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One of the things I love about ABR Therapy is that the principle of ‘no pain no gain’ doesn’t apply in quite the same way. Like any approach to improving your body, progress cannot be made without effort being applied, and with ABR Therapy improvements are seen over the course of ‘hundreds’ of hours of work. However, those hours of work generally involve the application of gentle inputs delivered into the body by hand. In some cases I can deliver those inputs myself, but in many cases I lie passively on a bench while another person delivers the inputs. There could be considered a pain endured in the dedication necessary to put in the hours of work and to stick with it to ensure that improvements come to fruition, but there is no pain of physical exertion.
I have developed an exercise using a rocking chair to input into the legs; the ankle joints in particular and also the knees. This is not a classic ABR exercise, but follows in the same vain, employing bio-mechanical principles and gentle inputs into deep structures of the body. The exercise takes focus and concentration, but is extremely relaxing and after a while can be performed on auto pilot while conscious attention is paid to reading a book, for example. I very much hope that this will help in bringing my ankles back to life after many years of total paralysis.
I will demonstrate the exercise in the following video.
Four years ago I wrote a post, entitled ‘My Three Great Teachers’, regarding those that had enlightened me to three spheres of life, the ‘spiritual sphere’, the ‘earthly sphere’ and the ‘human sphere’. Now I would like to expand upon the human sphere to include what I have come to regard as the ‘trinity of health and healing’ and to introduce two new teachers.
When I embarked upon ABR Therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation), its creator and teacher, Leonid Blyum, enlightened me to a higher understanding of the nature of the human body and taught me that healing a body, damaged due to spinal injury, was a real possibility despite the insistence of the medical profession that recovery is impossible, at least, in their view, until scientists discover how to repair the spinal cord! The improvements I have made, over the last 14 years, have shown that nerve damage is not a barrier to recovery and that by addressing the bio-mechanical essence of the body, it is possible to improve the condition of paraplegia. The condition of ‘paraplegia’ is severe, the physical depletion of the body due to the condition is extensive and the work necessary to heal such a condition is enormous, but after all these years, I continue to make significant and predictable improvements in the structure and function of my body through ABR Therapy. Little by little do we bring my body back to life and slowly but surely do we improve both the quality of my body and so that of the life I am able to lead.
Bio-mechanics is at the heart of paraplegia and is an essential component of all physical conditions and health in general. However, if we wish to see health truly holistically, we must consider two other aspects. Firstly nutrition and secondly our psychological well being. I have always eaten fairly well, or at least compared with many people, and despite the difficulties of my life, I have always soldiered on and remained sane and so neither of these aspects of my health have been a real barrier to my therapy work and recovery from spinal injury. Having said this, in order to gain the maximum benefit from my therapy work, and from life in general, I have long sought to truly understand nutrition, to improve my diet and enjoy food to the full, and to understand and improve the struggles I have with my emotional, or psychological, well being.
For many years I have done my best to live off of pure natural whole foods and a diet that is traditional in essence. I have glanced through the odd recipe book for ideas, but have never owned one and have never wanted to, although I have always managed to cook meals from scratch. I was pretty happy with my diet and vary rarely entertained products of the food commodities industry, but just recently I have had my eyes opened even wider by Sally Fallon, founding member and President of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Weston Price was a dentist in the 1930’s who realised that the health of the Western World was in decline, as witnessed by him in the rise in tooth decay and crooked and crowded teeth. He also realised that when traditional societies, who had never known tooth decay or tooth abnormalities, were co-coerced into the industrialised foods of the West, their teeth rotted and future generations were born with narrow faces and crowded teeth. For the last 100 years there has been a steady decline in the nutritional value of the average diet in the Western world. Sally Fallon extols the virtues of animal foods for their high nutritional content and the importance of animal fats, dispelling the myth that these are bad for us. All research that has ever suggested that animal fats are bad for us and vegetable oils are good has been funded by the very industry that wishes to promote the vegetable oil products of industrial agriculture. She also believes in the importance of ‘raw milk’, it being a whole food full of living enzymes. Pasteurizing milk kills off so much of its beneficial enzymes that it can no longer be considered a whole food and has been blamed for many health conditions, particularly allergies. Raw milk on the other hand, she suggests, not only causes none of these health problems, but taken as a diet on its own has traditionally been used as a cure for many ills. When she talks of ‘lacto-fermentation’ as a way of preserving vegetables and fruit, while at the same time increasing their vitamin and nutritional content, and as a means of making all manner of soft drinks, she made me realise just how lifeless our modern food products are. The huge scale upon which food stuffs are produced, by necessity means that all life must be extinguished in their manufacture otherwise it would be impossible to maintain any standard of quality and shelf life.
