And then situations like this happen which make it all clear.
It doesn't go without saying that I try really hard to make sitting a full-body exercise. This will come as no surprise to my Pilates-teacher readers, but it's not necessarily an intuitive approach to using a wheelchair. Even if I cannot voluntarily flex my abs or abduct my hips, I can use the connection I have to those areas, and the strength present in those muscles, to prevent myself from collapsing. More of a reactive than proactive movement strategy, but it's super functional. I use what I can.
So, right after regaining consciousness from my hip surgery's general anesthesia at Stanford Hospital, the feeling of a completely unresponsive body brought me right back to the days right after my spinal injury. That was a time when everything below my shoulders was completely paralyzed – no feeling, no movement. It was before I regained a certain amount of each through the natural healing process, and certainly before I began re-incorporating those parts of my body into my movement again.
Except! I had sensation. Laying there on the hospital bed, recording some slurred speech (and then forgetting I had done so), I could feel down to my toes. Instead of complete paralysis this time, it was like conducting a controlled trial on my rehab gains. Subtract movement, but leave sensation.
And what felt different, besides EVERYTHING? It was totally fascinating. I was peeking ‘behind the curtain’. Once I got over the disconcertment of losing movement (like déjà vu...all over again), I was able to compare the complete lack of response to my normal function.
All the rolling on the floor, all the chaotic experimentation on land and in the water, all those slightly varied repetitions at the Pilates studio…they all contribute to this ability to use more of my body, more of the time. It’s not about “firing my glutes” or “strengthening the hammies”. It’s about the contractile and communicative tissues that swirl inside my body, all working as one, and experiencing how they miraculously organize themselves every minute of every day to simply make things happen.
P.S. I’m also trying to share this. Not to toot my own horn, but scores of paralyzed individuals have reached out over recent months asking how they can start doing what they see me do. People want a routine they can do on their own. One that works for THEIR body.
My response is often some flavor of “in the end it’s going to be up to you to figure these things out – get help, but you must own your process.” Whether or not wiggling on the floor is something you’re into, more of the body working more of the time should sound good to anyone. It’s a big component of what Stephanie and I are working on at Zebrafish, and it’s also a theme in the at-home recovery video library I’ve slowly been pulling together. Downtime after surgery has given me a chance to do some video editing, and I’ve been playing with various editing techniques and presentation strategies. And I’m getting feedback on these from people with the injury, too. They need work, including adding some video samples of myself working out, but here's a preliminary example: