Counterpunch Parkinson's Second Site: now at the Wreck Room in Auckland Central!

Greetings All -- We have some exciting news for you!!

Counterpunch Parkinson's is thrilled to be combining forces with New Zealand's top female boxer, gym owner, coach, physiotherapist, olympian, AUT lecturer, and all around fabulous human ALEXIS PRITCHARD.  

Counterpunch Parkinson's non contact boxing classes will be available at The Wreck Room in Eden Terrace, Auckland City Centre as of MONDAY, JULY 25th.  Counterpunch Parkinson's classes will be offered twice weekly -- on Mondays and Wednesdays fro 10:00 - 11:00 am

Please let any of your service users or members enquiring about classes in the city centre know -- we are so excited to have a second Auckland Counterpunch Parkinson's up and running and to be teaming up the Alexis -- we know the boxers joining her program will be in for an amazing experience.

Enrolment is essential -- please direct interested boxers to - or have them call Lex at 021 220 4842 or on the landline 09 309 2184 (and leave a message) -- check out THE WRECK ROOM HERE

Here is to more People with Parkinson's having access to boxing and exercise and community -- 


When life gives you Parkinson's, COUNTERPUNCH

The last few months have been busy, and a bit all over the place for me, to say the least, and my blog has been sadly neglected.  Resuming private practice and building a business that is sustainable and reflective of the work I want to be doing in Conductive Education and personal training while trying to get a semblance of work life balance have been energy and time consuming processes.  My business is starting to take shape - some conductive groups, some private clients that I see in their homes, some personal training at a groovy gym with a great team of fitness professionals, some consulting, and lots of boxing groups for people with Parkinson's. I'd like to tell you a bit about what I'm doing with boxing groups for people with Parkinson's, why this appealed to me in the first place, and about why I love and value this aspect of my work so much.

For the past several years I've been reading about the work of an organization called Rock Steady Boxing based in Indianapolis, USA - in recent months I'd say seldom a week passes when they do not come up in my RSS feed.  Starting serendipitously - one person with Parkinson's boxing intensively with a trainer and seeing dramatic improvements - Rock Steady literally have taken the idea that non-contact boxing might be a useful exercise modality for people with Parkinson's and put it on the map.  They have developed programs, they have upskilled fitness and allied health professionals, and now have over 150 affiliated organisations and gyms offering their program in North America.  

Find out more about Rock Steady HERE

Part of what caught my attention about the Rock Steady program is that it seemed to bring together disconnected parts of my two professions.  I have been working with people with Parkinson's in Conductive Education classroom settings for nearly 20 years.   As a personal trainer with boxing qualifications, I have been using boxing based training with many of my clients and have enjoyed adapting boxing drills to make them wheelchair friendly - and love boxing as part of my own fitness work too.  So at this very base level the idea of boxing groups for people with Parkinson's was exciting, and the idea niggled at me, kept calling me, and I decided to try to get a program running here in Auckland based on my own knowledge and experience, so I could see for myself how it might work.  

In October of last year SM, a colleague in the fitness industry, and I trialled a Parkinson's boxing group at the local YMCA where she worked -with some of the wives of my boxers and my husband helping out as program assistants.  The program went from a handful of brave participants all known to me to a large group in a matter of months.  We quickly outgrew the space we were using at the YMCA and I approached Shane Cameron, the owner of a local boxing gym and a New Zealand boxing champion about bringing my program over to his facility. I showed Shane what Rock Steady were doing in America and he came to watch my boxers - and he saw the magic that I saw.  

One of my boxers taking on Shane

Shane and I are now working towards emulating the Rock Steady model here in New Zealand, customising a program we have called COUNTERPUNCH PD and developing a training module for fitness professionals, and working to make COUNTERPUNCH PD available to people with Parkinson's nationally in NZ - watch this space for more details.  I will travel to Indianapolis to do the Rock Steady training course in August and am so excited about that; I am equally excited about experimenting with and encorporating Conductive Education tasks and methodology in a boxing environment and about making this program my own.  

Research has qualitatively and quantitatively supported the Rock Steady program.  However, the anecdotal and human interest stories featuring people with Parkinson's talking about what they get out of boxing groups speaks far louder to me.  It has been exciting and affirming to see my boxers make improvements and speak of the same results.  

Have a look at Research about Boxing for People with Parkinson's HERE

It should also be noted that they exercise guidelines for people with Parkinson's have changed a lot over recent years with higher intensity exercise such as boxing being recommended, and the idea that the right exercise can be neuro-protective and promote neuroplasticity has been thrown around - I will address those concepts in a blog post in the very near future.  

From a Conductive headspace, there is so much about boxing for people with Parkinson's that makes sense to me - the use of visual cuing and rhythm for movement, the use of voice with movement, having something tangible as a target for movement; directly addressing movement challenges of Parkinson's such as complex coordination, agility, balance, speed and size of movement and practicing them and working to make them better instead of accepting them as problems; working in a positive and social group of peers; having fun; being challenged and being expected to rise to the challenge; the idea that there is an active and empowering approach that enables people to feel like they can do something to take control of their Parkinson's; the allegory of literally fighting Parkinson's - of being able to COUNTERPUNCH - and the sense of hope that comes from fighting. 

Watch a video featuring one of my boxers talking about the program

I love all of those aspects - boxing for people with Parkinson's makes clinical sense and is effective. But what I love most is that every session people with Parkinson's walk into the gym and as they put on their wraps and gloves and head out to the heavy bag or speed bag to warm up they transform into boxers, or kids happily playing, or some amazing combination of both.  I almost forget that they have Parkinson's - but more importantly, at least for that hour they seem to forget that they have Parkinson's.  It is amazing, magical, and transformational - and so much fun to be a part of.

Faith, trust, and pixie dust ...

It makes me sad that so many well intentioned charities and non-profit organisations struggle because they rely on old school models of financial viability - begging, donations, hand outs, grants, and philanthropy -- instead of developing sustainable models of self sufficiency through things like social enterprise and responsible capital ventures.  It makes me sad that these organisations are so stuck in this old way of doing things that even in times of financial crisis that threaten their very survival they cannot change.  In the same way that a practice like Conductive Education is a paradigm shift from a medical model approach to managing disability, charities learning to think like businesses is a paradigm shift and it makes me sad that there is so little help for charities who need to come around this corner if they are going to survive.

Don't get me wrong - I like the idea of living in a world made of "faith, trust, and pixie dust" as much as the next person.  In fact, those who know me well would probably tell you that in my head and in my heart that is the world that I live in, and I would respond by saying that believing in that world influences the way that I choose to move through this world.  This world needs people who create potential for "faith, trust, and pixie dust" by creating ways to make important things happen -- and that includes finding ways to cover the costs of whatever these important things are.  We don't have to all agree on what those important things are, but we do have to agree that sometimes opportunities need to be created and where appropriate capitalised on, so that more important things in this world can get done -- so that there is more pixie dust to go around.  That is my personal definition of entrepreneurship.

For some people, the important thing is about human exploration, getting people to mars; others try to invent things that will make our lives more efficient; some want to influence the world through the establishment of an essential service, for others the important things are to do with music and art.  Everyone has their passions and priorities.  In my world those important things that need to get done are around helping more people through Conductive Education and through exercise and movement.  I've left the non profit sector because I believe that out here in the real world I can build something that will create more pixie dust; in the charity sector I was wasting time waiting for pixie dust, begging for pixie dust, and then having to filter my portion of pixie dust through hoops and red tape and then still bow down to the pixie dust purse holder who dictated how I could use that dust.  By this time the pixie dust feels more like regular dust - the sparkle is gone.

I look to people in my field who seem to leave a sparkly trail of pixie dust wherever they go -- people who have created business models that have enabled them to conductively help more people, and to do so on their terms, while adding to the available pool of pixie dust.  I always look to them for inspiration, to admire what they have done and created, to admire their work ethic, determinism, and can-do attitude, and to admire their courage to step into this world and to do something different instead of letting themselves wither in dystopia of the other.  I look to these conductive entrepreneurs to admire their ability to cherish and uphold the ideals of "faith, trust, and pixie dust while carving their own path of "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning”. 

Don't stop me now!

In just over a week I will be taking Transformations, my personal training and private Conductive Education business, to a new home base, to a brand spanking new facility with sparkling new state of the art equipment, to the new Les Mills gym that will open in Newmarket Auckland in November.  I was asked to apply for this contract -- to bring my combined experience in fitness and disability into this mainstream fitness arena.  It is such an amazing opportunity... for me professionally, for Conductive Education, and most importantly for people with disabilities or health conditions who are tired of being relegated to therapy and rehabilitation environments and church halls.  It is such an amazing opportunity to do something that I'm so passionate about, and I am so grateful for this opportunity, and I am so excited to get started, but as often happens when I'm excited about something I'm also really anxious, really scared.

