injury much of the body is poor in quality. The underlying structure of the body collapses and the weaknesses get locked in leading parts of the body to exist in a semi dormant state. I have spent the last twenty years waking my body up from that dormancy and over the last few years there have been successive waves of development bringing the pelvic region back to life.

Bringing life back into a body where it hasn’t existed for many years is a fantastic experience, but not without its complications. In bringing back to life you expose the weakness that has been buried for many years. In the muscular skeletal system this is fairly straight forward. Reconfiguring the structure and exposing muscular skeletal weakness merely results in a strain if you’re not careful, a little like finding muscles you didn’t know you had. You can easily get over the strain and begin to enjoy new found strength. However organs of the body being woken up is a different scenario altogether.

Some years ago I brought my skin back to life. You may think of skin as nothing more than an outer covering, but in fact it is an organ. On waking it up I suffered from terrible rashes. The lymphatic system started working properly again and was ridding the skin of the toxins that had built up over many years of existing in a semi dormant state. A testicle may also build up toxins in it, but more importantly the structural quality is weak and in waking it up you expose that weakness, leading infectious agents to think that weak cells needs breaking down and disposing of. That is the job of infection. The accompanying fever will also help rid the body of toxins, but if the fever and infection get out of control they can cause more harm than good and such a situation may need managing through the use of antibiotics. I’ve paid the price in the past for not respecting the dangers enough.

Eighteen months ago, in previous wave of pelvic development the same thing happened to the right testicle, but nowhere near as savage. The left side of my body has always been weaker and more dormant and it took a deeper level of development to wake up my left testicle and resulted in a more serious infection. 72 hours after the first sign of a problem I was already starting to feel for that deeper level of life and articulation of the pelvic region. The testicles are better than ever now and I’m very much enjoying a more developed pelvis.

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Workout

April 5, 2021

I went for a walk with a friend the other day in the Nower in Dorking; it’s public woods and grassland. We used to go sledging there as kids so as you can imagine it’s on the side of a hill and not very wheelchair friendly. I enjoyed the walk (or wheel), enjoyed the company and it was great to be trekking around my old stomping ground again. At the end I was exhausted and it was remarked that I’d had a good workout, but was it really good for me?

Gazebo at the top of the Nower

If I did it too often it wouldn’t be good, but now and then does me no physical harm and worth it for the other benefits, although to think of it as a workout would be wrong. In terms of improving my physical condition there is absolutely nothing to be gained by struggling in a wheelchair. To overcome paraplegia you have to be a lot cleverer than that. When my body was terribly depleted, physical exertion was definitely counter productive in terms of ingraining the changes and further deforming the body. In the few years after injury (before the ABR years) I did much damage in taking my body in the wrong direction and much time and effort has been invested since to reverse this. These days I am much stronger, and more capable, while at the same time I am more sensitive and tuned in to the counter productive nature of using my body beyond its limits and I tend to shy away from such activity.

When you live in a body with insufficient structure to support certain functions it is important to improve that underlying structure rather than struggle with function that abuses the already weak structure. The work we do is all about improving the underlying structure through external mechanical inputs, building it up to the point where function becomes possible. Only then, once the functional ability is achieved, does a workout become sensible. Such an approach should not only be adopted by the severely disabled, but also by the significant number of able bodied people who find themselves out of shape.

We get many joggers down our lane. The occasional one is in good shape and it’s a joy to see a body so capable of effortlessly moving at speed, although for most it is painful to watch their misguided attempts to improve their fitness. The other day there was a women with a distinct weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. Instead of a strong trunk supporting the pelvis and allowing true articulation at the hip joints, the hips were rigid and the body twisted at the waist with every step. The inputs into the body, from the reaction of each step against the ground, could ascend no further than that weakness and could only build up bulk around the already immobile hips. I see many joggers with hunched up shoulders, and head sunk down into the body, locking up the weakness in the neck and shoulder girdle in order to gain the stability to support the lower trunk and legs. Again no inputs can work up into the weakness, it’s too locked up.