As individuals who prepare and cook our own food we can always seek to improve our diet by eating highly nutritious food, but it is not so easy when we wish to integrate with wider society. I like to have my Sunday dinner at the kids home where I work, but have to accept that the potatoes will be roasted in vegetable oil; a polyunsaturated oil that is unstable at high temperature and so, not only unsuitable for roasting, but toxic to the body. I also have to accept that they buy cheap potatoes whose growth will have been forced with artificial fertilisers and whose health will have been subjected to herbicides and pesticides, not to mention the quality of the other vegetables and the meat. As for the puddings; I am never shy of cream, but the adulterated vegetable oil used as a cream substitute is borderline poisoning! I am grateful for the one social meal I have each week and believe that the efforts I make to eat well, in my own small way, more than counteract the odd poor quality meal. It’s just a shame that, collectively as a society, we don’t wake up to the importance of good quality highly nutritious food.
Understanding a healthy diet isn’t too difficult when presented with the facts; understanding our psychological health, however, is not always easy. Over the last few years I have come to understand how experiences at a very young age, even at too young an age to have a conscious memory of the experience, can have a profound and lasting effect throughout our adult life. Traumatic experiences cause the psyche to split as a way of managing and surviving the experience. The emotional experiences of the trauma are split off and buried in the unconscious and the person develops survival strategies to manage and maintain the split. Over time this forms what we call our personality. It is as though we are all traumatised and spend our lives trying to find our way home.
I have always talked of what happened, to leave me a paraplegic, as an accident, but accidents never just happen, they are rooted in our personality and so rooted in those experiences that have shaped our lives, rooted in our trauma. In my personal quest to understand this side of my life I have come across the work of Franz Rupert and find his theory on trauma very enlightening and this has helped me clarify much of what I have worked out for myself over the years. I have not tried his constellation method as a therapeutic means of addressing our own trauma, but the opportunity may present itself soon with up and coming local practitioners.
When you listen to Franz Rupert it is easy to believe that all health problems are the consequence of trauma. When you listen to Sally Fallon then they’re a consequence of poor nutrition and when you listen to Leonid Blyum it’s easy to believe they are all rooted in poor bio-mechanics. When it comes to myself and all the other seriously disabled people pursuing ABR Therapy, then the very real bio-mechanical issues over-ride all others, but that is not to say that it isn’t important to also address our nutritional health and our psychological health. Franz Rupert’s ideas may not be for everyone, but I urge you all to look up Sally Fallon and listen to what she has to say about food and nutrition. I thoroughly recommend her DVD presentation and her book, both titled ‘Nourishing Traditional Diets’.
Finally I would like to thank my personal therapist, whom I employ to help me with my ABR therapy work, for introducing me to the work of both Sally Fallon and Franz Rupert and for helping me to develop further my thoughts on the ‘Trinity of Health and Healing’.
For the past three months I’ve had an extra dog. She’s a Lakeland Terrier and belongs to my good friend and neighbour who, unfortunately, has been in hospital all this time. I have two dogs of my own, a husky and a lurcher, but the terrier’s been a part time member of my pack for the last six years so she fits in well. At times, three dogs is a bit too much. Walking three dogs with a wheelchair is fine all the time you’re on a smooth wide path and the dogs keep to formation, but when there’s curbs to negotiate and the pavements get narrow, three dogs on leads are in danger of being wrapped around the wheels. Getting through the door to the pub is tricky enough with two dogs, but with three you tend to get a bit tangled. Once in the pub there is only limited room for the dogs to lie down and so three’s quite a crowd. At other times, one extra dog makes no difference at all. On home turf she just fits into the routine and when running them with my handcycle it matters little how many dogs you have clipped on the back.