So scared that I almost talked myself out of the application and interview.  So scared that I'm having to battle my inner fat kid who always comes a-knocking when I'm worried that I'm not good enough for the challenge ahead or that I might possible show that I'm human by dropping a ball as the balls get rolling.  So scared that I've actually taken genuine control of my own health and fitness for the first time in ages.

So yesterday, I was out for a run.  It was very windy, and a little bit rainy, and way too cold for this time of year and the hills seemed steeper than the last time I'd attempted them, but I had set a training target for myself and I went for a run. And today I'm baking brownies for a friend's birthday tomorrow and even though I actually think that I have mastered the fine art of ganache, I haven't licked the spoon to taste because I've taken control of my eating again and I'm feeling so much better or that.  Grant me the courage to to take charge and to change the things I can, something inside me whispers.  

So yesterday, while I was out for a run, and while I was feeling proud of myself for being out there, and in control of myself which is really the only thing I can control, this song came through my speakers...

Don't stop me now, 'cause I'm having a good time...

And while I was running and singing along like a crazy gal, I started to notice that the scared was gone, and that I was feeling happy, and excited.  In this headspace I started to think about my pending opportunity again.  I started to think about the gift of being a conductor, and how as a conductor I have a skill set that makes me an excellent personal trainer.  I can patiently break movements down and teach them over and over again until I am understood until my client learns and I understand that it is my job to do this (thank you Conductive Education);  that when my words aren't enough I can teach with my hands and my voice and my facial expressions; (thank you conductive mentors operating in a language that was not your own); I notice and celebrate the tiniest of achievements and this motivates and instills confidence in my clients (thank you conductive pedagogy); that I know to meet people where they are at and do so honestly and realistically while always looking ahead to I can help them work towards their goals and their next step (thank you AS for teaching me about dynamic potential).

And while I was happily running I was able to approach my scared, anxious inner fat kid conductively, from a place of kindness, the way that I believe in approaching my conductive and personal training clients.  We looked at our current health and fitness together; we looked at our disappointment with not being as fit and strong as we once were in the context of a few years of a stressful desk job and made peace with this disappointment so we could start to move forward, and we really thought about our current goals (feeling healthy and well again, exercising habitually, and enjoying that habit) and about how we might be able to judge our current self against those instead of against some imaginary standard that we had no actual motivation or interest in anyway.  One foot in front of the other, one step at a time over hills, through barriers to a place where my inner fat kid was no longer standing between me and my exciting opportunity.  And I let myself and my inner fat kid share in this feeling of excitement -- because after all she and I are in this together.  Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, which means making peace with who I am now, inner fat kid and all, so that I can continue to grow and thrive, something inside of me whispers.

In just over a week I will be taking Transformations, my personal training and private Conductive Education business, to a new home base, to a brand spanking new facility with sparkling new state of the art equipment, to the new Les Mills gym that will open in Newmarket Auckland in November.  It is such an amazing opportunity to do something that I'm so passionate about, and I am so grateful for this opportunity, and I am so excited to get started.

Good Enough

It Takes a Community...

School holidays have just finished here in Auckland, and we are now settling into the last mad dash of fast paced weeks leading into the holiday season and summer.  Normally when working with adults in rehabilitation or fitness settings the timing of the school holidays doesn't really have any impact on service delivery.  However, the lovely community centre where I hire space for my Parkinson's CE group runs a plethora of children's programs during the between term holidays, and my lovely little room is not available so we take a break.

Many of the people attending this group have been coming fairly regularly since last September and all but one -- who is moving out of town -- have signed up for the next term which starts this Friday.   Before we broke up at the end of the school term I surveyed them to find out what they were happy with, what parts of the program they enjoyed the most or found the most useful, what they didn't enjoy, what they struggled with, and what suggestions they have for future sessions.  I gave them the choice of anonymity so that they could be honest and open in their response.

I carefully listed out elements my carefully structured program for my clients to give feedback about in language that was clear and accessible (this is an incredibly intelligent bunch of people -- but that doesn't mean that they know or care what a task series or rhythmic intention is).  I listed things like learning to change position and to stand up fluently, seated exercises, arm and shoulder exercises, fine manipulation and handwriting, speech and facial expressions, walking and balancing activities, memory and concentration work, stretching, and I included the pre-program greeting round and the post program morning tea amongst my activity list.

I list these out because from my perspective each are so important and a lot of planning and thought goes into getting ready to lead a large Parkinson's group.  My clients were all happy with the program and with the balance of the activities and few had suggestions about what they wanted done differently.  They listed outcomes that included better balance and being able to get up from the chair easier or safer, or having less shoulder pain.  But when asked what the most important thing that they got out of the group was, not a single person listed an activity or something mobility related.  You guessed it - psychosocial outcomes were once again featured as the most important.

Here are some of the responses:

"Having Parkinson's feels more normal to me, I see that everybody is affected differently and I don't feel as strange in this group" said one person;

"I have more confidence in myself" said another.

"Realizing that exercise is more pleasant when done with other people" said VW;

"The way the others encourage me" said RH;

"Enjoyment of the group" stated BB, "Oh, and the laughing!"

TM wrote "companionship"; DS noted "fellowship"; JW agreed with one word, "friendship".

Two weeks later, I still get shivers reading these responses.  I feel so proud of this little micro-community, and of the positive and supportive environment that they provide for each other, which allows them to thrive and blossom despite having Parkinson's.  Two weeks later, and that really isn't a very long time, I realize that I miss them.  That I miss the community spirit of this wonderful group and their wives or husbands who often come along; That I miss the laughter, the fun, the games, and the fellowship, and that I'm glad that the school holidays are over and that I look forward to getting my dose of this wonderful community again this Friday morning.

It's how you get on the stretcher that counts...

It is never nice to see someone go to hospital by ambulance JW, but now that I know you are home and on the mend I want to tell you, and tell the world, how proud you made me in the moments just before you got into the ambulance.  

I don't want to write about how the colour of your face scared me when we first called the ambulance.  I also don't want to talk about how awesome we must have looked to all passerbys while we were both lying in the mud behind the building near the parking lot waiting for the ambulance.  I don't even want to talk about the great team work and kindness of friends and strangers alike that went into the first aid and into ensuring that though we both were covered in mud we were protected from the hot noonday sun - even though all of these things are worthy of talking about, I have something else to say.

I want to say that you did me, and the conductors you have worked with before me, proud.  You participated in getting up from the ground.  There were three paramedics, myself and my assistant, and four bystanders all trying to give you instructions.  You very clearly told everyone to stop talking because your brain couldn't take in or make sense of so much talk.   In a moment when you were at your near worst, you took control of the situation and told us all what you needed.  When I asked you to focus on just me, you locked in, maintained eye contact with me, and step by step, with one movement rhythmically commanded at a time, we got you sitting on the edge of the stretcher.  The paramedics tried to lie you down.  You said no, it's better if I do it myself, and, exactly as we've practiced week after week getting on and off of the plinth, you swung your legs up and lay yourself down unassisted. 

You made me proud JW; you showed me that you've mastered what we've been doing together over the past couple of years and that it makes life easier for you, that you can use these techniques when it counts, and that they can be used even under imperfect conditions.  I was proud - any conductor would have been proud.  That said, the next time you want to show off a skill, to demonstrate that CE is is about functional mobility, I would really appreciate it under pleasant calm circumstances instead of somewhere between a mud puddle and an ambulance good sir.  

Tell me what you want what you really really want

Writing a blog is a relatively bizarre form of communication - I get an idea that bounces around in my head for a few days until it somehow morphs into sentences. It is usually something that touches me about someone I work with, or something that puzzles me or unsettles me, and is usually something that I'm directly interested in or passionate about that is to do with my practice and the intersection of my practice with the rest of my life.

I really like writing and have promised myself to do more of it - but I'd like your help.  

Are there things about Conductive Education or the health and fitness industry that you would like me to write about? Condition specific topics or something new in research or treatments or something about your condition in the news? Advice needed or challenges we can hash through? Things that make you crazy or angry, that get your heart pounding, or that you just want to to see if others are experiencing? I would love you to send me your ideas or questions - I would love to engage you more in my posts and to be able to be responsive to what interests you.  I won't know the answers to everything you ask me but I will either do my research or find someone to answer things for us.  I want to see this blog be a connective tool that serves the Transformations and Conductive Education community.  I want to hear from you!

