I have talked quite a bit about how healthcare practitioners need to adapt their methods to meet client needs. Just this past Friday, I had the opportunity to do so myself, and it proved to be terrific fun!
The way I generally teach the Dancing with Pain method is by guiding participants throughout the entire class, talking over the music. But I’m now teaching at a local YMCA where there is a heavy immigrant population from Iran and Russia – mostly older people who do not understand English more than a few basic words.
The first class, I was totally thrown off. “How the hell can I guide people if I can’t communicate with them?” I wondered. I was concerned about their safety. One woman in particular did calisthenics that seemed totally disconnected from both her body and the music. I mean, she was jerking her body around during a Carlos Nakai flute track.
Initially, I thought I cannot teach people who do not speak English, unless I get my standard class introduction (where I explain the concepts and lay out ground rules for safety) translated into their mother tongue. So I made a mental note to see if I could find someone to help me translate the intro into Farsi, Russian, and Spanish.
Meanwhile, when I taught class this past Friday, only one person showed up — an older Iranian woman, who barely spoke any English. I was able to find out from her where her pain areas are. I then tried to communicate the principles of the class, as well as guide her through the music, by just simplifying my English. But I could sense there was a disconnect.
So I spontaneously said fuck it and dropped down onto the mats, rolling around and, through body langauge, showing this woman some possibilities of how to dance without triggering her pain areas. Through touching on my body the areas in pain on hers and through using basic words of “pain,” yes,” and “no,” I then was able to communicate that she never, ever wanted to move the parts of her body in pain, but rather, to maximize movement in all the other parts of her body.
She totally got it! I continued dancing with her for the rest of the class, pausing after each song to see how she was doing — whether she was staying in her pain-free zones, and whether those zones were changing. I realized that it helped her to watch me move, because she was able to pick up the range of movement possibilities (sitting up, standing, or lying down while moving up and down, sideways, at angles, or in circles) and translate it into her own dance.
It was the coolest thing ever to see this lady get her groove thang on. I mean, once she got it, she was seriously rockin’ the house. And guess what? She had no pain!
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. I kept showing up to classes with 30 pages of typed notes, just in case, heaven forbid, I were to forget any of the concepts I wanted to share with students. This past class, though, I realized that I can communicate just as much, if not more, by modeling for others how to mobilize the Spirit juice in their bodies.
In addition, I was able to bond with this woman in a way that I cannot bond with students when I am standing apart as the teacher. And I got to have a wicked good time dancing myself, while teaching the method! So even if everyone is a blue-blooded American English speaker in my next class, you bet I’m still going to roll around on the floor with them.