Major Progress in Maui

As I’m wrapping up my time in Maui, I want to share a quick update on the incredible progress I’ve made through my work with Alejandra. This is going to be short and sweet as I’m going to let the videos do most of the talking.

We spent a good chunk of time everyday working on a specific exercise that was meant to target my glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles, areas of my lower body that I had very little connection to prior to my trip to Maui. In addition to the variety of other exercises and movements that have all been crucial to the development of these muscles, this exercise was consistent as Alejandra felt that it was necessary for my ability to establish new cerebral mappings and create mental connections to the back side of my lower body.

We started like this, with me standing on the Core Align, a machine with wooden, ladder-like beams in front of me, foot plates that slide back and forth, and with Alejandra crouching in front of me, bracing my hips and pelvis in place, and manually moving one of my legs using her hands while I held on for dear life:

About 10 days later, we had moved on to me bracing myself solo against the Core Align, maintaining pelvis control on my own, and extending my leg back on my own! I could only kick back in a short burst, and let the foot plate pull my leg back into place. This lasted for 2-3 minutes per leg before I got fatigued:

Today, only a week since the last breakthrough, I was kicking my leg back like before, only this time, I was able to control the leg against the resistance of the foot plate and slowly bring my leg forward to resting position. No loud slamming of the foot plate, no short bursts, but more leg control both extending back and coming forward. Although one leg was certainly stronger than the other, I was able to do this for 15 minutes per leg, which means a HUGE increase in endurance.

It’s been so satisfying for me to see the progress so clearly and so quickly as it’s a true testament to the value of the work I’ve been doing. I’m just sad for it to end, but already looking forward to the next time I can come back.

Making Magic in Maui (continued)

Following up on my last post, I want to provide a bit more info and specifics on the rehab I did in Maui with Alejandra.

In my last post, I mentioned the emphasis on fascia lines and I want to expand on this a bit more. From what I have encountered, the conventional approach to muscles, ligaments and tendons is to think of them separately, evaluate the function of each specific part and to target that muscle (or one or two surrounding muscles) and strengthen, stretch, or stabilize that area in order to achieve the goal of improving it. For example, your biceps muscle in your arm performs a specific function, namely, to curl your forearm up towards your shoulder. Simple enough. But what about all of those other muscles that connect to your biceps? Or the muscles that connect to the muscles that connect to the biceps? How is it that some people may feel pain in their right shoulder which stems from an aggravation in the left knee?

Alejandra – and the growing number of practitioners who are incorporating the theories of fascia lines and the interconnectivity of muscles and fascia into their practice – approaches the body differently, especially when it comes to a Spinal Cord Injury and the damaged neural connections throughout the body.

On the very first day, Alejandra immediately recognized what abilities I DID have and what muscles I already had under control. She quickly assessed that if I engaged the parts of the body that I could control, then I could also engage connected muscles, nerves, and fascia and establish new neural connections. And that’s exactly what happened.

Over the course of just two weeks (which in a very slow SCI recovery world is like lightning speed), I was able to establish new connections, primarily with my abs and core. That means that I can now achieve a strong contraction of my abdominal muscles, by virtue of engaging the muscles in my lattisimus dorsi and targeting the fascia lines that run from the base of my skull, down my neck and upper back, wrap around my abs and down into my hips, thighs, and legs. I can’t overstate just how remarkable this is!

In this approach, the belief is that there are more neural connections that run through the fascia connecting our muscles than the muscles themselves. By acknowledging the potential power of Neuroplasticity (a concept I’ve discussed before, which is essential to my recovery), I am rewiring those damaged neural connections and finding new ways to connect signals from my brain to parts of my body that I previously could not move.

I realize this is a bit technical and might be hard to conceptualize for many readers, but I urge you to keep an open mind. It’s astounding what I was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, and the progress I’ve continued to make because of the exercises I did with Alejandra. I’m including a couple more videos below.

In the following two videos, I’m lying on my side, with good spine alignment (something Alejandra emphasizes frequently) and the movements are both in a horizontal plane, that is, they’re not going with or against gravity which allows me to feel a better connection with my legs. In both instances, although the person is doing the movement for me, my leg would react, the muscles would contract and I was able to feel a great connection to my glutes, quads and legs.

In this last video, my spine is again in good alignment as the ball and the roller behind me are prompting me to sit straight, I’m using my arms to stabilize my core and the result is a fantastic connection to my legs that are doing this fast and fluid movement. This was a great exercise.

I’ve tried my best to highlight the unique nature of the work I did in Maui and show how this has helped me. It’s tough to put it all into words or images but hopefully I’ve provided a sense of why I found this therapy so beneficial.

Making magic in Maui

It’s impossible not to feel energized, inspired, motivated and yet completely relaxed and calm when I enter into Alejandra’s peaceful studio surrounded by palm trees and multi-colored flowers swaying in the gentle, flowing breeze. This is upcountry Maui after all, the quieter part of the island away from all of the resorts, hotels and most of the island’s tourists. We’re minutes from one of the best kitesurfing beaches in the world, which makes sense since the only thing disrupting the bright sunny skies and the nighttime tropical showers is the persistent wind, not fierce or annoying but warm and invigorating.

Within seconds of entering this incredible space, I fully understand why Alejandra has chosen to have her studio in this location. I encounter an unquestionable energy of healing and positivity as I’m greeted by the warm smiles of Alejandra and her colleagues. I immediately know that I’m going to be able to get some serious work done here, so I get right to it…

It’s difficult to describe exactly what Alejandra’s method is. She has created her own system of exercise/movement/training/therapy that she calls Neuro Kinetic Pilates but it’s so much more than just Pilates. The moment I started working with her, I could tell how skilled she was. Following the request she makes to all of her clients to take my shirt off, I felt slightly overexposed, especially with my belly popping out which is a result of still not having control of my abs. She reassures me, “If I’m gonna get anything done, I have to see how your body moves and I have to start poking to see if those muscles are firing! Are you ready for that?”

Alejandra got me up on the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Barrel and a few other pieces of equipment that are commonly used in Pilates. She used pulleys and bands and cables, stretched me and yanked me and got my body in positions it had never been in with the final result being me more exhausted doing her exercises than anything I had previously done. Each exercise I did consisted of multiple simultaneous prompts from her asking me to do what seemed nearly impossible. How could I possibly hold my balance in this position without falling over, while still engaging my lat muscles, keeping my collarbones open yet chest in towards my ribs, breathing with my diaphragm and trying to suck my belly in all at the same time??!!

Alejandra uses fascia lines to connect different parts of the body to each other and awaken neural connections that are damaged. And just so you know, understanding fascia lines isn’t some alternative, eastern medicine, hippy dippy approach. In fact, when I asked her if the fascia lines had anything to do with acupuncture meridians, she simply shrugged her shoulders and said that she had no idea because all of her training was in western medicine. Simply put, fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds and connects muscles, nerves, and blood vessels and runs through our entire body. One way to think of it is that instead of having over 600 separate muscles throughout the body, we have just one muscle with 600 different parts to it but all interconnected and related. (Check out this link to learn more)

So I’ll leave it there for now and throw in a couple videos of some of the exercises that I did, so you can see what this all looks like. I’ll write another post about my work with Alejandra with more videos and maybe get into the theory a bit more so stay tuned….