I also would love to have guest blog posters - perhaps you are a conductor or other health or fitness industry professional that has something to say, would like to tell other people about your expertise or services, or would like to have a conversation or dialogue with me.  Maybe you are a service user, a client, a consumer, with a rant you want to get off of your chest, something that might help the world understand your perspective, something you have learned from the university of life.  Maybe you want to give blogging a try to see how putting it out there feels for you before you start one of your own.  Don't be shy - I can help you with editing if you want it, you can be anonymous if you prefer, let's get it out there!

So big bad world way out there on the other side of my iPad - tell me what you want, make suggestions, ask questions, send me your guest posts, make some NOISE - is the best way to find me or message me of Facebook, or call, text, even send me some snail mail.  This offer is open and ongoing - I'd love to hear from you and I'd love to see this blog grow from being something that is just my random ramblings into something that brings value to this community.  I can't wait to hear from you - game on - who will hit me up first?

It's a long way to the top and other lessons in humility...

A conductor is certainly a specialist, but there is a very big difference between being a specialist and being an expert - and I love that difference.  I specialise in teaching people with neuro-motor disorders strategies and skills to enable them to manage their bodies better.  I don't make up these tricks and techniques, they are not my intellectual property - and I see my role, my specialty, as being able to articulate and share these solutions as openly and as freely as possible, and to facilitate the process of sharing and tweaking solutions that have worked for other people with similar challenges.  I have learned some of these tricks from other conductors, but most have been learned by being a partner in a problem solving process with an individual, and more often by letting my clients teach me the tricks they have worked out for themselves.  This means that the expertise and success are not mine; it means that I am teacher-learner combined, it means that I'm always on the lookout for new tricks to add to my repertoire and therefore always open to learning and growing, and it means professional humility is a part of being a conductor and I love that.

Lessons in humility come packaged in many wonderful formats.  Last week BC, a private client decided to stop training with me.  BC is a woman with advanced Parkinson's who started training with me because she was having frequent falls and trouble getting out of bed.  After a few weeks of private in home sessions she had mastered the tricks and techniques we had been working on to the point that she is no longer falling and can now get out of bed unassisted, and she no longer needed me to come to her home and practice with her.  I could choose to dwell on not being needed - but in reality no longer being needed is the best possible outcome and I'm celebrating. Conductive humility means knowing it is not about me - and that it never was - and there is nothing better than being around somebody who learns something and stepping back to let them own it.

Lessons in humility are sometimes delivered by posties on motorbikes. RP is a stroke survivor and a Harley Davidson enthusiast who has set up a rehabilitation space in his garage with parallel bars and steps - a dream workspace for a mobile conductor.  Last week while I was there working with RP, the postie - a big burly guy on a motorcycle - came up the long driveway to deliver the mail.  This week the same postie came up the driveway on his motorcycle. He had no mail to deliver, just wanted to tell RP that a few years ago he had been in a bad motorcycle crash resulting in a brain injury, and despite what everyone told him he was now walking again, and was back on his motorcycle, and that RP shouldn't give hope.  That day, for the first time, RP and I walked all of the way down and all of the way back up his long driveway.  This week RP did it again, twice in one session.  Conductive humility is being able to celebrate that after months of RP and I working towards something together and of me encouraging and teaching RP, what got him over the hump was a burly postie on a motorcycle and his heartfelt act of kindness. 

What emotional intelligence?

I have been feeling wildy emotional over the past few days, bouncing between peaks and troughs as if making a sport of it.  I cried during 'Trainwreck', a romantic comedy I went to see specifically because I was looking for lightness.  I have spent the last hour pouring over media tributes to Dr. Oliver Sacks and pondering his legacy, only to have my reading interrupted by news that Wayne Dyer also left this world today, not even finding solace in the graceful way that they both faced their own mortality.

On Saturday I spent an hour talking to a friend from home, a friend and soul mate whose life experiences and wisdom around those experiences have always helped me approach my own.  We spoke about healing from stressful periods in life and about the psychological effects of transitioning into the what next.  I had been cruising along until that conversation - or actually operating in cruise control mode rather than driving.  

Part of cruise control mode came from the general feeling of relief I was experiencing - relief to have left a work situation that was causing stress, relief at not having to fight anxiety every morning on the way to work and to swallow that anxiety down so that I could give my clients the service they deserved, relief from the nightmares and tiredness and overwhelm and guilt and worry, relief from the metaphorical burden that was lifted from my shoulders, relief that I was feeling like myself again.

The relief however was masking the rest of the transition emotions - the fear and excitement, the insecurity and confidence, the anger and elation, the simultaneous wanting to hide and wanting to fly, the too hard, too much and the can't wait, boundless energy.  There was a two month restraint of trade in my previous contract that has conveniently forced me to lay low instead of plunging right in that I have been hiding behind - though I have been complaining about it, it has actually allowed me an incredible luxury - a pause button on my life, the option of cruise control.  But finally, with all of these emotions surging through me I feel like I'm ready to start driving again.  And it it feels great to be back in the drivers seat.

So yes world, I'm back to being self employed, and to working privately, and to answering only to myself and to my clients.  And yes, I'm scared, and no I'm not sure how this will go, and yes I'm excited, and no I don't have regrets, and yes I believe that I have something to offer and that I will find my place again in the big world out there, and no, thank you, I'm not going to be seeking compromise any time soon.  

A conductor that I spoke to last week told me to succeed so that other conductors who are feeling stuck or unhappy know that they have options.  I chatted to three conductor entrepreneurs, women I admire and look up to, who assured me that though it isn't easy on your own, it is 'less soul destroying' and certainly worth it.  I launched business cards and a Facebook page and was overwhelmed by the positivity and support I received. So here is to next chapters; here is to periods of transition, and here is  to my new business Transformations: Movement for EVERY Body. 

From Sydney with Love

I have always said how lucky I am that in my work as a conductor I have met some of the most wonderful people.  Today I received a letter from one of those wonderful people - someone who trusted me as a conductor, someone who has gone on to become a much cherished friend, someone who has taught me more than I could ever hope to teach her, someone I hope to make proud as I start again again in my new venture in Conductive Education.  

Maria has spoken at an international conference about how CE has benefitted her as an adult with cerebral palsy, has travelled the world competing with Sailability and more recently just for pleasure, and is working on an autobiography.  

But today she took the time to write these words, which I am humbled to share with you:

Maria writes...

My sincere congratulations to Lisa for launching her new business,Transformations: Movement for EVERY Body.  I wish Lisa every success in her new venture.


I met Lisa in 2003 when my husband and I were invited to take part in a pilot program of Conductive Education.  This program was aimed at adults with Cerebral Palsy, and was the first of its kind for adults in Australia.


I had heard about Conductive Education but really did not know what to expect or how the treatment could help me, but at the age of 48, I was willing to try anything that might help me to keep my mobility and independence. Despite being born with Cerebral Palsy, I have always taken great pride in my independence but as I age, my independence has become slowly increasingly difficult to maintain.


It was mid way through my second term of Conductive Education that I began to understand the fundamentals of the treatment.  I started to implement much of what I had learnt in Conductive Education to help me in my everyday lifeI found myself using controlled breathing and counting in my head when had difficulty in doing simple tasks.  It always works for me.


In December 2010 I made a submission to present a paper at the 7th World Congress on Conductive Education in Hong Kong.  My submission titled “Conductive Education Is Not Only For The Young” was accepted and with the support of Lisa and Alexander I travelled to Hong Kong and presented my paper.  I was very proud to present my paper and I enjoyed listening to other presenters speaking about the many aspects of Conductive Education.


Unfortunately I do not have access to Conductive Education any longer. now attend a main stream gym and work out in the swimming pool weekly. In many ways both are similar to Conductive Education but they don’t teach me the tasks I need to remain independent.


I often wonder how different my life would have been if I had access to Conductive Education at a young age


Maria Dalmon.

Life Without Limits -- Conductive Education on the International Stage

I was planning to use this blog posting to simply announce an upcoming conference that I will be presenting at -- but it seemed a bit impersonal dear readers, to do so without at least saying hello to you, and telling you a bit about what has been going through my head lately.  That said -- if you are pressed for time and just want the facts, please find a link to the conference which takes place April 16-18th in Auckland below.  My presentation is on Friday April 17th at 2:30 pm and if you are in the 'hood it would be most wonderful to have support from the CE community there.

