AT Month 2019: Part 4- Outside the box, inside a box

Gain awareness.  Detach.  Breath.

What’s in store for Part 4 of this series?  This week we are going to go in a direction that is a little “different”.   For the longest time, recovery work has been a mainstay in the world of athletics.  Usually, this involves something that is a little less physically demanding on the body so that our athletes body can recover – runners go on a light recovery run, football teams might have a massage day, the basketball team might just have a light shoot around.  Recently, Recovery based programs have taken root and many professional teams as well as collegiate teams now have dedicated recovery rooms.  Percussion Therapy, Compression Therapy, and Cryotherapy (we will discuss these in a later part….) typically outfit these rooms.  They are an epic step in a better direction.

We cant lose sight of the entire picture; the body is a slave to the mind.  We can be both physically tired but also emotionally, hormonally, and/or spent from the aspect of our CNS – what do we do BEFORE we apply these proven recovery tools to get the mind right, so that these physical strategies can work even better?  The answer?  Typically, nothing.

Our athletes live in high gear regardless of their age (high school, college, professional) or their skill level.  They are always on.  That is the nature of athletics – always doing something or finding some way to get a little better or gain that small edge.  Not only do they not know how to turn things off, we as their healthcare professional have not provided them with a means to “turn off”.  Add in the wrinkle of social media and turning off mentally very rarely happens.  

But, this month and this series isn’t about them – it is about you, their AT.  Replace “Our Athletes” and “Athletics” from the above paragraph with Athletic Trainers and Athletic Training and the story is the same.  Many of us were brought up in a system where working more, and always being in the athlete training room were ingrained in what it is to be an AT.  I firmly disagree with that.  Presence does not equal good or effective, or efficient.  A light that never turns off will burn out very quickly.  Not only do we need to detach (see part 2) from what we do for a little bit each day, we also need to actually have a strategy in place to reset our mind – and this is tough to do, though breathing is a great first step.

This past fall, skeptically I came across something that does just this.  While researching options we could provide to our athletes/patients that were struggling with being able to detach I toured a facility that immediately had me intrigued.  The claims that were being made had me skeptical:

  • Reduce physical and emotional stress
  • Improved Mood
  • Decreased Anxiety
  • Decreased Insomnia
  • Decreased Pain
  • Increased Metabolism 
  • Decreased Cortisol
  • Improved Performance 
  • Decreased Lactic Acid
  • Improved Recovery Time 
  • Improved Creativity 
  • Aid Enzymatic Production
  • Increase Bone Strength

Are you intrigued yet?  What is it that accomplishes all of this?  I immediately had to try it, and signed up for 2-sessions.  Why?  Two reasons: first, if I’m going to direct patients/athletes toward a product it has to be quality.  Second, I was very skeptical; I had formed the impression that this was something that was overselling a few little benefits to a very susceptible population of people with disposable income.  My goal, was to prove this facility was a waste of time and move on to the next option on our list.  After the second session, I realized that my preconceived notions were all 100% wrong.  

So what is this miracle “thing” that does all of this?  Some people call is sensory deprivation, some call it floating. I prefer the former term because the latter is something I visualize hippies doing and I don’t identify as a hippie.  Here is a nice article to better describe it.

Regardless of what you want to call it, you place yourself inside a chamber filled with warm water that has about 1000 lbs of epsom salt dissolved in it.  All this salt and magnesium makes it saltier than the dead sea, so even the densest of us will be suspended.  It’s dark, warm, and quiet.  Just you, your mind, your heartbeat and your breathing.  It does take some getting used to, but once you are comfortable it is impossible to not detach from whatever was going on before you closed the door.  Does it do everything that is on the list above?  I don’t know.  Research is optimistic on the benefits of these sensory deprivation units, and I can say that I’ve experienced about 90% of the benefits I listed above.

In the past 6 months I have become so convinced of these benefits that we have partnered with our local facility (Theta Float Spa) so that we could make these opportunities available to our staff of Athletic Trainers. 

Image result for theta float spa

Our goal shifted – instead of taking care of our patients we chose first to take care of our staff that we entrust to take care of our patients.

Unfortunately if you do not have a float spa, or a sensory deprivation facility near you this will be difficult to pull of.  But, if you do -or if you travel to a city that does- I strongly encourage you to try it.  It is truly hard to describe what occurs.  The first few sessions I tried, I feel like I just went in and took a nap.  Afterwards, I did feel recharged but really wasn’t sure that I had done more that find a great nap spot.  After that though, I can’t explain what happened; I didn’t fall asleep but I also wasn’t just staring into the blackness.  It was almost like my mind was disengaged and on autopilot. Apparently, after talking with the owner afterwards, this is the goal – this is the transient space where the magic happens.  This also reminds me of The Lego Movie:

“Yet, your mind is so prodigiously empty, that there is nothing in it to clear away in the first place.”  One additional benefit of sensory deprivation is that it will make you a Lego Master Builder!

Removing all sensory information allows the CNS (and the body) to actually completely relax.  Yes we can do that when we sleep, but you had better be a sleep ninja to accomplish this – and I’ll bet you are not.  That is a safe bet just because our world makes it tough to accomplish quality sleep unless you have specifically taken steps to do this.  Personally, I have.  I’ve removed ALL light sources (covered the smoke alarm light, surged protector lights, power indicator lights), put blackout shades on all the windows, and invested in a unit to maintain a very specific temperature range on my bed.  Even with that, my sleep quality is decent at best.  So, worst case scenario is that you just take a nap – that will likely be bet highest quality sleep you will have had in a long period of time.   Not the best outcome, but still better.

Floating is a great way to get your mind in a place where all the physical tools of recovery can be even more beneficial because floating allows you to clear your mind and prepares the mind/body for these other strategies. Sensory deprivation is the only one of these tools that integrates the CNS into recovery.  (It is also even better when you apply the breathing strategy outlined in Part 3 while you are floating)

Go!  Find a Sensory Deprivation Center or a Float Spa.  If you are in SW MO reach out to Theta Float Spa and tell Matt (the owner) that you read about Floating here.  Invest in you. This is the next step.

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