The bonus of looking after this dog is that she comes with a mobility scooter. Not just any mobility scooter either, but a ‘Tramper’, the model favoured by disabled ramblers for its off road capabilities. I’ve never really considered myself a mobility scooter type of person. Firstly they’re expensive, especially ones as good as a Tramper. Secondly, it has always seemed a bit of a cop out when I’m capable of getting around under my own steam and thirdly there’s vanity. Not sure if a mobility scooter fits with my image. My wheelchair’s pretty sporty, handcycling with dogs is pretty cool and if I need motorised transport then I jump on the farm quad bike. Just lately, though, I’ve brushed the vanity aside and am discovering another dimension to dog walking and a new sense of freedom.
The timing’s been good. Changes in my body due to the therapy work has meant that I’ve had to ease off with the handcycling. As my body opens up still further, a weakness that has been locked up for years has become exposed and this one is proving more troublesome than most. My bum and the back of my leg used to merge into one homogeneous zone, but now there is a clear division at the bottom of my bum and a clear division at the top of the leg. This is fantastic, except there is a hole in the structure between the two where the true bottom to my pelvis should be. We’re working on it and are already beginning to strengthen and build structure into the bottom of the pelvis, but it will take some time. As soon as we started to work on this area and gained the beginning of strength, I then became truly aware of the weakness whereas before it simply didn’t exist in my body map consciousness. Once I had the faint beginnings of strength, I also became aware of activities that placed strain on this newly exposed weakness, and so to be avoided, one of which is handcycling.
Handcycling is the most fantastic way of travelling with dogs, especially with a husky working alongside in harness, and is also a fairly good way of exercising as a paraplegic. When you live with a body with enormous intrinsic weakness, weakness that goes to the very core, good exercise, through conscious effort, is hard to achieve. If you’re not careful then muscular exertion, without good foundation, can further imbalance you’re body. Handcycling, without too many hills and with a husky to help, is one of the best forms of fresh air and exercise I’ve found, but unfortunately even that has been a little too much lately. Cycling with your arms in a nice reclined seat employs tension throughout the body which normally feels great, but not when it’s straining such a weakness opened up in the body. I’ll get back into it with renewed vigour once we’ve got my pelvic floor strengthened but for now I’m discovering new possibilities for adventure, with a Tramper.
Mobility scooters are just as good for running dogs as a handcycle. It doesn’t work your husky as hard, but there are advantages. Leads, if attached in the right place, don’t get tangled and allow the dogs to run alongside, when there’s room, and fall into formation behind when the paths get narrow. And narrow paths you can do. With the handcycle I stick to the farm lanes and bridle paths, but with the Tramper I can explore narrow winding paths through the woods. All of a sudden this has opened up Copthorne Common to me that previously I’ve never really entered into. It’s not as exhilarating as the handcycle, but leads to a calmer energy in the dogs, which is especially good for the terrier who needs help to overcome an anxiety issue.
The jury’s still out on whether it’s good for my ‘street cred’, but for now I’ll carry on enjoying the novelty of a top of the range, all terrain, mobility scooter.
Standing is often considered to be the pinnacle of conquering paraplegia and the first step towards walking. It is true that standing is an expression of our uprightness, which is an essential part of human nature, but I would not suggest that an inability to stand denies us that part of our nature; it merely denies us the ability to express that nature. There is though something very special about standing. Firstly it affords us a perspective on the world that is somehow diminished when you spend your life seated and see your surroundings from a view point 18 inches (450mm) lower than you once did. And secondly, it is a neutral position. Seated can also be a neutral position, but just as you’d long to sit down if you were forced to stand for too long, so do you long to stand when forced to spend a life sitting down.