Work has been hectic and a bit stressful over the last while.  That may or may not be the subject of a future blog post.  Life outside work has been more about exploring, adventuring, and indulging than about maintaining this blog, for which I will not feign apology.  In fact, I actually offer the opposite of an apology -- I offer the encouragement to do the same.  When life is good, get out there and enjoy it.  When things are hectic and stressful, all the more reason to seek what makes you happy and to care for yourself by doing things that offer pleasure, restores balance, and provokes gratitude.

Yes, my time outside work has been about exploring, adventuring, and indulging.  But as conductors we are very lucky.  Politics and organizational crappiness aside, for most of us our work makes us happy, offers pleasure, and provokes gratitude.  On the weekends I love the outdoors -- and New Zealand's outdoor are inspirationally splendid.  During the work week my classroom is my sanctuary, my time with clients feeds my soul, and inspires me to be the best that I can be for them and for myself.  Working conductively reminds me to celebrate being exposed to the attitude and lifestyle of Conductive Education; it helps me take risks and try new things; it helps me value and appreciate being the best you can be within the context of a set of circumstances or of a moment, and it helps me celebrate even the tiniest of achievements and to remember that tiny achievements add up to more than the sum of their parts.  For example...

A small achievement was writing about the benefits of Conductive Education for people with degenerative conditions as part of my dissertation as a student at NICE, and having that shape my practice to this day.  A small achievement was opening my colleagues minds to the possibility of opening our services to people with Muscular Dystrophy and other neuromuscular conditions beyond those typically seen in CE.  A small achievement was getting a pep talk from conductor Mandy Elliott affirming that I was right to pursue this path.  A small achievement was starting to work with people with such conditions, even if at first it was just me providing individual sessions outside of our main programs and groups.  The work was too exciting to keep to myself, the clients too outrageously orthofunctional to deny my colleagues the chance to learn and to understand what we could do to support these people.  A small achievement was building a service relationship with the relevant association here in New Zealand and being invited to speak to their key workers about what Conductive Education had to offer.  A small achievement was being encouraged by the Muscular Dystrophy New Zealand service manager to submit an abstract for this conference and actually finding time to meet the submission deadline.  A small achievement was having my abstract accepted for presentation -- and yes, it is a small achievement as in terms of exercise and lifestyle for people with Muscular Dystrophy I didn't have much competition.  (I will post my abstract in the comments for those who wish to read it).

A big achievement, bigger than the sum of all of those small achievements - for what it is worth - is seeing Conductive Education represented at an academic, international conference.  I have a couple of months to prepare and I would be grateful for any support from the Conductive Community, anecdotal or other, from conductors who have worked with people with neuromuscular conditions beyond the few we typically see in CE and from people with these conditions who have benefitted from CE.  Not to be sardonic, but there is a good chance I will be presenting as an independent instead of on behalf of my current organization, so I could use all of the support from the CE community that I can muster.

A few more life lessons...

A few weeks ago, newly qualified conductor Jalyss Zapf posted a list of 10 things CE has taught her.  A brilliant list actually (I wish I had written it!), a list that made me proud to be a part of the same profession that Jalyss, still wet behind her little conductive ears, was writing about.  A list that generated support and interest from heavy hitters in the CE international community - including one of my Australian participants who quickly rose to the challenge.  Here is a link to Jalyss' post:

Jalyss ended her post by challenging others to add to that list.  So Jalyss, I've been building this list for you and I've been adding to it over the past few weeks.  I want to thank you as the exercise has reminded me that every day I learn something from CE and from my participants, and that part of the gift of conductive pedagogy is the embrace of an attitude of life long learning.  I hope Jalyss, despite any challenges CE throws your way, that your life is enriched by this crazy profession over the years as much as mine as been and more.

CE has taught me:

1) the power of the conductive community - our classrooms bring people together in a microcosm of hope, support, positivity, genuine relationship and lifelong friendship.  The rest of the world is not always as kind - but having the conductive community to fall back on is invaluable.  Conductors are a part of this wonderful community - we are so lucky. 

2) as cliche as it sounds, my attitude of gratitude has its foundations in my work

3) a sense of appreciation - no, more than appreciation, amazement of how incredibly different each person and each circumstance is, and an ability to celebrate and love people and their differences

4) the power of motivation and determination - when you understand the 'why' behind the 'what', the 'how' is just a matter of problem solving. 

5) what resilience actually is - I don't know where it comes from or how to create it, but when it is there people seem to be able to withstand unbelievable hardship and difficulties with grace and stubborn strength that lets them stand up, rise up again and again.  I hope that resilience is contagious and that when my turn comes I will rise again

6) how to have hard conversations, how to be honest and still positive, how to be present for people when times are tough, how to be there even if you aren't sure what to say or do and when really you would rather take your own awkwardness and hide

7) Jalyss said this but I'm going to say it again - it is wonderful and worthwhile to celebrate achievements large and small. Sometimes even tiny things mean a lot and make a huge difference in someone's quality of life, and tiny things add up to be huge things over time

8) it is always worth trying.  You might not know what you can achieve with somebody, or where you should even start, but it is still worth trying. There is always something to learn and something to teach. You don't have to be an expert - just be willing to try, and to be honest about that process

9) to expect the unexpected, to learn to like surprises, to be able to adjust to a moment, to be flexible with your plans.  Jalyss mentioned how to plan - she is right.  Planning is not just about planning a session - planning is also about thinking about who might lose their balance, who might have a seizure, who might be affected by a humid afternoon or a cold morning; who might ask a question that needs answering in that moment and throws your whole plan out the window - surprise!

10) as Dr Maya Angelou said "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". Which is totally true - except in CE people seem to also remember what you say and do too...

11) that the relationships we build with people are powerful - and should be nourished.  Yes, as a conductor we are professionals, but it is a profession that is very personal and the relationships build are hard to define or limit. We are a part of people's lives and they are a part of ours. There is sharing, trusting, there is love - sometimes over years and sometimes beyond the classroom setting.  There are funerals and weddings and 21st birthday parties - the stuff of community, the stuff of life. That you can love so many people over so many years, that your capacity for conductive love is boundless

12) that you can't fix everyone or everything; that sometimes your best is not good enough, that sometimes someone won't want what you are offering, that sometimes it is just not meant to be

13) that in a conductive group there is an exchange of energy between you and the other conductors and assistants and all participants.  Sometimes that energy will build in the group and lift everyone and you will end the day feeling fantastic.  Other days you pour every bit of energy into keeping the rest of the group afloat and you will need to find a way to replenish your supply. Your energy is one of your most valuable conductive tools - but you can't guard it so you need to be able to refuel as needed

14) it's not all about me - in this profession and in life there is more to consider than what I want or how I feel. That the team is valuable - not just the staff team but that your conductive group is a team- and that team work makes it better.  We don't do to or do for, we do with.

15) it is okay to make mistakes and to let other people make mistakes; that is is okay to say sorry; 

16) that there is a balance between teaching people to take risks and teaching people to evaluate risk and make good decisions

17) patience - at least to be patient when I see value in what I am doing.  I'm still working on being patient in general

18) that you will have ups and downs in your career, you may get tired or burn out.  But if you are passionate about CE - if it is your calling - it gets under your skin, and into your blood, and into every cell of your being so that it becomes more than what you do, but who you are and how you do everything that you do.

So there you go Jalyss, and like you I extend the challenge to the conductive community - what has CE taught you?

Feuerstein in Aotearoa

Last Saturday night I attended a lecture at the University of Auckland introducing Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment to the New Zealand market.  Andrew Sutton has encouraged me to share my thoughts about this here.  Considering it was ridiculously cold outside and that the presentation was held from 7 to 10 p.m. on a Saturday night (after shabbos of course), they did a very good job, completely packing the university Auditorium – I'd estimate 600 were there.  They had enough demand to schedule a second meeting for Monday night.  Saturday night's presentation was free, Monday night was at the museum and was being charged at $15 a ticket.

Local speakers 

The Feuerstein Institute positioned themselves really well – they opened with a TED talk about stem cells and neuroplasticity in adults by Dr Richard Faull from the Auckland University Centre for Brain research. Dr. Faull was also in the audience and gave the closing remark.  

The second speaker was Professor Ian Kirk, the co-director of the Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience within the Centre for Brain Research, and leader of the Human Neuroscience team in the School of Psychology. He spoke about being able to prove that learning actually changes the brain.

The third to speak was Anne Gaze.  She talked about the volume of children with learning difficulties in New Zealand and the cost (emotional and psychosocial as well as monetary) of their carrying their disabilities and labels forward into adult life.

