F L O A T
At ARISE MD we celebrate when patients reach their personal peaks. But we all have drudgery days, when progress fades and it feels like you aren’t even on the mountain. On the worst of these D-days you feel below sea level, flailing in a tidal bore of confusion, anxiety and loneliness. We have all had challenges that scream – if you don’t swim like mad you will sink!
At least that’s what I heard growing up in America – when life throws you in the deep end you either sink or swim, no two ways around it son. `There is some truth to this philosophy. I learned to swim beyond exhaustion as a surgery resident. After being up all night reattaching ears, setting broken noses and dealing with GSWs (gun shot wounds) it was not uncommon to get a call back into the operating room after my 6 am sign-out. In those unreasonable moments I was forced to physically swim and not emotionally sink to the bottom of the scrub basin.
That was surgical trauma training. That was warfare. Most of us are not doing trauma surgery or dealing with live ammunition on a battle field. But, even for my fellow surgeons and our esteemed soldiers I’d like to offer a third option – not around, but smack in-between sink and swim. I’d like to add the choice to float.
Last week, on a perfect summer day, I swam a quarter mile off the Lake Michigan shore. My brother, a PhD water scientist, installed a solar-powered surveillance buoy and I wanted to get up close to his floating contraption. My stroke felt strong until I got beyond the breakwater. Half-way to the buoy, wind and choppy waves pushed against my body, forcing me into “decision time.”
There were no life guards on duty or boats nearby if I needed help. I treaded water – looking first at my destination; then back to shore; then back at my destination – and realized I had put myself in a pickle. I was the swimming monkey-in-the middle and treading water was draining me. If I didn’t swim I was going to sink. And that’s when the third option presented itself.
I decided to float.
Humans float in water. At least those who are alive (and not holding their breath in a panic) will float. Pat Harkin, a professor at Leeds University Medical School in the UK, has studied drowning cases and describes it like this:
Things float in water if they are less dense than water, i.e. they weigh less than the same volume of water. The density of a human body with a lung full of air is about 0.985 kg/L – slightly less than water (1.0kg/L) – which is why, if I throw you in a swimming pool, you’ll float with a small amount of you (0.015 by weight) out of the water.
Floating works to conserve energy when swimming and it can work, through visualization, in the boardroom and your family room. Skeptical? I was too. But, consider this famous study from the world of performance medicine.
Before the 1980 Olympics, Russian scientists conducted a covert experiment with a group of their olympians. Each group used a different combination of physical and mental training:
Group I : 100% physical training
Group II : 75% physical training, 25% mental training
Group III : 50% physical training, 50% mental training
Group IV : 25% physical training, 75% mental training
The scientists found that Group IV performed the best during the Olympics. The Soviets had discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses. And, as a result, between 1980 and 2000 the US Olympic team added several sports psychologists to their staff.
According to Srinivasan Pillay, a Harvard M.D. and author of “Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders ,” we stimulate the same brain regions when we visualize an action as we do when we actually perform that same action.” This includes the decision to float instead of fighting or giving up and sinking.
The following exercise is from our Longevity Buoyancy™ curriculum. Sometime in the next week go to a pool, lake or the ocean and do some purposeful floating. In between sinking and swimming replay the following exercise in your mind. Consider this neuro-priming for mastery over the next stressful presentation or crucial conversation. In future articles we will discuss how this stress reduction technique may actually curb the number of heart attacks in America.
An audio recording of the following exercise can be found here:
Longevity Buoyancy™ Exercise 1.
The next time you feel waves of family, financial, work, and physical stress threatening to drown you, activate your inner life savers – visualization and breathing – and float for longevity.
Close your eyes.
Imagine each of your current life stressors as a wave. Visualize yourself alone at sea fighting against a barrage of waves: financial decisions, relationship tensions, work duties, family disappointments, physical fatigue. Feel each stress wave pressing down on you – attempting to overwhelm you.
You’re forced to swallow a mouthful of water and start to panic. You swim as hard and fast as you can, believing you can conquer each one of these stress waves, but – boom! boom! boom! – they are relentless. You choke on another mouthful of water, and start to sink below the surface. Anxiety swells up from deep within you. Feel the loss of control, increased heart rate, and the slipping away of hope. Now stop. Say in your mind “enough.”
Imagine yourself now – instead of swimming hopelessly – rolling over onto your back and facing the sun above you. Feel the unexpected warmth on your face as your breath and your muscles are granted a moment of recovery. You become comfortable with the water muffling your ears consistently rather than the oscillation of chaos and silence from a few moments ago. Your mind quiets and the ocean of stress goes from pugilistic foe to a liquid hammock – holding, supporting, carrying you.
For a moment you forget your breath and a bolt of anxiety shoots through you as your body starts to sink again. Your old self demands to roll back over and swim hard – still believing that fighting is the only way out. You, like so many of us, lack trust. But, you find comfort in a space just below the surface, wait a moment, then push yourself back to air. You decide- rather than kick and fight – to take a deep breath through your nose and re-capture your longevity buoyancy. You make the decision to float.
Your muscles relax as you comfortably ride the waves up and down. You feel a tingle throughout your body as the space between your neck and shoulders opens up. You start to regain a light mental energy, and welcome confidence into your mindscape again.
There is no doubt you will survive this storm and like a lone albatross lost from the flock, gratitude soars through your mind. You say a prayer to the one who is controlling the moon and ocean tides and slowly roll over and resume your swim with a smarter stroke. A grin washes over your face as you remind yourself that your longevity buoyancy works and is available any time you need it.
Now – while being mindful to maintain the open space between your ears and your shoulders – take a deep breath into your belly. Allow your belly to fill. At the maximum fill point hold your breath and say, “survival” in your mind. As you slowly exhale through pursed lips open your eyes and resume the work set before you.
2: Here’s The Trick Olympic Athletes Use To Achieve Their Goals Sarah Schmalbruch Jan. 28, 2015, 12:51 PM
3. FINDING REST – The Morning Blend – Dr. Adam Miller : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqdAvbUCKGg&t=8s
4. Coherent Breathing Guide : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlV_hU8BGoc.