Monday, May 10, 2010

Goals vs. methods

An interesting session at physical therapy today.

Before I say anything else, I have to say that the person I worked with today is astounding, wonderful, and absolutely perfect for my needs. We enjoy working with each other, and the rest of the staff all point to her as the person to work with neurological issues like MS.

All that having been said... I'm sure that today was as interesting for her as it was for me.

She was trying to help me build my abdominal "core" strength. So, she begins by telling me to "sit up straight," and then she's going to gently push my shoulders in various directions and I'm supposed to resist (and this resistance is going to build the muscle strength).

So I give her my best kyudo/Japanese meditation/Alexander Technique "sit up straight," which is very "tall," very upright, all the weight of the upper body over the dan tien, and thus the pelvis. We do the push-and-resist bit, and then she says, "You're not engaging your legs."

"Of course not," I tell her, "I don't need to. I have no weight over my legs." Well, she says that she wants my weight to be not over the pelvis but about halfway between my feet (I'm sitting in a chair, basically) and my pelvis. I adjust my posture, she's happy.

"You may feel like you're leaning forward," she says.

"I am leaning forward," I say, "... now. You told me to sit up straight. This" (I readjust) "is straight. The weight's over my center. I can put my weight where you want it, or I can sit up straight." Well... we tried something else.

Unfortunately, that didn't work, either... it wasn't that I wasn't trying to do what she wanted--quite the contrary--it's just that when she asked me to accomplish a goal, I was able to do just that. Accomplish the goal. But not in the way she expected (which, in my own defense, I must say that she never specified), so it didn't achieve the result she was looking for.

For example, she wanted me to exercise my deep abdominal muscles; she tries to do that by getting me to exhale fully. Which, after doing lots of kyudo (during which complete exhalation is called for) and all the singing I've done for most of my life, is no problem. Unfortunately, I can do that without using the muscles she wanted me to use. "Just suck your stomach in," she says. I do. "Good," she says.

"Yeah, but I can do that without exhaling," I said, with a lungful of air.

Eventually she found a position that enabled me to work only the muscles she wanted worked--and it worked really well, and I got a wonderful workout, and it's really easy to do, and I can do it by myself between P/T sessions.

The lesson: if you know exactly what you want, it never hurts to ask for that thing specifically, rather than something seemingly unrelated whose side effects are--usually--what you really want. In other words, don't expect "normal" responses from outliers. And... keep smiling, because then even if it doesn't work, at least we can laugh.

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