When I left hospital, as a wheelchair user, I was given a standing frame which it was suggested I use on a regular basis. The main idea behind this is that by putting weight through your legs you keep the bones strong and that if this is neglected the bone density decreases and the bones become weak and brittle. The more I learn about the human body, the more I question not only the wisdom of this statement, but the wisdom of the so called professionals who perpetuate such dogmatic thoughts. Considering that the skeletal joints are frictionless and therefore incapable of transmitting loads, the skeleton does not bear the weight of the body. When we view the body as a tensegrity structure, then the bones are seen as discontinuous compression elements and so do indeed bear compression loads through the use of the body, but in a manner in which they float within a healthy structure and not by propping one bone on top of another with disregard for the depleted nature of the joints between them.
I have always felt the desire to straighten my body out regularly, but never really liked forcing weight through my legs in a standing frame and soon after starting ABR Therapy, I gave the standing frame back to the hospital. In order to compensate for the many hours spent sitting, I took to lying on my front to stretch my body out. This I have done from when I was first paralysed as it has always seemed the most natural of positions, conducive to that upright nature of the human.
The stronger I have got through my therapy work the more standing has come back into my life. To start with this was nothing more than a circus act, showing off from time to time. By locking my knees in hyper extension, and leaning over slightly to place my weight heavily through one hand on a firm hold, I could stand up to shake someones hand. This was a case of showing off the ability to be upright that I was slowly regaining. Probably not the best of ways to treat my body, but my knees didn’t seem to complain too much and it gave me a boost to realise how I was improving. Over the last year or so this circus act has grown into true standing once again and is a very exciting development. I usually have a little stand at the end of each therapy session, not to strengthen my legs, nor to stretch my body out, but to remind my body of what it is ‘to be in gravity’. I stand up with one hand on a firm surface and with my therapist holding my other hand. My knees no longer lock in hyper extension, but are truely capable of bearing weight. My legs still rotate in at the hips so that they bow in at the knees, but this is improving as the quality of my pelvis, and trunk in general, improves. Over the last few months I have had to raise the level of the hand hold as I seem to get more and more upright.
Standing my well be still in its infancy in its return to my life, but it is worth bearing in mind the enormous structural re-engineering we have had to complete, in my body, in order to make even the beginnings of standing a reality. I have come a long way over the years and this is becoming more and more reflected in my physical abilities. Not only does it feel great to use my body in the simple act of standing, after so long, but it is also wonderful to be able to express my inner nature through the ability to be upright and this has brought a greater sense of wholeness to my life.
I went to the cinema a while ago, the first time for a quite a few years. I very much like going to the cinema, and I do like the girl I got to go with, but by the end of the film my lower back was aching, my knees were aching, my feet were numb and I kept getting pins and needles in my left hand. Had I stayed at home and watched a film then I would have been in comfort.
There has always been a ‘comfort of home’ in my life and I believe there is for most people. There is nothing like your own chair or your own bed. Much of it may be due to familiarity rather than physical comfort, a sense of well being gained from sticking with what you know, but when you are seriously disabled there are special needs that must be catered for in different ways.
I have long since ceased to be a fan of arm chairs and in my twenties, before I even broke my back, I threw mine out and learnt to live a life sitting crossed legged on the floor. The history of the arm chair is interesting, although I have to admit that my knowledge is based on the limited experience of my years and what I have seen in motion pictures and period dramas. The chaise longue seems to go way back into antiquity, but the arm chair is confined to the last few centuries of our civilization and has evolved slowly from the basic concept of a chair, with a wooden seat and upright back, into the ultimate soft furnishing that you can sink into.
The concept of the modern arm chair is not to support your body, but to switch off all muscular activity, leaving your body totally reliant on the quality of your inner capacity, your resistance to compression, for support. This is a concept that works fine for the fit and active whose physical activity during their day is amply sufficient to keep them in good shape and they can well afford to slouch in an arm chair in the evening, but it doesn’t bode well for the more sedentary or disabled. The right to slouch was always the preserve of the working classes who earned it through their hard labour, whereas the aristocracy, who led more sedentary lives, relied on attention to posture to maintain a good stature. These days few people’s working lives keep them fit and the etiquette of the upper classes has long since declined. Combine that with the hours people spend slouched in front of the television or computer and there can be no doubt that health is in trouble.