One day I’ll teach people how to strengthen their structural weaknesses and get in shape to the point that they’re then in a position to jog with ease and have the capacity to build up their fitness.

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Cold

February 25, 2021

Fortitude is a word you rarely hear these days. Maybe we are all so mollycoddled by the wonders of our technological civilisation that we have little need to find the fortitude in us. Fortitude being ‘strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage’. This winter I’ve been without a Rayburn which is normally the background heat throughout the cottage, that wonderful warmth when you enter through the back door into the kitchen, lashings of hot water and a great way of cooking. I’ve always enjoyed real log fires to keep me warm when sitting indoors, an open fire in the front room where I conduct my therapy sessions and a wood burner in my cosy living room. This year, though, that’s all I have. The Rayburn finally bit the dust at the beginning of winter and the reconditioned one that’s being made to order will not be delivered until 11th March. Last week was exceptionally cold, with temperatures barely rising above freezing, and it’s taken considerable fortitude to live comfortably, and a good store of well seasoned logs of course.

The great thing about living with the cold is that, not only does it take a strength of mind (or spirit), but in finding the fortitude to embrace the cold you find yourself imbued with a ‘strength of spirit’. My bathroom is a poorly insulated extension and although I am managing to maintain a slight background warmth throughout the rest of the cottage, the bathroom is absolutely freezing. Stripping off to take a wash takes fortitude and yet by rising to that fortitude I find myself all puffed up against the cold, easily attaining to a wonderful stature.

One of the most interesting things I have read about diet and nutrition was Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on the subject. He pointed out that if you eat meat your body is given the blueprint for manufacturing its own meat. If, however, you eat a vegetarian diet then your body does not have the luxury of the blueprint and so has to work harder to build and maintain your own meat. The interesting part was his statement that in working harder there is more strength to be gained, although he did point out that you have to be strong in the first place to live without the blueprint. Was he talking about gaining physical strength or a strength of spirit. Maybe the two are intrinsically connected, but either way I can draw parallels with living with the cold. It takes strength to live with the cold and if you can find that strength then you also find there is strength to be gained.

I grew up with central heating and never cared much for it, I always found that radiators gave a muggy kind of warmth, while many friends grew up with houses on the chilly side and a coal fire in the front room. You hear stories from people my age and older about how cold their houses were as a child and yet none of them seem to have suffered and maybe quite the opposite. These days people often sit in their houses in winter wearing no more than a t-shirt and I’ve good reason to think that, as a nation, we are getting softer. Not having a fire and a warm room to relax in would be unbearable and I’m looking forward to my new Rayburn for next winter. For the time being though I am rising to the challenge and enjoying the strength and vibrance that finding fortitude gives me. Even when I have my new Rayburn I won’t stop loving the great outdoors and will always embrace the cold and will never be too mollycoddled by the wonders of civilisation.

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C7

February 9, 2021

Paraplegia is usually defined as paralysis of the lower limbs. ‘Plegia’ means paralysis and ‘para’ meaning two (a twisting of the original Greek meaning of ‘besides’, as in one beside the other, leading to a pair and so two limbs). However, in order to truly understand paraplegia it is better to see it as characterised by the ‘missing back’. It is as though the posterior third of the trunk has been sliced off. My rehabilitation assessments have always been videoed and in the early days it was still analogue technology and video cassettes. Relatively poor quality from a home camcorder and so every so often a professional cameraman would come and film. He was a Russian who spoke no English so I had little idea of what he was saying. It turned out he was shocked at the lack of depth to my body. He described me as being like a playing card. From the front I looked fairly normal, while from the side I was flat. Nerve damage will paralyse the muscles in the legs, however, the collapse of the structure of the trunk, that should provide the foundation for the use of the legs, is what prevents the recovery of nerve function.

