Archive for June, 2013

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To Well from Within

June 27, 2013

Throughout my life I have always kept myself reasonably fit and healthy and have always led a physically active life; the school of thought being, that through muscular effort we maintain a strong body. At the age of twenty I sustained serious damage to my legs, both the right ankle and left knee, and for the first time I attended physiotherapy at the local hospital. The generally accepted approach, both then and now, to healing such damage to the body is exactly the same as the general approach to keeping fit, ie. the use of muscular effort. To some extent this approach works, but I’ve always known just how difficult it is to get to the root of a weakness this way and I now understand what an inefficient way it is.

When you are presented with a well balanced healthy body then muscular effort is the way to build great strength into that body. This is how an army trains its troops. All those with weakness in their bodies are rejected at the initial medical examination and so all that is needed is brute force to build the necessary strength and stamina to turn those men into a fighting unit fit for war. However, when you apply the same approach to a body with inherent weakness in the system, you are in danger of employing ‘brute force and ignorance’ that will fail to address the weakness. Luckily, physiotherapy is a little cleverer in its approach, toning down the brute force and negating the ignorance by targeting specific muscles in an attempt to restore balance to the system. With a mild injury you tend to get there in the end, but with more serious damage, as was the case with my legs, it is virtually impossible to work right into the root of the weakness and you are told that you can’t expect to get back to the strength you had before.

For eight years I walked around on damaged legs and took the way of physiotherapy to extreme. I focused more and more on the use of muscles to attain to posture, and not just stationary posture, but posture in terms of how I used my legs in motion. I played around with the position of my knees, the angle of my ankles and the extent to which I walked up on the ball of my feet, through which I achieved a way of walking that allowed for maximum ability with minimum strain on the damaged joints. The trouble was, I was only ever coping with the weakness and never actually strengthening that weakness. When at the age of twenty eight I broke my back and became a paraplegic wheelchair user, I had a great deal of experience of living with a damaged body to fall back on. My experience served me well, but with such huge internal weakness it was impossible to do anything other than my best to maintain what limited quality I had. A new approach was badly needed.

By a stroke of luck (or destiny) I found that new approach in ABR Therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation). ABR uses techniques to deliver a mechanical input into the system to address deep levels of structure. By bypassing the muscular level we can work directly into the skeletal structure and deeper still into the core of the body, building up the strength and volume from within. The techniques were unlike anything I had experienced before, using very gentle inputs delivered into the body, by a third party, while I lie passive on a bench. It was difficult to imagine, to start with, that such techniques could make any difference and yet Leonid Blyum’s teachings (the creator of the therapy) made such sense that I had to stick with it and give it a go. Changes are seen in hundreds of hours of work, but after a year of hard work it was quite clear that we were engineering positive change in the structure of my body. Not only were we engineering change above the level of paralysis, but also below. We also made great improvement to my damaged ankle, many years after that injury, despite having no use of the muscles in that region of the body. It has been a long road with many difficulties to overcome along the way, but year after year my body has grown in strength and volume, as it wells from within, and after twelve years of hard work it is really shaping up. Walking is still some way off, but it must be understood that the rebuilding of the structure must be completed before walking can once again become a reality. It is impossible to train the legs without the structure to support them.

Before my destiny led me to ABR Therapy, I spent four and a half years following the generally accepted approach to rehabilitation of conventional physiotherapy. It is an approach that allows one to develop the strength to carry on in life and even embark upon great achievements, but it isn’t true strength and is in fact a form of cheating. With a body that is enormously depleted in inner capacity throughout, there is little foundation upon which to base the use of skeletal muscles and with only conscious control of muscles above the level of injury the body must be crunched up in a wheelchair to make any effective use of them. Although this will build up a certain external muscle bulk, excessive use of the body in such ways will also serve to further deform and deplete its inner capacity. When you find yourself living with a spinal injury you have already forgotten what it is to live with an able body and so have nothing with which to compare your condition. Consequently it is extremely difficult to appreciate the depletion in inner capacity. The paralysis is obvious, but it is easy to think that the upper body is normal and so this leads to training to build up muscle bulk to enable life. The likes of wheelchair racers take this to extreme, but it is nothing more than an outer shell and will eventually lead to a stiffening of the body and an increasing lack of mobility. My limited time following this path led me to be quite proud of my upper body, however, the trained eye of Leonid Blyum soon opened my eyes to the illusion. The reality was that from the front my body looked fairly normal, but when viewed from the side it obviously had no depth to it. The back was totally missing and the inner structure collapsed; the rib cage was deformed and the shoulder blades depressed deep into what little volume the thorax had. My time along this path also engrained the changes making recovery more difficult and so it has taken longer to get to where I now am than had I embarked upon the ABR road at the time of injury.

Living with an external muscular shell and little inner capacity is hard. Every action takes significant muscular effort. Muscles have little foundation upon which to base their use and so many other muscles must come into play to provide a tensional aspect to the body to cheat in creating a foundation to allow for the action. Not only is every action a great effort, but to a great extent inaction also takes significant muscular effort. An able bodied person may get tired of standing and even tired of sitting, but generally speaking they can maintain posture with ease and without conscious use of muscles. The disabled person, however, doesn’t have the inner volume and core strength to allow them ‘to simply be’ and so a basic sitting posture can only be maintained through constant conscious use of muscles. As someone who was paralysed from the waist down I found this demanding, but I have watched people far more disabled than myself for whom this is an enormous task simply to exist in the world each day. The inner resources of the self are constantly being used up as outer resources leaving very little ability to relax. We have engineered so much structural improvement in my body over the years that I barely consider myself a paraplegic anymore. I am still a wheelchair user, but only because we have not yet reached the stage where there is sufficient structure to support walking. My body has ‘welled from within’ to such an extent that I now truly have a great ability ‘to simply be’.

As we improve the inner capacity of my body, the outer muscular shell becomes reduced. The chunks of flesh seem to be taken into the body to become that inner capacity. Unfortunately my knowledge is insufficient to explain the physiological processes involved, but I am privileged to be able to experience this through internal perception. Earlier this year there was a significant shift in the structure of my shoulders due to the shoulder blades being drawn back out of the body. As this shift occurred the chunky muscular shell encompassing the shoulders was dramatically reduced leaving me feeling extremely weak and without the muscular strength to perform many of the activities I was used to. However, at the same time as feeling externally weak, a wonderful sense of greater structural integrity welled from within. This is the true foundation of strength upon which the true muscular bulk can now be built. In a higher sense, those inner resources that had to be employed as outer resources in order to maintain life in the physical realm have now been taken back into the self allowing for a far greater sense of well being.

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