Balance Beam

The journey to improving balance continues with every new challenge. An exciting aspect of working out with Bernard has become new exercises. He finds ways to challenge the obstacles of cerebral palsy with surprising tools. We ventured back to the use of the small purple blocks. The same blocks he has used to measure a push-up, perform a dead-lift, balance overhead, and perform the lateral steps. These small blocks have served many purposes during our time of working together. The purple block has become one of our essential tools for physical cerebral palsy improvement. Last week Bernard used the purple blocks to create a balance beam. It seems challenging to know exactly the dimensions of these blocks at the gym. But, let’s just guess that they are probably a foot long and maybe six inches tall. The gym has quite a few of these purple blocks stored in the yoga room. Which gave Bernard the ability to create a balance beam of varied lengths. The balance beam was another activity with vivid memories from my youth. Anything sitting high above the ground would cause a pretty good amount of anxiety. A couple items on the list of causing some fear would be the balance beam and monkey bars. If with the anxiety from the simple sight of them, attempting both activities were intriguing. The fear of losing balance often kept me away.

While growing up every balance beam seemed to rest high above the ground. At least high enough to cause me hesitation. Most of the time, the hesitation kept me from truly making an attempt at balancing on one. The closest memory of being on a balance beam would be simply standing on a beam. If the balance beam were low enough to the ground, stepping onto it might feel achievable. The challenge of trying to stand sturdy on a balance beam was exciting. Even with the possibility of creating balance on the beam, taking a step or two didn’t feel achievable. Often just maintaining balance for a few seconds and hoping down was the extent of my experience. Turning to attempt taking a step along the balance beam always seemed too risky. Most beams encountered during my life have been part of a playground. The balance bean either resting above wood chips or some kind of unforgiving surface. It almost always felt like any kind of fall could be painful. Having cerebral palsy has seemed to leave me calculating risk when balance became involved. Often erring on the side of safety with the unpredictability of balance with my disability.

Something I always wanted to try was the balance beam. One way to try would be removing the fear of falling. The opportunity to be around gymnastics didn’t happen during my youth. We would watch some of the sport during the Summer Olympics, but never was able to participate. Something fascinating to me while watching were the huge pads set up around the events. The site of those pads made attempting the balance beam seem realistic. Because almost every balance beam I came across was too high for true comfort. If there were a huge pad set up to catch me fall, a true balance beam attempt could be made. The opportunity never arose, so with the anxiety of height, balance beams were steered away from. But, the idea of Bernard removed the fear of falling. His idea was to place purple bocks end on end to form a balance beam. The blocks sat just about six inches in height. Which meant if balance was lost, it would be safe and easy to step off the beam. No worry of losing balance to the point of hurting myself. As my reaction time to catch myself if tilting too far would keep me upright. There would still be anxiety, but the nice thing about using the blocks would be the options. Bernard could create a short or long balance beam by the number of blocks he strung together.

Like any new balancing exercise, Bernard likes to begin gently. The idea seems to measure how challenging the task might be. Then, he can always make things more challenging. At times, an exercise requires scaling down to a better starting place. We hadn’t spoken about attempting the balance beam idea before the blocks appeared. One of the interesting things about moving along a balance beam seems to be how cerebral palsy plays a role. The beam would be a good way to place pressure on the disability because even walking along a straight line has always been challenging. Any time someone requests for me to move down a straight line, nervous energy runs through my emotions. The challenge of walking along any line has seemed to be, not only staying balanced, but placing my feet onto an intended target. Bernard has worked with me on improving footwork since the outset of our time together. Whether that entailed lunging down a line on the floor, skipping along boards on the floor, or doing footwork drill with the agility ladder. Combined with the many balance exercises he has run me through, it made sense to try the balance beam idea. With all the gained skills backing me up, we started with a short row of purple blocks. The nervousness became a part of me as the challenge began.

The knowledge of safety if balance became lost provided comfort. Still, there becomes a part that wants to succeed at the task. Hoping stepping off the row of blocks wouldn’t be necessary. We began with a relatively short row of the purple blocks. Like many new exercises Bernard has me attempt, he tried walking the beam to begin. The created balance beam worked for him, with the only caution, some slight squishiness in the blocks. Being made of foam, Bernard was concerned with the stability. So, while heeding his warning, I climbed onto our balance beam. The blocks turned out to be plenty sturdy for my footing. While the indentation of my footprint could be felt, the ankle didn’t move in a way to cause insecurity. The first variation of the balance beam was done with surprising security. All the work we had put in on balance and coordination could be felt. There was some shakiness with working on a new movement, but the balance beam felt good to start. It was a good way of challenging my ability to balance, as well as place my feet on an intended target. The trickiness with the balance beam began when Bernard extended its length.

During the exercise, Bernard had me doing a hopscotch course as well. We would move from the balance beam into hopscotch. Then, time would allow for a short rest before starting down the beam once again. While doing the hopscotch course, Bernard would go to work on the balance beam. It felt as though more purple blocks were appearing from everywhere. When it was simply from a shelf housing many of the blocks, a shelf I didn’t notice until we returned the blocks. As the balance beam grew from the added blocks, the challenge of walking it increased. It became challenging to remain patient with myself. Something Bernard refers to as maintaining composure. It felt like balance could only be maintained for a certain amount of time, then my focus would wonder, and panic would settle into my emotions. The process would lead to the loss of balance, falling off the balance beam, or my balance wobbling as I struggle to regain stability. The key to battling against the loss of composure seemed to be continued focus on each step. Adding the belief that completing the entire balance beam would be achievable. However, maintaining concentration and composure during exercises of extended duration has been challenging. When the brain can’t be turned onto autopilot with the rhythm of a movement. Many of the challenges Bernard has provided require the extension of composure. There were a couple balance beam stubbles due to the lack of focus, allowing the anxiety to push out my concentration. Like most challenges, it’s a work in progress.

As we continue with our journey of physical improvement things bubble to the surface. The challenge of composure on the balance beam surprised Bernard. While we discussed the emotion of feeling anxiety when the balance beam extended, we both learned something. He wanted to know about the feelings in those moments before balance comes into question. The times when the beam feels too long to complete. Based on his curiosity, we were able to engage a conversation over tools to correct the emotion. How I might be able to remain focused all the way through the balance beam. Engaging my core, picking a point of focus two or four feet ahead, and remaining patient with self-belief. The balance beam has been one of many examples from Bernard. He remains unafraid of pushing me past the comfort zone, then understanding the struggle once we’re out there. Almost always, we find tools to ease the emotional toll, and push through. He likes to remind me that few people gain more from simply being in the gym. We improve cerebral palsy every time we show up and put in the effort. Around each corner we find something I couldn’t do at a younger age. But, I’d be remised not to mention we don’t do it alone. Without the chiropractic adjustments of Dr. McCracken, these life changing improvements wouldn’t continue. The joy has been finding the ideas to move my disability forward and the discipline to continue.


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