There is so much more depth to my body now and the back is really taking shape, although there is still some way to go and its capacity is still progressing through waves of development. Yesterday C7 disappeared. C7 is the lowest vertebrae in the neck and in a well developed body is always prominent. It is at the transition form the convex curve of the cervical spine, in the neck, to the concave curve of the thoracic spine of the chest and back region. When I was as flat as a playing card there was no prominence of C7 and during waves of development it has appeared, disappeared and reappeared again. As the neck gains more depth it disappears and when this is followed by the back catching up, and gaining more depth, it reappears. It would have been interesting to notch up a record of how many waves of development there have been. It would be in the hundreds. Not thousands but definitely hundreds. At times these waves of development were happening twice a week, but with the back very much nearer completion they happen less often, though no less significant with each wave building up a new layer of structure.

It is interesting to see that the lack of prominence of C7 is not confined to paraplegics and is also evident in some able bodied people. Although not severe enough to prevent the use of the legs it is nonetheless a lack of development with inevitable consequences. This is particularly noticeable in those with ADHD where the lack of physical capacity results in the lack of capacity to remain focused. I came across such children while working at a Secure Children’s Unit and although I am no longer involved it remains an ambition of mine to one day use my skills, in developing a physical body, to help young people overcome their difficulties.

With these waves of development in the past I noticed minimal effect on my stature and it was only by feeling for the prominence of C7 that I knew what was happening. Now though the disappearance of C7 leaves me with a profound inability to hold my head high while it is preceded, and after a while succeeded, by an incredible natural ability to do just that. The closer we get to building those final outer layers of the trunk, the closer I get to feeling for the body’s true stature.

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Sacrum

January 23, 2021

I had a job to do today to screw a hook on an internal door in my cottage. There is a bench in front of the door which is part of how I move around indoors (see blog post ‘The Heart of the Home’) . I thought maybe I could sit on the bench, but needed to be higher. I could have found something to put on top of the bench to sit on, but with nothing to hand I decided to try doing the job in high kneeling.

High kneeling is a position that has been possible for many years, right from the early days of injury, although it has never been a functional position. I used to have little quality to the trunk in general, even less in the lumbar region, virtually none in the pelvis and a definite disconnection at the lumbar sacral junction. Even sitting used to involve propping my body on top of collapsed pelvic structure, so the more demanding position of high kneeling was nothing but propping myself up. My lifeless pelvis would tilt drastically forwards resulting in severe flexion of the lumbar spine and discomfort in the weakness (disconnection) at the lumbar sacral junction. It would take all my effort with both arms just to hold myself there.

This type of structural weakness, with tilted pelvis and arched back, is common in many people with varying disabilities and is also notable in a significant portion of the able bodied population, to a lesser degree. I caught the news the other day where a disabled child had undergone a miracle operation (so to speak) to enable him to walk for the first time in his life. He was wobbling along using crutches with the arching of his back so severe that it was painful to watch. Having never been on his feet the kid thought it was great, although in reality he had simply swapped one struggle for another that was potentially even harder. It was only the use of crutches that kept him on his feet and the importance of ensuring there is sufficient underlying structure to support the bodily position cannot be over emphasised. It is often the case with disabled people that they attain to positions and actions that are beyond the structural capacity of their bodies; mainly through endeavour to live life, the best they can, but also through a desire to push beyond their boundaries.

My work in bio-mechanics has led me to expand the boundaries, through improving structural capacity, rather than to seek to push beyond them, although I am guilty at times of exceeding those boundaries and screwing the hook on the door, in high kneeling, is one such example. What surprised me this time, though, was the involvement of the sacrum. I’ve never known that feeling before, nor such capability. I wasn’t sure it would work, but found I could use my left elbow, against the door, to hold myself up and still use my left hand to hold the screw, while using the screwdriver with my right. With new structural capacity in the sacrum the right side of my body held well and only the weaker left side wanted to collapse.