The visitors

Next up was Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein (Reuben's son and by chance the parent of a child with Down's syndrome – which is how he got pulled into his father's work).  He was interesting and dynamic – not quite his Dad's presence but powerful and believable – nothing new to those of us already familiar with Feuerstein.. He introduced Instrumental Enrichment, dynamic assessment, cognitive modifiability, discussed some of their work (e.g. the project with Ethiopian immigrants to Israel), and showed a case study. 

Rabbi Feuerstein took us through one of the assessments (dots and lines out of context, needing to be joined to make specific pictures), then worked through the types of likely mistakes to show how they used these tests to find out specifically how someone thought and learned – and what they needed to teach too.  There were lots of shameful giggling as individual thinking styles were elaborated.  I was one of the ones who tried turning the paper upside down and sideways - showing a lack of understanding of general rules.

There was a question period –  the usual stuff –  who do they help, how long is the intervention, what does it cost, can people be trained in New Zealand?.  Rabbi Feuerstein answered and was supported by Chaim Guggenheim, the Feuerstein Institute's Vice-President in charge of international and business development.  A woman in the audience  provided anecdotal reflection, saying that her school had Feuerstein instructors on the team and spoke about the difference that it made with the students, some of whom had 'overcome learning disabilities' to go on to university education as a result.

'Feuerstein' in New Zealand 

The Feuerstein Institute will be running a course in New Zealand.  Their model is to teach Instrumental Enrichment to teachers and therapists – they do not plan to run a Feuerstein satellite or actually work with children here.  There are a few teachers here already qualified and the plan is for Israel to support them and the newly trained in July through professional development. Instrumental Enrichment trainers from Israel will coming back and forth as well for yearly research updates and, it seems, recertification to ensure quality of program delivery.  The of course played their non-profit card very well.

Regardless of what anybody thinks about research, academics and funders are always impressed by it, and the Feuerstein Institute is able to brag papers totalling well over one hundred thousand research papers.  Their website links to many of them -- you can find out more about the Feuerstein Institute, their method (Instrumental Enrichment), their theoretical basis (Structural Cognitive Modifiability), and their plentiful research.

As impressive as the presentation was, I couldn't help but feel saddened sitting in the audience.  Not saddened because of what the Feuerstein Institute has achieved, but because of what we in Conductive Education have not.  The support from the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, a platform of over one hundred thousand research papers, and a sturdy foundation of academic work underpinning what they are doing.  I include myself here, and am guilty as charged, but we certainly need to lift our game if we are going to see Conductive Education move forward.

My personal contact

I approached Rabbi Feuerstein at the end of the presentation, offered my condolences about his father's recent passing, and told him that I had the opportunity to meet his father in Tel Aviv at the Tsad Kadima conference (he knew Tsad Kadima and asked about the work with cerebral palsy). I told him that I was a conductor (and he knew what that was) and he had heard of Andrew Sutton.  It was a really pleasant exhcange.

He asked why I haven't yet qualified in Instrumental Enrichment. I told him that I'm interested and will keep my eyes posted for the New Zealand. I have also emailed Chaim Guggenheim to express interest in upcoming courses in NZ, who has since responded and promised to keep me in the loop.  I will look forward to see what come of Feuerstein's forray into New Zealand

Eight million things I love about Em

One of the most wonderful ways to mark time in this profession and on this planet surely must be the pleasure of seeing kids that you conduct evolve and grow into wonderful young people.  Last week I had the pleasure of indulging in this experience for an entire week, when ES decided to hop on a plane from Sydney to Auckland for a visit and a good old fashioned CE kick in the butt.

You can know she is working on her second university degree, you can see her driving around the neighbourhood in her own car, you can go to her 21st birthday.  But suddenly there she is, in another time and another place, confidently introducing herself to a class full of adults, talking about her disability like it is the weather or the cricket, self motivated and focused during the program like all of the other, well, adults.  Suddenly there she is sorting herself out, getting up and dressed on her own and going to bed later than me, ordering cocktails or coffees or whatever she wants, checking to make sure I'm okay after a hectic day, and holding her own in conversations about educational psychology and disability reform and politics. There she is at the airport patiently explaining to the desk staff that she is a person requiring assistance and that no she did not require me to accompany her to the departure lounge (!).

It is hard to describe the way I feel about ES.  There is respect and awe; respect for the journey (which I hope one day she will write about) that she has taken to get to this stage in her life and awe that despite it all she has turned out so wonderfully.  There is pride and gratitude; pride as in I'm so proud to know this person and to introduce her as a friend, pride around seeing what she has become and what she has yet to become and gratitude for what I have learned and experienced by getting to be a part of her journey for the last decade.  There is fierce big sister style protectiveness that has pretty much been outgrown and has been replace by friendship. There is the dance that has to be done whenever a relationship grows and changes which can be disconcerting until you remember that this is what people who see each other through life's transitions have to do to move into the next chapters together.

I see her fall on the beach at Takapuna - the first time she has fallen with me in all of our years of walking together - and see her stand up and brush the sand off of her jeans and laugh about getting wet.  Years ago falling would have devastated her but now this young woman has learned how to fall without falling to pieces and knows how to bounce instead of break.  I find myself wanting to write about her transition, realising that it is not my story to write, and hoping that one day she will tell the world how a fragile and emotionally wrought teenager psychologically trapped by her cerebral palsy finds her way into resiliency and rationality and confidence in adulthood.  I listen to how she talks about how she thinks and feels, about the ups and downs of life in the last few months, and can't help but be amazed at how she now rolls with the punches instead of letting them knock her out, how she gives as good as she gets, and how she now understands her own self worth and is willing to fight for it.

She leaves, and the house is quiet, and I settle back into my routines wishing that I'd had a bit more time to talk to her and that work and life weren't so hectic.  She leaves but isn't gone, like those wonderful people that dance in and out of your life over years and decades, and I realize that we have both watched each other grow up - and that kind of scares me, and I start to think about all of those other wonderful 'kids' making their way in the world of adults as wonderful young people.  I am reminded again how lucky I am to be in a profession that allows me to be on or at least bear witness to these journeys, how lucky I am to be in a profession that allows me to get to know and love so many wonderful people, how lucky I am to be a conductor.

ES, 'I hope you don't mind, that I wrote down in words, how wonderful life is, with you in the world!'

Conducting myself as a manager..

There are some conductors that have found a way to carve out happy niches for themselves and to happily work within the contexts of their organisations or own businesses - but happily employed or self employed conductors seem to be a minority.  Most often, when you talk to conductors working all around the world, there is an undercurrent of frustration; frustration about not having choice in or control over the programs they conduct and frustration about restrictions and rules and policies for their organisation or governing and funding bodies that get in the way of what they see as best conductive practice.  For years I have been advocating for conductors to step up and take lead roles in organisations providing Conductive Education, and for organisations to look to conductors to build, shape, and manage programs.

I can certainly confess that I was a frustrated grumbler in previous places that I worked - and though I am not sorry that I fought for what I thought was right for my participants and for CE, I am sorry that I was not mature enough, or clever enough to to find ways to thrive within organisations that were trying to support me and CE. When I look proudly back at what has been achieved by my baby, the program at Dimes Canada, I realise how impatient I was, wanting everything to be perfect and perfectly my way right away, and that I was not able to see how hard the organisation was working to bring about change or to appreciate how much behind me - and CE - they were and still are.   I now realise that I got too frustrated with the teething pains of a new program and too caught up in what I saw as the good fight to engage well with management or to step up and take the reigns even with ample opportunity.

Now, years later in another time and another place, after years of successful private practice, I find myself sitting in a very different position as a managing conductor in an organisation brimming with potential but working through transition. A exciting position within an organisation that has chosen to give a conductor the opportunity to build and shape programs; a tenuous position working with frustrated conductors dissatisfied with previous management; an unfamiliar position within an organisation and a program that I haven't personally built from scratch.      

I am emotionally unattached to the history and politics of the organisation but respectful and empathetic to the frustrations of the conductors I am working with and their relationship with what has been, and their resulting demotivation. I do not feel threatened or needing to fight with senior management or board members; I accept they do not necessarily think like conductors but appreciate that they are supportive of seeing our program continue to succeed and grow, and accept that part of my job is to liaise between them and the conductive team. It is an oddly mellow headspace to be honest, an odd combination of bustling passion and excitement and calm clear-headedness that I haven't experienced in any other CE job that I've had.

I have had the opportunity to reflect on how I conduct myself as a managing conductor.  As I've said time and time again, and as Andrew told me years ago, being a conductor is not about 'what you do' but about 'how you do everything that you do'.  In this job there are times when I'm working as a conductor, and times when I am working as a manager, but I know that when I am wearing my manager hat I still think and feel like a conductor.

