What is it that drives an individual with such passion and dedication that it is infectious? What inspires an individual to help others? What determines one’s path in life? Whatever it is, when it is in the service of others, it is worthy of mention.
I am in constant search of inspirational people and what drives them. Last March, I happened upon a course in London that left me with more than just the developmental benefits of infant massage. I left with renewed purpose and energy for my profession. I could not wait to get home to teach my Mom/Baby yoga students, parents of NICU babies. I could not wait to email my boss and tell her all about it. All because of one man.
It was an early Saturday morning in North London that I first met Peter Walker. He was leading his much sought after Developmental Infant Massage Teacher training in a community birthing center. He has trained thousands all over the world including neonatal nurses, midwives, and massage therapists. I had done my research for programs and knew that this was the one for me. His program focuses on the developmental aspects of infant massage-assisting the newborn with reversing physiologic flexion of fetal life in preparation for sitting, standing, walking. His passion is helping children whose parents were told their child would never sit, stand, or, walk to do just that.
Peter, a Physical and Developmental Massage Therapist from East London, has devoted his professional life to infants and children with developmental delays. Having worked many years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it is easy to wonder what the outcomes of some of the extremely premature and asphyxiated babies are-those that leave with the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy and/or developmental delays. Watching one of Peter’s documentaries during our training gave me a sense of hope. We witnessed a child taking steps after regular massage by Peter and the child’s parents. What joy a parent experiences when their child takes their first steps. Imagine the joy a parent experiences after being told that their child might never walk.
The first words I recall Peter saying in the training were, “breathe out,” and I have since made this my mantra. I use it in my yoga classes, use it in challenging situations at work, in life. Peter channels years of yoga practice and teaching as a wonderful addition to the practical side of his massage classes.
I went to the training to add massage as a complement to my already established Mom/Baby Yoga classes. By the end of a cold, yet super inspirational weekend with Peter, I left wanting to know more so that I could share this information with all of my friends in the neonatal community.
Should we be incorporating regular infant massage and passive range of motion with our stable infants in the NICU and when should we start? Should it be a part of daily care in the NICU? A recent study out of Tel-Aviv University shows optimistic results that regular exercise (i.e. range of motion exercises) in premature infants (approximately 28 weeks at birth) even as early as 8 days old can have positive effects countering osteoporosis of prematurity. Can we help these infants early on, something that Peter has been doing for years?
While we do a wonderful job caring for our sweet babes in the NICU, can we do even better? We position them in the most optimal developmental positions even in their sickest moments. We have the most up to date machinery to sustain otherwise unsustainable life. We know the benefits of Skin to Skin. But what about the obvious sense of touch? We learn early in our training that premature infants can only tolerate gentle touch that is supportive. However, should we be adding regular and early therapeutic massage or range of motion as well to those that can tolerate it?
The following is my interview with Peter following my training program:
My education really started in the late 1970’s when I staged a series of seminars entitled “Our Approach to Psychiatry” featuring Dr R D Laing and Frederick LeBoyer. Laing’s approach to psychiatry started from conception and included “Embryos and Our Ancestors” (those traits also handed down through the family). Laing claimed what happens in the first 1001 days from conception played a big part in many of his patients lives. That early separation between mother and child can be a precursor to emotional distress in later adult life. The importance of this period has now been recognised in a UK cross political party manifesto entitled “The 1000 Critical Days,” which mirrors Dr Laing’s approach. Frederick LeBoyer was also inspirational. LeBoyer was a classical French obstetrician, who during a prolonged period of meditation, re-experienced his own birth. As a result of this experience he pioneered for “Birth without Violence” for mothers and babies.
During the years that I gave groups I think I must have seen more mothers and babies than any man alive. Since teaching teachers, I now have over 22,000 teachers all teaching Developmental Baby Massage techniques in different parts of the world. I now only work teaching my techniques to teachers and working with mothers who have babies affected by developmental delay. I have an International Skype Clinic and have much success teaching mothers from all over the world whose babies are affected by Stiffness / Floppiness / Developmental Delay.