Thursday, 13 August 2009

Fit for the road to life



"Roads that we have travelled", with and by Susie Mallett

It can be a hard road to follow

For example, I have several friends who have developed multiple sclerosis, some over thirty years ago, before I knew them, and some more recently. I also have had many clients who have MS.

My friends with MS work very hard to live their lives with this dreadful disease, as fully as they can, remaining as active as they can for as long as they can.

The clients who come to my groups are often still searching for their right path, the path which will suit their lives. Some hope to have found it in conductive pedagogy and it is my job to find out how we can fit it all together.

For the people I know with MS, being active, trying to keep their bodies fit, is a way they have found in which they can best live with the illness.

What suits me

You don’t have to have MS to be in search of a way to lead an active life. Many people want to remain healthy, by checking what and how they eat and by doing exercise programmes.

We all probably know how difficult that is!

During my lifetime I have played tennis, badminton and squash. I have ‘run the world’ twice, and therefore trained for it beforehand, with Bob Geldorf. I have been on Yoga and Qi-gong courses, and learnt how to do self-hypnosis/meditation (Autogenous Training). I have tried ice-skating, roller-blading, hockey, netball, table tennis and volley ball

Some I didn’t much enjoy, others I somehow haven’t been able to fit into my lifestyle for long periods of time . At the time of doing them, though, they were fun and I learnt something that has influenced who I am and what I do. I can still hit a tennis ball around the court with my friends who play regularly, without embarrassment. Those years at grammar school playing on grass have not been for nothing. I still swim and keep up with Dad and his mates, however irregularly I go to the pool.

But I don’t “do sport“.

It doesn’t fit in to my life. I tend to go along with the German saying that “Sport ist Mort!” (sport means death!). This is directed towards those people who do a bit, then no more for months. Then they wonder why they get injured when taking it up intensely again.

It is really important for me that I keep fit. I couldn’t do the work I do if I were not fit. It has always been my philosophy that I should never ask a client to do something that I cannot do myself. This does not just mean just all the movements, it means the whole three to six hours.

It is also important for me to be outside a lot. Since I have longer have a garden this could be difficult.

But it isn’t.

Ever since I was a child I have done one of my soul-feeding “exercises”. As soon as I wake, I go out of the back door. Whatever the weather or time of year, I breath in the fresh air. At seven years of age I took the dog for a swing, more recently I have taken my first cup of tea of the day for a walk around the garden, nowadays on to the balcony. Here I greet the day and test the weather, deciding then what to wear.

Then comes the food-for-my- body “exercise” - I get on my bike.

Biking it

Just about every day since I was eleven and given my first “Green Shield Stamp” two-wheeler bike to start grammar school, I ride a bike. This first one was a gold and red Raleigh, and had “cost” sixty-five books of trading stamps.

Luckily there was no white Christmas the year I found that under the tree.

After that came the next Raleigh, a second-hand “Shopper” that saw me through to the end of school. Then came the third, my Mum’s sit-up-and-beg Raleigh that she had bought for herself in 1939. I renovated this lovely bike in 1975 and, to my Mum’s shock and horror, I painted it red!

When I graduated from art school my Mum took me shopping and bought me my first racing bike, my trusty, dusty-pink Pegasus.

This was followed ten years later by a Holdsworth, given to me, just like that, by a teacher at the school where I was working. It had been stuck sadly in a shed for years, not being ridden. The teacher thought that I might enjoy it.


This shiny green steed became the love of my life. We were inseparable. It even came with me to Hungary where it and I eventually came a cropper on the slippery cobbles between the tram lines of Buda. Thank goodness for helmets. Even so I was concussed and off work for three weeks.

At this point I bought one of the very first mountain bikes available in Budapest, an American bike with wheels much too thick to argue with tram lines. I used it in the city and in competitions in the Buda Hills. I even rode it to and round Lake Balaton.

I still have this bike but as it was getting a bit the worse for wear three years ago I replaced it with the new love of my life, another mountain bike, called "Dynamics-Lightning" produced by the company Stadler. I don’t climb hills in races any more, I gave that up with backache in Budapest, but I still have to compete with tram lines. The Holdsworth of the eighties returned to England and was swapped for a series of etchings by my artist friend Nick Ward. I recently saw the bike being ridden around Winterton-on-Sea, on the east Norfolk coast, by a friend of his who had swapped a printing press for it. I wonder whether right from the beginning money ever exchanged hands to purchase this bike!

As you see exercise really did become part of my life and my bikes became a passion. This was the only way for me to exercise, for it to become a part of my body and soul. I don’t have to think about it a lot. I don’t, as some people do, have to force myself to go for a jog or get down the gym. I cycle, everywhere.

I don’t think about it I just do it. Yes, I do admit that on some cold, wet, windy days it is hard getting out of the door and on to the bike, but that is how I get to work on as many days of the year as is possible. In the winter I sometimes give in, I don’t like cycling on snow any more, I am too old for that now as lack of experience in childhood makes me nervous when it is slippery. Last year the minus 20°C making joints painful also put me off. It was a long winter and my bike and I missed each other.

Lives fit for conductive uprbringing

Why am I writing about my passion for cycling, describing now “sport” and keeping fit is part of my and my friends’ lives.

It is because of the following question that I read on Facebook this morning.

"Why do family's that attend CE with their children have such difficulties adapting it into their daily life? To make it a part of "growing up" or into a game?"

I wanted to write something to illustrate why they find it difficult.

It is so difficult to integrate staying fit and healthy into my life, it is difficult for my MS clients to integrate it into their own lives. Think how difficult it is for parents to integrate it into the lives of a whole family on behalf someone else for just one family-member who has a physical disability.

Parents need to develop a conductive lifestyle on behalf of their child. This is made even more difficult when the child attends conductive groups without their parents, without the rest of the family. It is then more difficult still when the child attends school where no conductor works, perhaps attending physiotherapy, speech therapy, riding, gymnastics, all without a conductor and without parents either.

How can a family be expected to make Conductive Education part of growing up when the only part of the day left is going to bed? Not much time left for a “game” of Conductive Education then.

CE is far from a game

Conductive upbringing is hard work and takes a lot of organising. It takes a lot of time that has to be found somewhere in a family’s day. The time is there, but sometimes help is needed to find it.

Developing a conductive lifestyle needs enthusiasm, it needs understanding and it needs passion. It needs to involve everyone who touches a child’s life. Parents may need a lot of encouragement.

From whom?

I hope that such encouragement comes from conductors.

Conductive Education as I learned it in the Petö Institute, mainly in residential groups is not exactly how I do it now. My vision has been that I want to provide the benefits of what I experienced and what conductors did at that boarding school in Budapest, except that in Budapest they did it without involving the families.

There hasn’t ever been a boarding school for children with motor disorders quite like that anywhere else in the world, as far as I know.

I have seen my job as trying to make home like such a boarding school, to assist the parents and show the whole family how to “do a Dina”. I thought that through doing this perhaps the integrating of conductive pedagogy into the daily family life, creating a conductive life, could be made a bit less difficult.

Don’t ask why not, just do it

Instead of asking why families find it difficult, we should ask ourselves why we may find it difficult to fit “sport” into our lives. We might find some answers there, answers that include words like encouragement, understanding, enthusiasm, motivation, hope and feeding the soul.

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