Dance and Wellbeing with Parkinson’s and Mobility Challenges

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I had a great time helping out at the Move into Wellbeing class with Ballet4Life in West London this weekend. The class is aimed at people living with Parkinson’s, and I had found out about it after doing a bit of research stemming from the World Ballet Day segment featuring Dance for Parkinson’s classes.

Dance for Parkinson’s supports classes and learners and is a research-based approach to developing high quality dance experiences for people living with Parkinson’s. Their website lists classes all around the country.

Ballet4Life’s class in Turnham Green is a lovely welcoming group, it was really easy for me to slot in and start taking part. We started off with saying our names around the seated circle with an accompanying movement, which is a really nice way of making eye contact around the group and getting a taste of everyone’s personality with their choice of movement!

Class leader Beatrice then led us through the seated section, beginning with roll-down warm-ups and moving on to an increasing range of movement, incorporating some different rhythms and targeting different areas like mobilising the fingers. Ballet4Life founder and teacher Donna and volunteer assistants take part around the circle too, so that movements can be followed without having to strain to see just one demonstrator.

I recognised a lot of ballet movements that had been adapted to the seated position and made use of a strong stacked parallel posture. There was lots for me to think about in terms of keeping my weight placed and engaging good placement. One of the things that Beatrice is really good at is encouraging little bits of performance, for example one movement became the “Marilyn” like the famous skirts gusting up to the sky, and a shaking our fists became a Popeye-like “Youuu!!”. It’s another way of getting involved in the movement and creating fun moments shared between the group.

We then moved on to the barre, although participants can choose to remain seated if that’s more comfortable, with some plié combinations in parallel and turned out, rond des jambes and port des bras. Although we were doing exercises from ballet practice, this wasn’t overstated – instead the focus is much more on engaging with your own movement range.

Centre practice was a brilliant Charleston-inspired routine, with rhythmically-moving feet and the option to freestyle some jazz hands!

The class always ends on coming back into a circle with the group, which I think is a brilliant idea. We continued with some Charleston feet in the circle and then in place of a traditional revérence we bowed to each other in sequence around the circle, to the right and then left. It’s a great way to all come back together at the end of class and re-establish the energy

If you want more info about getting involved, get in touch with Ballet4Life or comment below!

 

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Touch Therapy (when you’re brassic)

I’m furiously researching massage therapies at a low cost in London. I’m a big believer in the efficacy of touch therapy and I think especially at this time of year as the dark draws in it can be such a big boost to wellbeing.

I live in central London, not the easiest of places to find anything at low cost, so I thought sharing my findings would be pretty useful.

 

Believe it or not, Clarins Spa in Peter Jones offers really good value for money on massage!  With a guideline London price starting at £60 for 60mins, Clarins’ 85min aromatherapy massage for £57 is really reasonable. If you are able to book a block, you can buy 6 treatments for the price of 5 as well. I have tried this one out and it a really good quality, truly full-body massage. They do seem to have a really busy diary, so expect to book at least a couple of weeks in advance.

 

Student salons offer  good low-cost options. Although they are often busier treatment environments, (and, sorry, some students are more proficient than others!) you do have the benefit of your student therapist being supervised by a professional.  The London School of Beauty Therapy offers full body massage for £25, and adds scalp massage for £3 extra.

The London School of Beauty and Make-Up (which used to be known as Esthetique) offers  a good range of different massage treatments starting from £20. Their 90min aromatherapy massage is £35. You also have the option with some of the massage treatments to book with a qualified therapist as opposed to a student for a bit extra.

 

Different therapists and clinics have different concessionary policies – some do offer student discounts, or set aside an off-peak slot on a weekday for treatments at reduced cost. More often, concessionary rates are available for those with long-term illness/disability, those in receipt of benefits and retired people. If you fit the bill, you can check out :

BodyWise, which offer a range of low-cost therapies including massage at a flat rate of £25 in Bethnal Green. Added bonus, they’re above a great vege cafe!

HandsInc., again in East London, they have clinics in Stoke Newington and Clapton, and offer massage starting at £17.

I’m hoping to add to the list as I continue researching this!

 

I’m also learning more about Biodynamic Psychotherapy, which is a form of psychotherapy that involves massage.

The London School of Biodynamic Psychotherapy in Highgate runs a fortnightly student clinic on Thursdays, with treatment at £20. They have a list of therapists too, some of whom are able to offer concessionary rates.

More on this as I find out more!

 

 

I just bought a skipping rope. My thinking is it’ll help with stamina, especially on petit allegro. Now, d’you think it’s acceptable for an adult to be seen skipping in public? Note that the skipping rope is for boxers, not for little girls. It does come in pink, however.