I have been improving my body for years and for a long time now the sacrum has played a functional role in sitting. Now for the first time it is strong enough to begin playing a functional role in the more demanding position of high kneeling. I have every reason to believe I will continue to improve, while finding new strengths never ceases to amaze me.

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Back to Normal

January 7, 2021

Since my teenage years I have been shouting for change, singing along to the punk rock anthems. Now we are finally faced with the prospect of change I’m not sure we like what is happening. Not that it’s the possibility of change I don’t like, but the actions of government that seek to control and tell us what to do. It rather epitomises all that I’ve ever shouted against.

We certainly live in extraordinary times. Who would have ever thought that our government, who for ever have been hell bent on achieving economic growth, would destroy livelihoods, bankrupt businesses and collapse an economy in the name of keeping people safe. I don’t for one minute doubt there is a new disease across the world. I do, though, wonder if such measures are a sensible approach to addressing the situation. I know little of virology and am no expert in health, although I have learnt much during twenty years working in the field of bio-mechanics and have managed to transform my body and my health. I have learnt that health is a product of three factors. The quality of the body, the quality of the environment and the quality of the interaction between the two (the manner in which we live our lives). I have also learnt that there are no quick fixes.

I went through my initial rehabilitation in a specialist spinal unit at an NHS hospital. The care was wonderful. However, if I accepted their prognosis, and their guidance for my further rehabilitation and care, I would still be in the terrible condition I left hospital in. What is more, having found a better way I can’t go back and show them what is possible. I’ve tried and might as well just bang my head against a brick wall. Their educations doesn’t allow them to understand. If I could find a doctor or physiotherapist who does understand then there is nothing they could do within their profession. Their job is to follow a set practice and the opportunity for developing a new approach is extremely limited. Embracing the phenomenal way of rehabilitation that I have helped prove is possible is simply not possible within the NHS in Britain. The health establishment has become lazy in its thinking. Despite its amazing surgical ability, and capability to save life, it is so conservative, and its thinking stuck so far in the past, that it dogmatically follows a blinkered path. You’ll forgive me if I hold little faith in the health establishments ability to support the nations health right now.

Luckily we live in the age of the ‘freedom of the individual’ and it is the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to seek the knowledge and understanding to care for our own health and make our own choices. I for one will not be bullied by our government. Apparently, though, if we all get vaccinated then life can return to normal! I long for true social living once again. Food and drink, music, dance and theatre, hugging and kissing. All that is integral to being human, eternal and questionable whether lawful to prohibit. As for everything else that might be considered normal, I think the isolation and separation, the technologisation and commercialisation, that we are living with in lockdown, is the ultimate expression of where that normal has been leading us for quite some time. I have no desire to go back and will keep shouting for change.

Power to the People

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Multi-Layered Creatures

December 1, 2020

I was logging last Friday. I do love a real fire and, since my Rayburn packed up, logs are my only source of heating this winter. I always have the dilemma, though, of finding the balance between enjoying the vibrant, hard working activity of collecting cutting and splitting logs and going easy on my body. My left shoulder is the weakest link and if I work it too hard it will never come good despite the therapy work I put into it. By the time I finished working I was a little concerned, but then all of a sudden, by Friday evening, my body felt fantastic. Any shoulder aches were gone, I felt solid, trim and mobile. It’s not the first time I’ve had such feeling of physical well being. It wasn’t the result of hard work logging, but a phase in the cycle of wave after wave of development as we build up layer upon layer to reconstruct a depleted, collapsed and damaged body.

To explain I’d like to use the onion analogy. If you cut an onion in half you’ll see it has many layers just as our bodies do. However, if the onion is allowed to rot then the layers become lost and the flesh turns to mush. That’s a way of describing one aspect of a body post spinal injury. You become an amorphous mass lacking structure, divisions, connections and layers. As we work on my body we build volume and attachments. When you get to the point in the cycle of a wave where the wave reaches further up the beach, in the incoming tide, then you have that new found form, strength and articulation to a degree not experienced before, at least not since being able bodied. Then the wave recedes.

