How to Evolve Your Nervous System

I was foam rolling and stretching while my mother and brother were watching Suits recently. As my analytical mind is always trying to capture lessons that I can use in my life to make myself more effective in serving others, I can not just simply watch a TV show passively.

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Why is it that Harvey Specter seems so cool and calm under pressure? Is it just genetic? Partly, but you can TRAIN yourself to be like this.

It seemed to me that the show kept juxtaposing Harvey’s “alpha male” characteristics with the more frantic and reckless persona of Mike Ross. The first question that came to mind was: are people like Harvey just genetically hardwired to be calm and cool under pressure unlike mere mortals who seem to crumble under the pressure? Absolutely NOT! 

Even though Harvey is calm and collected the vast majority of time, there are instances in which he loses control. Why is that? We all have a threshold of stress and ambiguity we can tolerate. Once our threshold is exceeded, we experiences negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and depression. What separates the championship performers from the rest is that they have a greater threshold for dealing with stress and ambiguity. 

So the real question is, is this threshold genetically determined and unchangeable? New research in neuroplasticity demonstrates that we can dramatically remodel our brain at ANY age. Therefore, if you want to perform your best under the bright lights you need to improve your stress threshold. How do you do that? Below are some of my favorite strategies: 

  1. Meditation – I found that the meditation techniques that are best for beginners and allows them to sustain practice are binaural beats technology (ex. Om harmonics or Holosync), headspace (or other meditation apps), or Transcendental Meditation (however this is a very pricey option unless a student).
  2. Heart Math – This is a fairly recent innovative and cost-effective bio-feedback tool that dramatically increases performance. As there are more neurons that send information from your heart to your brain than the other way around, focusing on increasing your heart rate variability drastically improves your brain functioning. However, having feedback drastically improves the learning curve.
  3. Relaxation – Progressive relaxation techniques are one of the most means of inducing a deep state of relaxation. Conscious breathing works great as well: focus on a deep diaphragmatic inhale and a very slow exhale (take ~ 10 seconds to let the air out slowly). Inducing a deep relaxation response teaches your nervous system to be relaxed. The more you can relax during the day, the more likely you will be able to bring it up during intense moments of stress.

So if you want to remain calm and collected under intense moments of stress, use these modalities to increase your stress threshold.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

 

 

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Sensory Deprivation (Isolation) Tanks: My Experience

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What is a sensory deprivation or isolation tank?

A sensory deprivation tank uses ~ 900lbs of Epsom salt that allows you to float. The temperature of the water is set to your skin temperature ~ 93.5 °F. The result is that you lose awareness of your body.

This novel sensation accompanied with no light or auditory stimulus is extremely beneficial for your body. It helps to reduce the overactive stress response, induce a relaxation response, and decrease chronic pain. Also, the Epsom salt is therapeutic because your body is able to soak up the magnesium. A mineral, which is essential for your well being, but which the majority of the population is deficient in. For a more detailed description about the purported health benefits of isolation tanks, check out this great article from Men’s Journal.

I first heard about sensory deprivation through a mutual friend. However at first, I thought it was a load of B.S. But once I begin exploring it, I became fascinated. Then I was watching the Joe Rogan video below, and I knew I had to try it out ASAP.

My experience

My first experience with the tranquility pod was at West Coast Float . As soon as I entered the building, I knew this would be a wonderful experience. It was so calm and soothing. I was then ushered into my own personal room, where everything was laid out for me. We were then instructed how the tranquility pod worked, and to shower, dry off and enter pod.

I then entered the pod. I put my foot in, and it seemed to be exactly like regular water. I wondered if I had made a mistake Then I placed my entire body in and then by some “magic” I was floating! It was as if my body had disappeared. I still knew intellectually that I had a body, but unless I drifted against the sides of the pods I could not sense my body.

In the pods I had the option to close the door or not, and keep the lights on or not. I decided to fully immerse myself in the experience by closing the door and keeping the lights off.

It is remarkable the myriad of things that we are completely oblivious to because we get so caught up in the external world. As soon as I started floating, I noticed a lot of tension all over my body. I was shocked about how much unnecessary tension I was holding in my muscles. I pride myself on my body awareness, since I have been consistently practicing tai chi, qi gong, and yoga for a while. However, I clearly have a long ways to go.

It is not just in science fiction or the movies where one can enter a tranquility pond. You can try one out right now!

It is not just in science fiction or the movies where one can enter a tranquility pond. You can try one out right now!

I did not only learn more about my physical state, but also some hidden emotions. A few times, it seemed randomly, I would get a burst of fear where my heart would race, and I felt I needed to open the pod ASAP! At first I thought maybe the air was not circulating well enough. Upon reflection, I realized that this “fear” is an undercurrent in my daily life that manifests itself in subtle ways during the day that prevents me from being the best that I can be. When I was completely derived from external stimuli, there was no external circumstance my brain could use to rationalize this fear. Therefore it came out full throttle. But this was very therapeutic because I realized that the fear was unfounded, and just an outgrowth of my overactive mind.

Despite some minor unpleasant sensations, it was a wonderful experience. After the first 5-15 minutes the vast majority of my negative emotions subsided and I felt a peace and bliss I have never experienced before. This is something I would recommend everyone try at least once in their life. Also for those who are a tad narcissistic, my skin was glowing when I left and my hair looked so much healthier.