I have a general manager that I love working with who I have been blessed to have as a mentor - DB is a compassionate and dedicated manager with vast experience in management, governance, and leadership in non profit, disability, and education organisations.   He has given me structure and space to grow and learn, and challenges me to find a way to take this role on my way, conductively, and is patient as I try to find my equilibrium as a conductive manager.  I dare say that he is in fact a 'conductive' manager.

I have stopped trying to see conducting and managing as different - in the classroom I conduct my participants, and I the office I conduct myself and my team -- and I assure you conducting conductors is by far the harder of the two.

As in the classroom, I find myself digging my heels in about believing in my team, about expecting the best from my team even when they are under-performing, about believing it is always worth trying to find a way forward even when my team do not see it.  I still strongly feel responsible for being part of the solution, and believe that it is possible to find a solution even if I'm not the one to find it.  When things haven't gone well I wonder what I haven't done well, what as a manager I should have done better; when things are going well I feel really proud of my team and enjoy their success and the levity it creates in our office.

Even after challenging days or minutes with my team I find myself falling back on an attitude of rugged positivity and tenacious determinism - the very same attitude I have always had with my participants.  Even after a challenging day I still come back in the next day ready to try again, and hoping that this might be the day when we find the break through that moves us forward.

I want to be able to find ways to motivate and inspire my team, to give them opportunities to grow and thrive, to figure out how to bring out the best in them, and to learn how to respect them for where they are at.  I feel badly when I am not able to create that conductive environment for them, or when they choose not to run with opportunities I think that I have opened.  I try to understand my disappointment in myself as a manager who isn't always able to provide an ideal environment or to lift my team in the context of my expectation that as conductors they should be able to create this environment for each other, for our program assistants, and for themselves.  I try to balance this by being transparent in my efforts to bring a conductive approach to my management style, hoping that they too will be conductive with themselves and each other outside of the classroom, and wondering if that is an unreasonable thing to hope for.

It has taken me a while to have the confidence to start to voice this.  I know that there are going to be days and moments that are better than others and I'm a lot more okay about that than I was a few months ago when I started this job, with bright eyes, bushy tail, and rose tinted glasses.  Reflecting conductively helps me remember that as long as I am doing my best in any moment, it is the best that I can do, and thus helps me reflect more kindly on my own successes and challenges. I am so proud to be a part of a profession that has taught me to do everything that I do conductively, and so excited to bring my conductive approach and mindset with me as I step up and into my new role here.

Dodging raindrops and finding my feet...

I know I've gone quiet lately.  The past several months have been tumultuous -- I've effectively shut down a business and a chapter of my life, moved country and started a new challenging job, and I guess it is hard to find your voice when you are busy trying to find your feet.  And no, this is not the first time I've jumped from one life chapter to the next, but for many reasons it has been the hardest.  I realise now that part of why this transition has been so challenging is that I underestimated how tenacious the personal and conductive roots that connect me to Sydney have become.

It was heart wrenching closing down Transformations.  It is always hard to say goodbye, and even though I know that friends and clients who over the last decade have become mentors and friends will stay in touch as many from other chapter have done, the nature and consistency of relationships must change.  We always talk about how two way conductive relationships are, and it was very hard to step away from people who have supported me and everything I've done personally and professionally over the last decade.

To add insult to injury, I spent the better part of the last three months in Sydney desperately looking for appropriate people in the rehabilitation and fitness industry to hand my regular clients over to.  I brought carefully considered hand selected trusted colleagues and professionals I respected to meet my clients, hoping they would carry on my work, and many of them balked.  I found myself having those conversations, the ones where people tell you that they could never do what I do, with trusted friends and colleagues and I felt like they were rejecting a part of me when they said they didn't think they could take on one of my clients for an hour a week.  I was reminded of a challenging discussion that Andrew Sutton, back in my student days in Birmingham, lead us as first year students through about understanding that in a profession like the one we had chosen, we were choosing to have disability in our lives, but that we had to have compassion and awareness that it was not something our clients and their families actively chose.  I guess I forgot that the world that is so normal to me, filled with people I value and hold so dear, is such a strange and scary world to so many other people, and I took it really personally that even as a favour to me, let alone the gift of regular client into someone's business, respected professionals would not choose to be involved in my world.

In Conductive Education we have always heard about families who have travelled halfway around the world and disrupted their lives and families so that they would access Conductive Education for their child.  We also need to talk about the wildness of being a part of a profession where the only opportunities for employment in your field often necessitates disrupting your life and family and moving to another corner of the world.  I love, and am grateful for the opportunities and adventures that  a career in Conductive Education has afforded me - but this time I didn't just follow my whim and do what suited me in the moment.  I uprooted a wonderful husband, a person whose happiness and well-being I feel inherently responsible for, a person willing to leave a life that he loved to support me on a journey that I wanted to take, and have watched him struggle to settle in and find his feet and his happiness.  I romanticised the adventure we were going to have together, and actually assumed it would be easier to jump chapters with him instead of on my own and didn't prepare either of us for the roller-coaster ride and bumps along the way.

I also romanticised the job I was coming into, an established adult CE centre, working with two conductors I liked and respected, in a place that I have always wanted the opportunity to explore.  I didn't allow myself to think about things like the subtle but very relevant distinctions between Kiwi and Aussie culture, let alone the culture shock of jumping into established groups that have been running very well without me for years thank you very much, or about having clients who have had years of conductive experience that hasn't included me.  Some of the adults here have been around CE longer than I have - in my professional experience, every group I've run, every client I've had since my student days and other than during my hiatus in Norway, has been a person I've introduced to CE and a group that I have set up and run (with mentorship and guidance) my way.  I have had to learn, adjust, adapt - as have my new clients and colleagues and it has not been an easy ride.

I've also come into an organisation going through change - in fact I am part of that change and the associated discomfort, and worse yet I'm causing some of that discomfort.  I now understand that part of my roll is actually going to be conducting this organisation through change and I am going to have to work hard to learn how to do that.  In other jobs and in other organisations where there has been change, I've had to learn to roll with the punches and have had to learn to fight back where necessary.  I've learned that if change is a wave crashing over you it is hard, so you have to either learn to ride the wave or to choose to get out of the water, but now I'm part of the wave instead of the surfer and to be honest it is really hard to learn how to be a more gentle wave -- it has never been my style and it will have to be my style if I'm going to be any good at my job here.  And that, in itself, is overwhelming, and I hope I am mature and ready enough to change myself.

So three months in to this new chapter I'm still settling in.  But I notice myself composing blog posts in my head, on the train as I head home from work, on my notepad and emailed to myself as reminders of things I want to think about and write about.  I'm trying to keep my head up, to be excited instead of overwhelmed, to count gratitudes instead of raindrops, and to find my feet -- and hopefully my voice too.

Reflections on life and death and love and happiness

Every once in a while you meet someone and for whatever random reason you seem to already know each other - your souls seem to recognize each other - and you are able to connect and form an instant, deep friendship that exists in a realm beyond the superficiality of most casual acquaintances.   I felt this when I met MC a few months ago during my ocean swim training- I think that he probably has that effect on many people. He went out of his way to take care of everyone when we were swimming in the ocean and we all knew that he was caring for his beloved partner in her final months of a long and awful battle with colon cancer.   Though I've only known MC for a few months, I had an overwhelming urge to be at his beloved's funeral earlier this week.

Many in my swim squad had the same instinct - and we were all so glad we could be there for MC.  We had no way of knowing how his beloved's ex-husband and his family would dominate the funeral, no way of knowing that our urge to be there to support MC would add so much balance for him, it was just an instinct that being there for him was important.

Funerals by nature inspire deep reflection and I found myself thinking about Frank Bailly.  My grandmother was very proud to say that she had only ever said 'I love you' to two men - my grandfather, and Frank Bailly.   My grandparents had a fantastic, happy marriage.  My grandmother was absolutely beautiful, incredibly intelligent and articulate, and fascinated by people and the stories they would tell you if you dared to ask; she was an editor of a magazine and was well known.   My grandfather was the most wonderful of men, with this child like love of life that was beyond contagious, and to this day I feel his spirit in the fun moments of life.  My grandfather hailed from a family of legendary longevity, so everyone was shocked when he died young and suddenly of pancreatic cancer. No one was more shocked than my beautiful grandmother who spiraled into an angry and very dark depression...until Frank entered - or shall I say re-entered the scene. 