The wave has to recede and draw back into the main body in order for the next wave to reach even further up the beach. This is the building of a new layer. That outer experience of increased strength and volume becomes lost as it descends deep into the body to become consolidated into another layer. That new layer improving the foundation upon which the next wave of development is based. I say ‘becomes lost’ as that’s literally how it feels. You’ve worked hard to gain that increase in volume or improved articulation and then all of a sudden it’s gone. Volume can disappear overnight, be it volume at the top of the chest, engulfing the collar bones, disappearing to leave the collar bones protruding again or muscular bulk to the legs disappearing to expose the bone once again. This latest wave of development was characterised by a real trimness to the body and improved pelvic articulation. Another recent wave brought greater strength in the head neck junction giving a wonderful sense of uprightness.

The latest wave is receding now with the seeming return of lacking abdominal quality and awareness of the weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. However, the perceived loss isn’t really a loss at all. You never return to where you’ve been, but instead to a state of increased inner development, greater intrinsic capacity and you know that the next wave will bring even more exiting development. As the tide comes in, wave after wave, and the onion is built up, layer upon layer, the body is transformed from mush to the multi layered creature we truly are. Eventually those feelings of strength, volume, trimness, articulation and uprightness will not leave me and my rehab will be complete.

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Lockdown

November 19, 2020

I actually quite like ‘lockdown’; it allows me to devote more time to myself. I miss the pub though. Since my sixteenth birthday I have been a regular in one local pub or another. I’ve known them as social hubs of community; as an extension of my home and a communal living room. Our government seems hell bent on destroying the fabric of our social existence which seems crazy, although possibly what we need. Pubs, like many things in life, are a shadow of their former selves. They may always have been businesses, but lately they have become nothing but businesses with commercial interests and legislation dominating to the point that the essence of the ‘Institution of the Public House’ has been lost. Rudolf Steiner once said, “Mankind always gets what it needs”. We seem to find it hard enough to sense the need for change let alone know how to bring it about, so it inevitably gets forced upon us.

Queens Head, Dorking – My first local

Lockdown affords us an opportunity to reassess, reset and even reinvent our lives for the better. I’m not changing a great deal, but I am considering what is important and making adjustments. I’m also taking the opportunity to focus more on the work of healing my body. It’s a life of dedication I have pursued for twenty years and it makes a change not to have the usual distractions. More importantly I’m thinking about how our society is changing. The National Health Service is becoming more and more incapable of supporting the nations health, despite their phenomenal ability to deal with accidents and emergencies. It must be reinvented.The work I am involved in is showing that hands on techniques, based on the bio-mechanics of the body can be used to treat spinal injury, cerebral palsy and other serious neurological conditions that the establishment regard as permanent and incurable.

This work has many more applications. Currently there is an ever increasing trend to replace so called ‘worn out’ body parts such as hips and knees, an approach that views the body as a machine whose parts can be replaced rather than a living entity with disease that needs addressing. If our work is embraced diseased hips and knees will be treated and returned to balance.

Fellow paraplegics would be wise to take up this work to find their own ability to improve their bodies rather than relying on a crumbling service. Technology can definitely be utilised, from the properties of modern polymers used to deliver a kinetic input into the body, all the way to the possibility of using an exoskeleton to retrain the rebuilt structure of the body. However we should not fall into the trap of believing that science will come up with the miracle cure. There are no miracle cures just steps in the right direction. Bio-mechanical rehabilitation techniques give all of us the tools we need to take care of our own health.

Change is exciting, especially when your work is waiting in the wings ready to rise to the fore once society, with a new attitude, is ready to embrace a more balanced approach. The current fear of a virus is accelerating the pace of change, so let’s hope for real evolution. Let us also hope that we can reinvent our Public Houses, in a manner befitting the dawn of a new era, before they all fall victim to bankruptcy.