Seminar room @ NSCD 12 February 2013
I thought it would be useful to get to know Toke a bit and for us to get more comfortable with each other, so we met up to talk about ideas and expectations to the project. As mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to use coaching to develop the programme, so this meeting was my opportunity to try it out. The idea behind the coaching approach was to encourage Toke to speak freely from the outset and to take ownership of how the project was to progress. This proved to be a good starting point. Here is an excerpt from an email I received from Toke following our first meeting:
"Our first session together was, (...), very interesting and exiting to actually just talk only about yourself and your needs. It is funny as the talk went on, that you think beforehand that you are really aware of yourself and know what kind of things you need, not only dance and class-wise, but also in your daily life, and then as things go on, you actually become aware of things you haven't thought of before.
In this talk a suggestion i came up with, in order not to feel unable to do curtain positions in class, was to try to find my own solutions for the positions i compensate for."
Toke's muscles speak
We began the session by talking about the challenges for him in the yoga class. Toke explained how he finds it difficult to join in again after stepping out of a yoga exercise or posture that his disability prevents him from doing. I asked him to explain what's going on for him before he steps out and what changes in that moment when he acknowledges that he can no longer participate.
This is Toke's response:
I was very curious about his phrases 'letting my mind sink in to my body' and 'letting my muscles speak' as ways of explaining his experience of physical awareness. It struck me as the sort of imagery you would get from someone deeply involved with the body and movement. The idea of the yoga practice being "muscles speaking" and letting go of 'being in the head' is intriguing and something that has made me value the practice even more. So when Toke later on in the same email says: 'I don't see it only as stretching or muscular exercise, but more like everything in one, combined with body therapy and meditation' I could only concur.
Right - and left?
The rest of the session helped me to gain insight in to Toke's physical background and how his strength and flexibility is different on his left side to his right side. Can he put weight on his short left arm? How much has he experimented with this? This was all very useful to me in order to plan what would be useful to work on in the following more practical sessions.
Another useful point Toke made was that the stretching and ease in the body he obtained in the yoga practice was achieved through constant flow of movement. This gave me a perfect starting point for our next session; finding a way for Toke to join in for the full class by substituting impossible postures and sequences with appropriate alternatives.
This is the first of a series of blog entries about working with Toke Broni Strandby, a dance student at Northern School of Contemporary Dance currently in his 2nd year. He is Danish like me -a happy coincidence! I met Toke when I was invited to teach yoga at Northern and he was in my class. Toke only has one arm; to be precise, Toke's left arm stops around the elbow. In my yoga classes Toke was often excluded from exercises and postures, struggling to hold a downward, upward dog and unable to do anything involving interlaced fingers or binding.
I found myself asking how I could help Toke to get more out of the classes.
Toke Broni Strandby
Apart from the restriction of only having one arm, Toke was experiencing tightness in the hips, legs and back, making forward bends, twists and hip-opening challenging. I went home and thought that he was actually the student who might benefit most from a yoga practice! I approached him to meet up and work together on developing a personal practice for him to find ways of stretching tight muscles using postures that would accommodate his disability (this is the word that Toke himself uses).
Working in this untested way (at least for me) felt like an opportunity to trial some of my coaching methods as well. Would it be possible to develop this programme through coaching?
This is an excerpt of the initial email I sent him:
"(...) It is very important for me though, that it all comes from you. I'm really not interested in imposing any exercises or solutions on you. Therefore i suggest that we meet the first time just to chat and have some time for you to share thoughts on what you would like to focus on and for me to ask questions.
After that we can meet as many or as few times as we find useful -perhaps 2-4 times over the spring- and develop some ideas and test them out. I'm very interested in thinking about the process of all this and so if it's ok for you I would like to document it. "
In the next blog post about Toke I will reflect on what was discussed at our first meeting.
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