Archive for August, 2011

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The Dark of the Moon

August 29, 2011

It was Friday night and I fancied a couple of beers down the pub. Despite the fact that I live only four miles from the end of the runway at Gatwick airport it is in many ways a fairly rural area. My cottage, at the Cheshire Home, is in a single-track lane surrounded by horse fields with farmland just down the road. There are two local pubs. The Hedgehog Inn is at the end of the lane only four hundred yards from my front door, but it’s not much of a drinker’s pub these days. Then there’s the Cherry Tree which is where you go if you want a lively pub on a Friday night, but it’s a little more of a trek, most of which is along a bridle path through the woods. To get there I take my handcycle and husky dog. I leave the dog outside with the cycle and crawl in on all fours. They’re used to me in there and it doesn’t raise an eyebrow!

I didn’t go out until late and it was already dark with no moon to light the way. I often take a head torch if it’s dark when I leave, but it needs new batteries and I’ve always managed well enough without, so I chose to rely on my senses. It used to be easy to navigate by looking up at the tree tops and following the line of lightness where the trees only just meet above the track, but they seem to have grown up so much that it’s now more of a dark patch where they densely meet above and so not as easy to be guided by. I found myself relying more on my husky to guide me. She runs alongside, working in harness, attached to a point behind the back wheel, and has no trouble keeping to the path.

It’s a trek I’ve done a thousand times and my mind was elsewhere while I cycled along on auto pilot, so it took me totally by surprise when all of a sudden I was heading straight for the ditch. I braked hard and stopped just in time. I couldn’t work out what had happened, how I’d come to lose the path or even how far along the path I’d come. I’d lost my bearings even though I know that stretch of wood like the back of my hand. I realised I needed to back up, but as soon as I released the back pedal brake the front wheel started to slide into the ditch. I grabbed the back wheels and stopped it, but it was teetering on the edge and I was struggling to back out. Then it slid past the point of no return and like it or not I was heading into the ditch.

I expected to slide down into a fairly shallow ditch full of half rotten leaves but suddenly the handcycle started tipping and I was falling down into a deep hole. I put my hand out to break my fall and came to rest at the bottom of a three foot shear drop. The handcycle ended up upside down and I had to use my other hand to stop it falling over on top of me. The dog had got dragged in with me. I disentangled myself and sat in the bottom of the ditch to lift and push the handcycle back out. The dog  jumped out and being still harnessed up she helped to pull it clear of the ditch. I then had the task of getting myself out. I felt around and found that there was a steep sloping bank at right angles to the shear drop and it started to dawn on me then where I was and how this had happened. Half way down the track there is a path going off to the right. It’s also where a drainage ditch crosses under the track, hence the shear drop and the only deep section of ditch along the route. The track veers to the left here and I suspect that my husky, running on the right hand side, had moved out taking advantage of the wider track at the junction and so, instead of veering left, I’d ended up veering slightly right, thinking I needed to keep the dog close to stay on track, and consequently headed straight for the ditch.

I tried to bum my way backwards up the bank but it was too steep so I had to think of another plan. I got onto my knees and then with one hand at the top of the shear drop and the other on the steep bank I managed to lift myself up, twist my body round and sit on the edge of the drop. What impressed me was how well I managed to deal physically with the whole situation. I had landed in a controlled manner without hurting myself, manhandled the handcycle out of the ditch and then lifted myself out. It’s not long ago that I wouldn’t have had the strength and ability to do this and would have been praying that I had my mobile phone on me to ring for help. Anyhow, I got back in my handcycle, thinking ‘this will be a story to tell when I get to the pub’, only to find that my problems had only just begun. The chain felt all out of line, but then I realised that the chain ring on the hand crank had been badly bent when the handcycle landed upside down. I wasn’t cycling anywhere!