Could sensory deprivation or isolation tanks be used to improve athletic performance?

Yes! It is already used by NFL, NHL, NBA, and Olympic athletes to improve their mental concentration, induce a state of deep relaxation,and provide them a distraction free environment to visualize.

As one moves up the ranks in athletics, the physical aspect becomes less and less important because the talent discrepancy becomes smaller and smaller. Once at the world class stage, such as the Olympics, physically the athletes are almost identical. What separates them is their mental fortitude and belief in their ability that allows them to perform under pressure.

Pressure can cripple even the most physically perfect athlete because if they begin to think while they are competing they are bound to lose. For example in Tennis if you watch the pros warm-up, they are hitting perfect serves easily and effortlessly. Then how come during the match, they are many times in which they do no execute on their serves? They lose their concentration on the task at hand because of the pressure and distractions. The use of a tranquility pod is a wonderful way to develop your concentration, and learn to relax. This will carry itself over while you are playing your sport, which will allow you to express all of your potential.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Part II – Sequencing: Theory and Illustration

Heel’s system is designed to uncover compensation patterns in the body.  It revolves around posture, breathing and muscle recruitment, which all go hand-in-hand.  Every movement must start in the center of the body and move outwards, effectively expanding the body, instead of starting at a distal (far from the center) area and moving inwards, which causes a collapse in the body.  Heel divides the body into zones, pictured below.  1-2-3 is the ideal muscle sequencing pattern, anything else is a liability for injury or subpar performance.

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Zone 1: The Diaphragm, Psoas and Glutes:

Hip flexion and extension is the body’s primary priority – it cannot move without it. The psoas and glutes are designed to flex and extend the hip – they are in the best position to do so. The psoas will not be working properly if the diaphragm is not working properly, because the fascia encasing the diaphragm also wraps around the psoas.  If breathing is compromised, due to stress or bad posture, the functioning of the entire body will also be compromised.  If the glute/psoas can’t do their job correctly, another set of muscles will take over in order to move. I say “set” because no single muscle can do the job of either glute or psoas.

The diaphragm is involved because the fascia holding it in place connects to the psoas.  If the diaphragm shuts down due to stress, poor posture or other reasons the psoas cannot do its job.  Due to reciprocal inhibition, the glutes cannot fire if the psoas cannot fire. If the glutes cannot fire, the hamstring will do its own job AND take over for the glutes.  Because these muscles are supposed to fire first in any movement, if you can’t breathe deeply into your belly, you won’t sequence properly.

Sequencing should be 1-2-3. However, most athletes are firing zones two or three first – this means that they fire their quad and abdominals together to make up for a misfiring psoas (leaving those muscles unable to effectively do their own jobs) or firing their shin or even hand muscles first. I was surprised to see how many athletes cannot get their brain to fire a hip flexor without tensioning the ankle joint first – these athletes may have shin splints, Achilles problems, chronically tight calves or any other disfunction stemming from the way they compensate when their feet hit the ground.  The predictive value of an athlete’s sequencing pattern has been pretty on point in my limited experience testing this in my athletes.

What does a 1-2-3 look like in action? Here is Irving Saladino, Olympic long jump champion from Panama. In this picture, notice the lack of tension immediately after takeoff – you can see it in this slow motion video as well, fingers lightly curled, jaw lightly closed, toe mildly up, but there is no excessive tension in these areas when he raises his free leg upon takeoff. His psoas muscle is able to do its own job, the hands and face (which cannot add anything to the jump) are able to relax because they are not called upon to work. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbLZKY2CRk4)

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What does a malfunctioning pattern look like? Here I am, in two separate pictures. My pattern on the right is a 3-3-3 arm – this means that in order to flex my right hip, my brain sends tension to my left hand first. My psoas on that side cannot do its own job, so the brain tries to add tension in other areas to assist in hip flexion. This is why I make a strange claw with it as I jump. This need-for-tension in my hand explains how I could hit my head on the rim, but could not get anywhere near that high with a basketball in my hand – holding a ball forces my hand to open, and as a result, my brain cuts the amount of power it gives to my hip drive. This is a setup for injury as well, because my strength levels drop when I cannot/do not close my left hand. It also explains why I have injured my left thumb so often – my hand thinks it has to do hip flexion, so when it has to do its own job it is tired or out of position. My face is also holding a ton of tension, which is only hindering my ability to jump far.  My mind-body connection had blown a fuse, it didn’t know which muscle to fire when.  While I had some success this season, I also missed almost all of it because of injury.

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The way we get it working again is first by working with the breath – if the diaphragm isn’t working nothing will work properly – and rubbing neurolymphatic reflex points that cause our brain to wake up muscles that it has stopped using, whether because of stress, bad movement patterns, or other reasons. The result is that there is a measurable difference in performance in controlled tests. That difference can be flexibility or strength, depending on the area. The pre/post test differences are often shocking – 45* to 90* range of motion in the hamstring, two fingers pushing down a raised knee to my full bodyweight on said knee. It can resolve pain and optimize performance. It’s pretty cool.