Frank and my grandmother had wanted to date in highschool but were not allowed to court due to a difference in religious backgrounds, and he went on to have an wonderful happy marriage and was a well known big band tenor saxophonist.  His wife died around the same time my grandfather did, and as widows my grandmother and Frank enjoyed a few years of a loving courtship.  They hit the town, dinners and concerts and theatre and music halls.  When my grandmother started to get sick Frank stayed by her, and even at the end he lit up the nursing home with regular visits and kept her company during her more lucid moments.

I was thinking about Frank at the funeral earlier this week, hoping that at my grandmother's funeral he had people around him supporting him, and that my family was suitably grateful, respectful, and honouring of the love and happiness he had given my grandmother in her last years of life.

My friend MC was trying to reach an enormous fundraising target of $10 000 through sponsored long distance runs and open water swims before his beloved passed, as a living tribute to her and a way to honour her.  He and his beloved were not cynical about cancer research -- they believed that she had an extra four years of life because of medical treatments and that these four years gave her precious time with her daughters and a chance to meet her granddaughter who was born on her birthday a few months ago.  

This drive, this determination he showed under circumstances where he might have wallowed in helplessness reminded me of DB, a client and good friend of mine with cerebral palsy.  I was remembering DB from a few years ago when he was trying to cope with his mom's pending death, also of cancer.  

I had know DB for several years at this point, and in all of the years I worked with him previously he had been happy to do things to help him maintain his ability to get into and out of his wheelchair but was happy not to be pursuing any sort of free standing or balancing due to hip and back pain.  Suddenly one day, standing up from his wheelchair unassisted and being able to stand and balance independently became a very important priority to DB and we started working feverishly and determinedly towards this, eventually achieving it.  I asked him why after all of these years this was suddenly so important to him, what had changed?  

His answer was mind blowing and humbling.  DB remembered how happy it made his mom when he learned to stand after years of hard work with an incredibly uncooperative body.  He knew she was dying, and was respectful of her choice to have no further treatment after a long and difficult battle.  He felt that if he could stand at church he could make her happy.  It was his way to offer a living tribute, to honour her, to do something positive for her in her final days.  

I have told this story previously in public presentation under the context of understanding the  motivation behind a goal, the why behind the what, looking at the bigger life needs and individual reasons that something might be important to somebody.  And I recognized DB's why in the fundraising my friend MC was doing -- the need to do something positive, to honour, to pay tribute when helplessness was not a satisfactory response.

I was thinking about DB and about MC was inspired and moved by their ability to turn sad situations into something positive, to lift people when they needed it most, and to serve the people they love instead of being trapped in their own grief and helplessness.  I hope that if there is ever a need for me to be that person, I can find the strength to get past my own issues and find focus on doing something that will honour and lift, or bring happiness to someone who needs it.

MC is still fundraising for Cure Cancer Australia - to donate and help him continue to honour his beloved, please follow this link:

MC - this your beloved's favourite song was so beautifully performed at your beloved's funeral; I hope you don't mind me sharing it here.  My thoughts are with you friend.

When conducting is Trying...

I have been working with Miss M for almost two years now; she is a young adult who had a terrible fall while overseas a few years ago, and she has been left with a rather nasty brain injury.  Miss M is one of the most personally and professionally challenging people I have had the privilege to conduct, and even in a month where we have had some ridiculously incredible functional breakthroughs I find myself unsure of where I am with her and having internal conflict after virtually every session.

Miss M has an incredible full-time carer, L, who Miss M and I are extremely lucky with.  L is fantastic with Miss M - she has a very close and loving relationship with her that I am able to work through, yet is able to be objective, firm, and work with 'tough love' where Miss M's parents can't.  L problem-solves with me and and reinforces the work done in CE sessions -- and when things don't go well, we help pull each other through the muck.

There is no getting around it; acquired brain injury is complicated -- especially when physical disability is accompanied by impairment to behaviour, personality, memory and other cognitive functions.  When I first started working with Miss M, I saw so much potential for regaining functional mobility but was not sure if I was going to be able to work around her behavioural and cognitive impairment.  I was not sure to what extent the behaviour was a result of the brain injury or was something that she had learned to use manipulate and control her circumstances and the people around her since the brain injury.  The behaviour drastically impacted the presentation of the disability, so much that the physical impairment and the physical disability were incredibly mismatched.  She yodelled and shouted jibberish as her main source of communication; otherwise she just parroted what was said.  She cried and shrieked with 'pain' when anyone even mentioned touching or moving her hands, feet, or legs, so no therapy or splinting happened, and as a result her hands and feet are amazingly contracted and deformed.  She had a very violent and aggressive streak that had required no provocation.  She was not interested in actively participating in CE or therapy; not motivated, and refused to take part.

And yet she knew every word to every song, including recent pop music from after her brain injury, and we could sing together.  Once I got over my own hang ups about what is appropriate when working with adults I found that through children's song and play I could interact with her and sometimes get her to do things with me; I frantically went through my notes from my student years in nursery and school groups looking for appropriate songs, added in 'camp songs' and pop songs and other movement games and suddenly there was a relationship.  And with that relationship came my expectations around behaviour - not just with Miss M, but with her amazing family and wonderful carer as well - and with expectations and goals around behaviour came change - both good and bad -- think of a full strength adult hitting the 'terrible twos'.

We are working teach Miss M that being violent and aggressive is not acceptable -- she is strong, has good motor control, and is unpredictable and dangerous.  At first this behaviour seemed random - no provocation required.  A previous therapist had in fact capitalized on it early on -- rough play and play fighting was the only activity she would take part in and that was how he helped her find her body and movement after the accident.  Now, by holding her down, restricting her movement, repeatedly telling her that she was hurting me (and yes I have had my share of bruises and scratches and bites and hair pulling and pinching courtesy of Miss M) I've started to see that she can stop being agressive if there is consistency around this.  But more, I saw that she could learn - when I intercepted her aggression she would burst into apology and tears.  I also confirmed that she could be manipulative - while she was apologetic and teary I would drop my guard and she would attack again.  I also started to see that the violent behaviour was not random - frustration, confusion, pain, being frightened, being over something, needing some physical space were all triggers.  Miss M has a very short fuse; and when she loses control she can't yet reel it in.

Now we are working to teach her that saying sorry and crying isn't enough, she has to choose not to repeat the behaviour -- and we are making progress.  However, in some ways these improvements have made the behaviour harder to manage.  We have seen intention and purpose in her rage -- this is incredibly hard to work with because we know that it is not just random brain injury lability, but directed violent anger -- very different.  There are good days, days when we work well and have no fighting.  I know that once Miss M loses her temper she is out of control, but because I feel that Miss M understands what she is doing and that she knows she is not behaving nicely, I feel my own anger rise when dealing with hers.  It is very hard to physically restrain somebody who is attacking you when you are also managing your own anger and trying to be professional and appropriate.  If she is on the floor or in her wheelchair I can move away; if we are in the pool or balanced on the edge of a plinth, my duty of care doesn't allow me to step away and I have to restrain her to protect myself while keeping her safe and managing my own temper.  And I'll be honest -- I sit in the car and cry after these days.

When I say we have seen ridiculously incredible functional breakthroughs I am not exaggerating; in the last few months we have seen exponential improvements in spontaneous communication and vocabulary; we see memory and refection where previously there was none; we see the beginning of an ability to understand that there was an accident, that there has been a brain injury, that we are trying to help her get better.  Miss M has gone from from swimming only with floaties and someone right beside her to independent swimming on her front and back.  She has learned to roll onto her stomach (or more precisely to tolerate being there) and from rolling onto her stomach in a matter of a week has learned to get up onto her knees and to crawl, and from there to pull herself up into high kneeling and onto a plinth or the lounge.  The other day she was in high kneeling and tried to put her foot on the floor as if to stand (if only her feet and ankles weren't so terribly contracted!!!).  Her body is remembering what she used to be able to do and latent abilities are presenting gob-smackingly rapidly and spontaneously -- it is like watching normal deelopment in fast foward.  And when these things happen we celebrate  - Miss M's parents, L, and I all shocked and amazed, ecstatic to the point of tears, and Miss M caught up in the excitement of the moment.

And then I show up the next day, expecting to reinforce and repeat what we have achieved and Miss M will be in a mood, refusing to participate, crying, being aggressive.  When this was what I arrived expecting it was hard, but I was prepared, and it was what was expected.  But now I don't know what to expect, and I excitedly arrive, still on yesterday's high; we review videos so Miss M remembers and we get excited watching them. Then we try to do something and I get behaviour and refusal to try.  And I am heartbroken and disappointed even though I know that this is the nature of this brain injury and that this is a part of the process for Miss M.  And even though I know that any confusion, disappointment, frustration I feel is minute in comparison to the complex emotions that Miss M feels and has no real way of expressing.  My disappointment and frustration sometimes clouds my thinking, it feels personal -- we have a relationship that has allowed her to develop and exceed everyone's expectations; I'm putting everything I have into these sessions, and she can't be bothered to try.  And only hours later while debriefing with L, am I able to appreciate and understand and deconstruct what is happening, and to remember how far we have come, and to find energy to keep trying.