Getting to the Cherry Tree was now out of the question and the mission ahead of me was simply to get home in one piece. Luckily it is possible to push the back wheels like a wheelchair, but they’re set back from the seat which doesn’t make it easy. I geed up the dog and between us we headed up the slope back to the start of the track. Kaya, my husky, impressed me with her tenacity. I had to do a little work myself, both to make it easier for her and to give her the enthusiasm, but she worked hard and I’d have been lost without her. From the end of the track it was down hill and I managed to work the back pedal brake by pulling directly on the chain and got home safe.

I put my husky to bed, took my lurcher down to the Hedgehog (a safe, gentle run in a wheelchair) and made it in time for a beer. The best thing was I didn’t have a scratch or a bruise on me.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained!’

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Stature

August 11, 2011

I was twenty five years old when I turned my back on brute force and ignorance and embarked upon an approach to health that required thought to be applied to how I used my body, mainly in the sense of physical activity and of resting positions, but also in terms of the organizational structure of work rest and play. I was still walking at the time, but had been living with damaged legs for four years; so coping with the damage became the focus of my attention.

Posture is defined in my dictionary as ‘the relative position of parts of the body’ and it is this principal that I applied to how I walked. I realised that it was possible to use conscious muscular effort to hold the body in a certain position, so controlling the relative position of parts, in order to facilitate ease of movement. A big part of this was preventing the legs from rolling in and the arches of the feet from collapsing. A podiatrist had made me some inserts for my shoes to correct this problem, but I decided that pushing up the arches in my feet to force the legs into a good position was not the answer and that posture should be attained to through conscious effort. This I did and I certainly improved the ease of movement in my walking, but what I didn’t manage to do was improve the structure of the damaged joints. Attainment to good posture can help in living with damaged structure, but it doesn’t, in itself, contribute to improving that structure.

I had begun observing the way others stand, sit, walk and generally use their bodies in movement and rest and came to the conclusion that posture may play a part in preventing decline in the structure of the body. The pub is a wonderful place for watching people and it is amazing the different variations on how people ‘prop themselves up at the bar’. Some will stand with weight through one leg, locking the hip to avoid using the strength truly necessary to support the body in such an unbalanced state. Some will sit on a stool leaning an elbow on the bar to eliminate the need for muscular effort in supporting the trunk, while others a combination of the two. Then there are those who stand firm on two legs, feet spaced apart and hands by their sides, many of these may have their heads craned forward and backs hunched over or they may have their bellies hanging out and lumbar spines arched in, but just a few stand with strength. They may not stand as straight and strong as the native Americans that Neil Young sung of in ‘Cortez the Killer’, a song about the Spanish Conquistadors, but they’re as good as we get in our time. The question was, does the poor posture cause decline in our bodies or is it underlying weakness that causes the poor posture? Do we need good posture to create strength or strength to create good posture? This is an issue I pondered for some years until an understanding of ‘stature’ shed light on the matter.

I had been making the mistake of thinking that muscles are at the heart of both strength and posture when in fact both are dependent upon stature. My dictionary defines stature as ‘height’, but this is a wholly inadequate description. It is actually the product of our ‘intrinsic’ or ‘pneumatic capacity’, that which gives volume, density and pressure to the core of our bodies, that which allows us to effortlessly rise against gravity and that which gives us the strength upon which to base our skeletal muscular system. Our stature is independent of muscle activity and beyond the reach of conscious effort. We are born with very little stature, but it is the basis of the development of our physical body. Some have a predisposition to a large stature, but all of us have the ability to develop our stature to its full extent, although not all of us do and many allow it to decline, hence ‘middle age spread’. Your average able-bodied person can improve and maintain their stature through exercise and good healthy living, but when the body is seriously damaged, as in the case of paraplegia, stature is terribly depleted to the point that physical effort will not have a positive effect and the body cannot naturally heal. Stature is at the core of our subconscious nature and yet it is possible to directly address, as we are proving by rebuilding it within my body, through ABR Therapy.

We can all pick ourselves up through conscious muscular effort and attain to good posture, but as we relax our bodies compress under our own weight. The degree to which they compress and change shape is a measure of our stature. If our stature is developed to its full extent there will be no compression and our body will naturally retain its good shape.

Once upon a time I strove for good posture. Now I strive for full stature.