As a paraplegic I have never found a comfortable arm chair or couch. Some are very firm and upright, but they take more effort to sit in than a dining room chair and so are difficult for me to relax in. Most you sink into and they only serve to compress my core strength (intrinsic capacity), which is still a little weak. My waist collapses and my chest sinks in and my pelvis folds in on itself weakening the flow down into the legs. Even though my feet are on the floor it’s as though my lower legs dangle and my feet will be in danger of swelling.
You won’t find such furniture in my house as I choose to live on the floor. I have futon cushions to sit on, which give a firm base while being soft enough for comfort, and numerous scatter cushions for good support. I can build myself a nice reclined seat in the corner with a bean bag roll under my knees which prevents over arching of the lumbar spine and ensures the knee joints don’t hyper extend. I perform therapy on myself in this room and have no trouble in supporting myself in whatever position is necessary. I climb down into this room from my therapy room and from here crawl into my bedroom. Living on the floor as I do allows me to both relax and work in comfort while moving around making full use of the functional ability I have regained.
Therapy is at the heart of my home, both physically and culturally. Essentially, my cottage is an occupational therapy project. The back door is my wheelchair entrance and at the back of the cottage is the kitchen and bathroom. The bathroom works extremely well without a single adaptation. It’s not particularly large, but my wheelchair is nimble and there is sufficient room to easily manoeuver between the elements. Occasionally I knock the radiator and chip the paint, but never mind. The kitchen is small, which in some ways makes it easy. I can take a dish out of the dresser, on one side, and place it on the work top, on the other side, without moving. In fact the whole kitchen requires little more than spinning round on the spot. I have never really finished my kitchen and hope to make many improvements to ensure everything is at hand, although, with space at a minimum, there will always be the issue of having to bend down for below counter aspects. This is never good when sitting in a wheelchair, especially when it comes to the fridge, or worse still the oven, but nothing is ever ideal and at times you have to make do.
My front room is my therapy room and a reception room for visitors. Compact is the word to describe this room and a description that can be applied to the whole cottage. I use this to my advantage as it means I can move myself around without having to resort to a wheelchair or over exert myself. I’m sitting on a broad stool (like a miniature bench) which is an intermediary level between the benches and the floor. Note the wheelchair left in the kitchen.
My body’s getting bigger than I thought considering what little volume it had when I began ABR Therapy.
Only the able bodied use the front door and even then it’s a squeeze to get in past my exercise bench. Most people who know me well use the back door, so when my therapist isn’t working, the mattress tends to live where I need it for my active kneeling exercises.
I notice my left shoulder sits lower than my right. Must keep working to address the twist in my body and the weakness in my left shoulder.
The room is also my dining room and I do have one chair for the dining table should I have anyone to dinner. I don’t expect my visitors to sit cross legged on the benches as I do. The chair normally lives in the corner (out of sight) where I can sit on it to reach my audio equipment and use my desk, not that I’m one much for sitting at a desk.
Strength is coming on well.
As a severely disabled person, therapy has evolved as a necessary part of my daily routine. Without it, the active life I lead may well have ground to a halt long ago and there can be no doubt that the quality of my life would be a small fraction of what I now enjoy. I am not a ‘therapy geek’ and I pursue other work and hobbies, but my therapy work is fundamental to my life and all the time I continue to make improvements, in the structure and function of my body, it must remain my number one priority. I would no longer describe myself as weak and debilitated, but even so, the stronger I am the more I can contribute to society. As my body grows in strength and quality, so does my life, my work and my future ambitions.
My front room pictured here is at the heart of my home and dedicated to a therapeutic way of life. There are two other rooms in my cottage, one of which is also very much therapy orientated, and I will talk about them another time. I in no way expect others to live like I do, but considering the manner in which many in our time, struggle with their physical health, perhaps our homes should be designed, from an occupational point of view, to incorporate therapy, both physically and culturally, in all our lives.