I don’t know what relaxed feels like

The first time I ever went to ballet class, I didn’t know how to plié. Two years later, my plié is still evolving, but back then in that first class I just bent my knees and hoped…

My teacher is fabulous. (I’d love to go all out on a full description, but I’m worried about preserving anonymity on the internet; he’d be instantly recognisable. I’m just going to call him Fabulous Teacher.) Seeing I was terrified at his approach in front of the whole class, he tells me, “Smile! This is beaming out on SkyArts 1 later!” – hilarious. Instant rapport. He asked me to plié, and then grabbed  my torso firmly and asked me to go over it a few times more. This was when posture really clicked for me for the first time in my life. I’m staggered at the degree to which my arse used to stick out! All the time! Yoga classes hadn’t even made me realise. So: Revelation One. But my plié still wasn’t starting to take shape. Still grabbing and prodding me he told me to relax. The very first class I had taken, and this correction is one I’m still hearing and struggling with now. As Fab Teacher said to me at the end of my Sky Arts 1 performance: “You’re just a big tense mess!”. Yes, pleased to meet you, and you are?

Fast forward to the other week and I’m doing a ballet-specific Pilates workshop. I keep getting gently told to relax. There’s only so much you can do when someone says that really, isn’t there? It’s almost like being told to cheer up: how? Seeing I was struggling, the teacher came and guided me through some of the movements. “You really do need to relax”, she said. “Your muscles are constantly working full-out, you must be exhausted.”

Well, yes I am. I have certain medical stuff going on which makes me think that a lot of this is significant in a “mind/body continuum” sense. I don’t mean that I’m just feeling a bit wound-up – although of course we all do sometimes, too – but that my body at a functional and organic level is holding on to a lot of tension.

Still, what to do about it? The pilates teacher suggested some visualisations – just the bones of your body are moving, your muscles aren’t involved. Think of your movement, say a tendu, like an elastic band constantly stretching and retracting, never coming to the end of its fluid movement. She demonstrated this in contrast to an old-fashioned ballerina way of executing a staccato, disconnected kind of abrupt tendu.

I have taken this on board, and I am also paying a lot more attention to breathing and mental relaxation in class. It’s incredible how much worrying about the next step or concentrating on what someone else is doing finds expression in my body. Recently I’ve been receiving, gratefully, these relaxation corrections in every class – relax my hip is a huge one. I’ve had even my jawbone and clavicle held, physically, for relaxation during a combination.

Fab Teacher slapped my hip playfully the other day because it was still not doing it was it was told. The next class he just grabbed my leg, which I was holding under the thigh as close to my torso as I could (leg bent, everyone, leg bent!!) and pushed it in and up. I love these physical corrections because it’s as if, finally, someone is overriding my body and just telling it how it should be feeling in a position. I think as far as my hips go, “relaxed” actually feels like like an engaged, active pushing down of the working hip –  which lengthens the hip flexors. It’s taken me several weeks to piece this together. A bit like the time I realised my teacher meant physically, anatomically where my stomach is and not what I think of as my belly when he was telling me to pull my stomach up. What he means by “relaxed” didn’t match up to what I thought “relaxed” felt like.

That’s as far as my hips are concerned. I still don’t know what relaxed feels like, and it’s a quest I keep writing up in my dance journal. Other approaches I’ve thought of are taking more pilates, and getting some deep tissue massage. Even trying acupuncture or hypnosis. Of course these all cost money, and I don’t want this type of secondary conditioning activity to get in the way, financially, of my being able to attend ballet class. Still, building stretches and pilates into my daily routine is definitely a possibility. (Although boring. Boredom is why I don’t exercise AT ALL outside of class.)

Sometimes it feels like a frustration, as if my body is working against me as I’m doing something I enjoy so much. I try to hold on to the fact that, really, ballet is relaxing. Ballet is mindful. I can let it help me learn how to relax.

 

 

Pirouettes for health

I’ve been feeling quite poorly over the past week or so and not taking as many classes as I usually like to. After a rough weekend I’ve gone to the doctors and it turns out I have labyrinthitis!

This is an inner ear infection which makes you dizzy and disorientated, and quite often nauseous. I have some meds to help with the dizziness, but unfortunately just have to wait for the virus itself to shift. There are some guidelines here from the Brain and Spine Foundation in the UK about exercises you can do as therapy – the thinking is that if you do exercises that actually make you feel more dizzy, it trains the brain to cope with with all the weird info its being sent from your inner ear.

The NHS summarises the benefits of this kind of therapy like this:

co-ordinate your hand and eye movements
stimulate sensations of dizziness so your brain starts to get used to disruptive signals sent by your vestibular system and then ignores them
improve your balance and walking ability
improve your strength and fitness

 

Which kind of sounds like what happens in ballet class doesn’t it??

I’ve had no contraindications from my doctor about exercise or anything like that, so I suppose it’s up to me how often I want to go to class. To be honest some days it just feels too difficult. But I wonder if powering on through class (being mindful of how I’m feeling of course) could actually help me get better, quicker?