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Improve to Move Yourself

By Michael Carmody

For the past few years, it has been my great pleasure to teach weekly Awareness Through Movement® lessons at The League for People With Disabilities, located in Baltimore Maryland. Classes runs for an hour on Monday afternoons. Students are mostly clients of the adult day program. There has been, on rare occasions (rarely, as in an Elvis sighting), a member of the staff joining the class.

It took time to figure out how I could be most useful, what with the flux of new students of varying abilities. For nearly a year, I taught two separate classes, one lying, and the other sitting. We settled on the seated lessons, as more and more students came in wheelchairs.

The majority of students here suffer from insults to the central nervous system: brain injury, stroke, and progressively degenerative neurological disease, Huntington’s, AIDS, etc. And I have been witness to some amazing things.

I remember Wendy, who had more trouble in using a walker on the way out of class than on the way in. I pointed out that she stood much taller and moved much better before she grabbed for the walker. The next week she came in using a cane instead. A few weeks later, after a class, she left the room without the cane. She was my first student to notice how much easier her movement was and how her balance had improved, as well. It was “easier to live life,” she said. Months later, another student seriously joked: “You’re going to make me so much better, I won’t be able to come here any more.”

For about the last year I’ve been giving some students mini-Functional Integration® lessons during or after class. These gentlemen were all having difficulty with speech. They are now all more lucid and can be heard and understood with much greater clarity. Jeffrey is now able to talk to his Dad all of the time. He has been nearly silent in his wheelchair since an auto accident fifteen years ago: ˜…his arms and legs held and twisted by spasticity.” Yet he is now breathing more freely and fully. I call him “Houdini,” because he is held to his chair by no less than three straps, and they are quite constraining. He has recently regained enough control of his right arm and hand to feed himself.

Chris now uses a wheelchair for transportation after an auto accident stopped his college career nearly ten years ago. The program director, Linda, asked me to speak with him. He was nonresponsive, but she didn’t want him to just sit there all day. I let him know that he didn’t have to come to class but, if he was willing to try, he was welcome. He tried it, then stopped coming. It wasn’t for him. But the director had different ideas. I spoke with him again. And after a “…stay as you are or live the life of your dreams talk (during which I let Chris know that I’d been through much of what he was going through and that it was his choice to find out if there was or wasn’t a possibility of improved functioning) plus a mini-FI, Chris returned. He now has no hesitation in coming to class and is clearly more interactive, understandable, and coherent. He is progressively regaining use of his left hand and arm. He laughed about being a big guy and how the Feldenkrais Method® lessons have more freely allowed him to eat.

Robert, who has been in a wheelchair since waking from a coma, probably put it best, “The way you talk in class makes things clearer, I realize there’s something I can do.”

Students come and students go. Some have been there since the beginning. Many have let me know that our class is the best part of their week. It certainly starts mine off just right. As classes continue, week after week, some sort of improvement shows itself in all of us.

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