Learning through Movement …Teaching by Listening

I was not a sit still kind of kid. Thankfully I had young, energetic parents that allowed me to literally climb walls, walk on my hands and jump off furniture. I remember the first time I saw older girls doing perfectly straight cartwheels. I tried and fell. Instinctually I knew I had to break it into smaller steps.

First I would just place my hands down. Then I would itsy -bitsy swoop my feet around. I told myself its ok if its not perfect, each one will get better, straighter, than the next. Then I will practice with my other hand first. Then I will practice with one hand. Then I will place down pillows and practice with no hands.

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I am an auto-didactic learner. This my younger sister told me last year and so I looked it up and why yes I am ( self taught, self education).

Of course being 14 years younger than me she watched my road less taken life that from the outside looks serendipitous and magical but truthfully I just learn differently and at my own pace. My education in body movement started as soon as I could walk which was at nine months my mom will tell you. My obsession and education with exercise was in full force by age 14. I told all of my teachers that I would be a fitness instructor for a career while they encouraged me to not aim so low -after all I could be a doctor or scientist.

My parents bought me a Reebok step and I did the same video over and over every day until I began to make up my own routines. I video taped Olympic Gymnastics routines studying the balance beam movements until my father bought me a plank of wood from home depot to practice on in the basement where I taught myself advanced back bends, handstands walkovers. I had my mom video tape my favorite show: Body Electric on public television so I could do the mat exercises as soon as I got home from school.

I was easily bored in school if I was not studying a subject that interested me. In college I studied dancing and writing and got certified in personal training. Learning what my body could do was not the same as teaching others how to move their bodies. Quickly I saw that to help others I had to put myself in their place and start with incremental movements.

My first month as a personal trainer at a franchise gym, I was assigned to train a young woman with cerebral palsy. She  could walk but had less movement with the left side of her body and would sort of drag her foot as she walked. She was getting married in three months and wanted to be able to walk down the aisle without drawing attention to her left side.

I listened to what she had to say about how her body felt, her emotions. I thought back to  when I would teach my younger siblings to walk.I asked questions. Lots of questions. I listened intently. I imagined I was her and mimicked movements. How can we improve posture. Pace the stepping. Where should the eyes be focused when walking. How long was the aisle? Together we came up with exercises that would help her reach her goal. Walking down the aisle with confidence!

My personal training managers encouraged me to carry a clip board and pre- write out workouts. How could I even write out a workout when I don’t know how the person is feeling? Each workout had to come from listening in the moment.

I often got my pay docked by not following directions such as selling supplements. After a few years at the franchise gym I found an amazing studio with a coterie of trainers the best Chicago had to offer. Everyone was an independent contractor and excelled in their area of study. I was quickly be-friended by a trainer with 15 years more experience than me. He was a professional dancer and had MS. At the studio was also a Doctor of Chiropractic work and physical therapy who had taught my friend how to move again. Quickly I was taken under the wing so to speak where I learned things you just  don’t learn in books.

Again I asked questions and I listened. I observed how the Doctor would work with clients. I saw people go from wheel chairs to canes to walking. I saw people leaving smiling. I saw pain. Healing. Pain. I learned that being present and listening is the best way to design workouts and through my gift of body movement I could help others listen to their own bodies.

I am grateful for each person I have been able to work with passing on what I may learn to the next.

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