You've got to try...

Or perhaps this is more inspiring...  Try, just a little bit harder

Sink or Swim... How does one conduct one's self in the ocean?

I have been meaning to resume blogging for a while, but needless to say these intentions were thwarted by an all-consuming personal challenge I undertook over the past few months. I have been training for an open ocean swim in support of Cure Cancer Australia. What I thought was going to be a fitness and fundraising challenge ended up also being a battle with myself and with my deep-seated anxiety over a fear of the ocean that I didn't know I was housing.

I have learned some important lessons about myself and about the way that I conduct and teach - along the way, and will use my foray back into the CE blogosphere to reflect on these lessons.

I started struggling early on.  Despite being a strong swimmer I started having panic attacks in the ocean, and on occasion having to be rescued and brought back to the beach on a surfboard.  And then I started to panic on the way to ocean swimming training, or when just being near the beach and thinking about swimming in the ocean.  Anyone who has struggled with panic and anxiety can tell you that the anxiety about the anxiety is the worst part of anxiety because that is what stops you from doing things, and makes the anxiety spiral beyond a particular situation or circumstance. 

I started to feel disappointed in myself and beating myself up over this anxiety which was quickly consuming me and spilling over into everything else; I started feeling like it was too much, like I was in over my head (literally and figuratively), and I started thinking of pulling out.  I was disappointed in myself, as worried about failing as I was about drowning, plus worried that I was letting my team and my family and friends who were supporting me down.

I shared my anxiety with CW and MD wise women who I am lucky enough to conduct and to have as friends.  Both encouraged me by telling me to conduct myself.  And in my anxious state I thought that if I failed I was going to be letting them, and all of my other participants, and all of Conductive Education down too -- if I couldnt conduct myself, how could I imagine I could conduct others?  Very unhelpful headspace; not at all in the positive and be kind to yourself approach I would like to think I encourage my participants to use when they are trying to work through something difficult.

However, within the brilliant advice conduct yourself was the answer it enabled me to change my thinking and headspace.  I had to step back and remind myself what was important in CE as I tried to figure out how to conduct myself.  Conductive Education is not a judgement on success or failure but about trying, and then trying again, and then trying something different, and continuously seeing new solutions when one doesnt work. It is about rewarding effort so that our fragile egos are not defeated by failure.  It is about not giving up because something is not working or going to plan, being willing to have another go. 

I had to remind myself to value and celebrate small achievements and steps along the way to the bigger goal.  I had to remind myself to focus on what was going well and on building on that instead of dwelling on what was not working.  I had coaches and mentors believing, I could do it even when I didn't believe I could - how powerful to accept their vision instead of letting my own disbelief hold me back!  I didnt always believe I was going to be able to do it but knowing that someone else believed in me made me think that it was going to be possible. 

I was training with a group but so caught up in my own anxiety that I thought I was the only one struggling I had to look beyond myself and connect to the journey and struggles of the others I was training with, to learn from them, to let them teach, inspire, and help me, and to accept their encouragement; to let them lift me.  I also had to remember that I was doing this for them someone actually told me that the reason they came back after they had a rough ocean training session was that they saw me keep coming back and trying, knowing how frightened I was.  Who would think that watching me struggle with my anxiety could inspire someone else? I stayed with it because of the support of this group and our shared goal, because people kept supporting me when I was struggling - even more so in fact.  The shared goal was bigger than the physical challenge we were all there with personal reasons for wanting to fundraise for cancer research and this made for a powerfully connected group, a group of individuals prepared to put their own personal glory aside for the benefit of a teammate and friend.  I nearly missed out on being a part of this group because I couldnt see beyond myself, and I think back to some of the amazing groups I have conducted over the years and remember times when my participants have surpassed expectations because they were lifted and inspired by the group they were working with.

I stayed with it because of the amazing support and encouragement from people around me beyond my training squad - family, friends, clients, and especially my husband Alexander and his constant, quiet, non judgemental support and ability to stand by me on this self imposed personal hell.  During the worst of the anxiety I was feeling more anxious with every new donation or encouraging message because I was worried Id be letting everyone down.  I had to step back to realize that people were supporting me unconditionally, supporting that I was even trying, and applauding how hard I was trying.  I had to stop feeling like I was failing so I could remember to be grateful for the people around me supporting me.   And remember to be grateful that I was able to take part in something like this, and be grateful for the health and wellness of the people around me, and be grateful that I live in such a beautiful place and that I had the opportunity to be doing something like this somewhere so wonderful for a cause I am passionate about.

There were other conductive lessons the personal experience of using breath, rhythm, and movement; counting while moving counting strokes, counting breaths, guessing how many strokes to the next buoy, singing to myself while swimming I pulled out many of my favourite tricks of the trade during training. 

I had a real dose of lessons in setting the wrong goal; lessons in having to change the goal along the way; lessons in breaking a large goal into bite sized bits, lessons on working on different segments of the goal, sometimes out of sequence, and letting go of the big goal in order to be able to do what I needed to do to work towards it seeing the trees not just the forest.  I also had a real dose of what happens when you train the wrong thing --  I was trying to physically out-train anxiety instead of trying to learn how to manage the anxiety.  When I shifted the focus of my training and focussed on the right thing I was able to move forward. 

There were also experiences that really made me relate to what I see with my participants during CE sessions.  For example, sometimes the more you think about something the harder it gets; sometimes fear of failing actually can interfere with trying.  When I was stressed or anxious I had trouble taking in instructions and remembering things and the more information I was being given when I was feeling like that the more frazzled and overloaded I became and I thought about times when I have overloaded my participants.

I had to learn how to admit I was struggling; I had to ask for help; I had to accept help that was being offered and trust in the people who were helping me.  I had to find a way to be the best that I could be in even the hardest and most frightening moments and to know that I was doing my best and accept that effort, even if it wasnt as good as someone elses effort in other words to judge myself on my best effort in a particular moment, to be orthofunctional.  Such big battles I had with myself over things that I regularly expect of the people I conduct!

I could go on.  But if youve read this far you deserve a happy ending already and I hope that this will suffice.  I made friends.  I completed the training program and a 3km swim in an ocean rock pool.  I was part of an immediate team that fundraised nearly $40 000 and our team was a part of a much larger team that has now raised over $500 000 for Cure Cancer Australia.  On the day of the open ocean race mother nature flexed muscles bigger than mine and the swim conditions were too dangerous for many of us though many in my team did complete the event on the day I did not, but I still felt good about my achievement and effort.  I battled myself on many fronts and won or at least learned when I couldnt win.  And I learned to conduct myself in the ocean, the real one and the unpredictable and ever changing ocean of life.

NICE Conductors need not Apply

This morning Conductive World Market on Facebook let me know about an amazing job opportunity with Move & Walk, a holistic Conductive Education centre in Sweden that I have been following for years. They have programs for babies through to older adults, have found creative and holistic ways to work with the Swedish health care system and with other professionals, have done research and always present well at conferences.  Move and Walk Sweden

Though I'm not presently looking to move across the world for a job, the free spirit in me can't help but be interested... An awesome job opportunity with people I'd love to work with in a place I've never been - very tempting indeed!

In terms of my experience and skill set I am an ideal candidate for this job and have no doubt that I could be an asset to their team; as an added bonus I have have basic Norwegian language skills which would make their requirement of learning Swedish more easily attainable. However, the job posting specifically stipulates that they are looking for "a Petö graduate conductor".

I'm not precious; I'm not offended to the core of my being or anything, and in fact think it is more their loss - there are a lot of excellent and innovative 'non-Petö' conductors out there and I am extremely proud to be a NICE conductor. But this Petö conductor vs non-Petö conductor thing has been a thing since I graduated and it still makes me quite angry. It may not have been meant to be an excluding job post; perhaps I should give the person who posted the job the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant condutors trained in the Petö method vs specifically at the Petö Institute - but as I said, this has been a thing for a long time now. I think that we need to come together as a profession, and learn to judge each other by what we offer as professionals instead of what school we went to. And, I think us non-Petö conductors and our colleagues and the families we have supported over the decade and a half since conductors have been trained outside of the Petö Institute should probably stop being 'NICE' about this.

--The Five Man Electrical Band