Two Birds, One Stone

    My childhood consisted of a lot of contact sports. From the early age of 12, my spine has taken a beating. Years of playing football with poor tackling form wasn’t a good start. I then took my suspect spine to the sport of MMA where I trained for a couple years, beat my body up some more and pushed through the daily discomfort. When I took a break from MMA I fell into the world of weights, sleeveless t-shirts, and protein powder. One night at the end of a heavy weight lifting session, fatigue and improper form led to an injury that herniated various discs resulting in a softball sized numb spot in my back, pinched nerves and other neurological issues. This forced me to withdraw from weight lifting and contact sports all together to avoid further injury.

I took my health for granted. I thought I was invincible. And up until a year ago I saw these injuries as the worst thing that had ever happened to me. My symptoms were scary, my movement limited, my physical outlets and passion stripped from me, and I was only 19.

I have been dealing with the consequences of that lifting session ever since. For years I’ve felt sorry for myself. I’ve cried, I’ve pouted, I’ve gotten angry, and I have suffered. But what if it’s the best thing that ever happen to me? 

Hoping  to fix my body I have tried almost everything under the sun. Western Medicine has its place but it has not done much for me and my injuries. I am young and I naturally look fit, for this reason most doctors seem to diagnose me as “just fine” before they even hear me out. That being said I still pursue what avenues of healing my insurance will cover. But consistently dealing with doctors who are just waiting for you to shut up so they can prescribe some pills and get to the next patient is more than infuriating. It’s for this reason that I have taken matters into my own hands and have looked for ways to heal my spine, back and nerves.

One day I was listening to a podcast and a book was recommended. “You are the Placebo” by Dr. Joe Dispenza. This book helps you better understand what the placebo effect is and how it operates in your brain and body, as well as how to create the same kind of miraculous changes in your own brain and body all by yourself, through thought alone. It shows you how to harness the power of your own mind using mindfulness, meditation and manifestation. Tools of the mind. Lucky for us the body listens to the mind. The mind is our control center. Sometimes our beliefs, negative thoughts and perceptions can gunk up the controls (I.E. the “Nocebo effect”) making it harder to operate. 

So, I read this book, and in hopes of cleaning up my own control center I did what Dr. Dispenza suggested. I meditated daily. I purchased his guided meditation on audible and made it the first thing I do every morning. It’s a 47 minute meditation broken up into 3 parts. Mindfulness, classic meditation, and manifestation. In taking on this daily practice I am starting to notice just how strong this thing between our ears is.

Most of my time since the original injury has been focused on the physical aspects of recovery. That's how I got into sensory deprivation and float tanks. I started floating 5 years ago. And aside from the alone time I’ve always cherished the relief my body feels from an hour in zero gravity.

Then one day as I was heading to work at Float Seattle I had an idea. What if I combined the “control center clean up” (meditation practice) with the sensory deprivation tank. I can thread the audio through the speakers of the tank and give my body a break from gravity while freeing my mind of negative thoughts and unwanted beliefs that hinder my recovery progress. There's no distraction and I don’t have to sit for an hour while putting more pressure on my spine. Killing two birds with one stone. 

So later that night after work I plugged my guided meditation in and hopped in the albino pac-man aka the float tank/pod. I was amazed at the difference it made. Mindfulness, meditation, and manifestation are a lot easier to do when you are not distracted by aches and pains, gravity, sound, and light.

It was a new level of focus. And this new level of focus dropped me into the deepest meditation I had ever experienced. 

First I practiced mindfulness. Feeling and sensing every muscle in my body relax. Feeling the space in the room. Being in the moment with myself and my heartbeat. Recognizing tension in certain areas and then breathing into those areas as I sink deeper into comfort and weightlessness. This beginning stage really helps you drop into the now. Nothing else. You take stock of your sensations and simply notice how you are feeling at that very moment. This first stage takes about 12 minutes.

Then I moved into my classic meditation phase. At this point in the guided meditation Dr. Joe Dispenza encourages you to become nobody. No one, nowhere, at no time. A single node of unidentified consciousness swimming in a dark black sea of possibility. And when your mind wanders to “the known” to people, places or things you are familiar with, you recognize it and flick your awareness back into nothingness. “Back into the dark void of potential” as he says. “And the more time you spend in this void of potential, the more you draw a new life to you.” This is the control center reset. Where you do your best to wipe your brain of the thoughts, perceptions and beliefs that make you sick. We are estimated to have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day. And if even just half of those are pessimistic or negative then you're essentially telling your body how bad it feels. Nocebo-ing yourself, making yourself sick. This control center reset takes 15 minutes.

The third and final 18 minutes of this practice is Manifestation. This is where you observe the future you want as if it has already happened. You re-program your control center. My end goal is to be healthy enough to compete again. So in this phase I do my best to feel the emotions I would feel when I make it back to the grappling mat. I visualize what it would look like. I smell the musty smell of a Jiu-Jitsu gym, I taste the blood in my mouth, I feel the throbbing of my heart and the blood through my muscles as I fight to remain conscious. I imagine/remember the bond and camaraderie that comes from testing your body and mind against another man. I see my hand getting raised at a Jiu-Jistu tournament and I imagine the emotions I would feel as I hug my coach and reflect on the journey through the dark forest of this injury. I pretend I'm already there, experiencing the feeling of being able to physically express myself and leave everything out there. And more often than not this experience makes me cry. This is what you want.. Because to re-program your brain you need to pair a clear vision of the future with an elevated emotion. You need to be moved. Once you emotionally move yourself in this way and see the future you want, your body simply does not know the difference between that experience and the real thing. That is, you become your own Placebo. It’s not hoping for a new future. It’s believing in one and being grateful for it before it ever happens. Hope will only get you so far. Hope can be discouraging. You have to have faith. You have to believe.

When I started doing this mediation I would sit for 47 minutes. Not very good for your spine, but even still I would get up feeling a little better. Doing this practice in a float tank is another level. They enhance each other. The more I get out of my body and envision a new one, the more my body relaxes into the salt and the zero gravity environment providing more tension release and allowing deeper healing to happen. And the more I meditate in the tank the less distraction I get from my body, my senses and the outside world, allowing me to drop into deeper meditations that move me into deeper emotional states. These practices combined upgrade the software and heal the hardware. Two birds, one stone.

Floating and meditation have the potential to heal so many people in so many different ways. But even so, these practices will enhance even a flourishing life. If you haven’t floated yet, try it at least 3 times. It's always a bit weird at first but trust the water, trust the salt and enjoy a break from your senses. If you don’t meditate try just 5 minutes a day, in the tank or out. Be still, find quiet, observe your thoughts and get to know yourself better. I truly believe these two technologies are paramount in the continued evolution of our species. And they can be done at the same time.

 

I started floating to fix my physical body, but I am quickly realizing what’s possible with the mental aspect. Even with new injuries to pile on, my combination of meditation and floating has me feeling better than I ever have. Yes I still have bad days. Yes I am scared of feeling like this forever and yes my body still hurts. But I am finally feeling some kind of progress. My dream is to be able to make it back to the mat. I love combat and the lessons that come with it. This injury has opened new doors in my mind. I am grateful for this injury. It will be the best thing to ever happen to me. 

Your Float Guide,

Max Brooks