Ancient scholars have long since known that our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are. The importance of this mind-body connection has however only been fully realised by today’s experts in recent years.
In his book “The Biology of Belief” former Stanford Lecturer Dr Bruce Lipton explains that our emotions are the language of our subconscious minds, influencing our cells in ways we are just beginning to understand. He unpacks how stress and fear contribute to cellular breakdown which impairs the body’s recovery and healing process. Because the health of our cells is influenced by the energetic messages which emanate from our thoughts, we can also accelerate healing at a biological level by releasing negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
Whenever I delve into the mind of an injured athlete, I almost always find a host of negative emotions like fear, anxiety, depression and stress linked to their injury. It is not easy to be out of the game, watching from the side-lines and wondering if and when you will be able to return and how your recovery time will affect your performance.
The thoughts and beliefs about an injury can either work for you or against you. If negative thinking persists it is likely to undo many of the long hours spent clawing your way back to form in rehab and the gym.
The following 8 steps will uncover and release the mental blocks causing psychological distress in order to activate a physical healing response.
Step 1: Accept your current reality
-Accept that you have been injured and nothing will change that fact.
-Accept that your injury will set you back.
-Accept that the road to recovery might be long and hard.
-Accept the fact that life is not fair.
You only control what is controllable – what you think, feel, say and do.
Step 2: Clear the negatives linked to your injury
You need to clear the emotional decks by removing all the negatives that you have knowingly or unknowingly linked to your injury or rehabilitation.
Look at your injury (if possible). Focus on it and say this statement out loud: “I give myself full permission to let go of as much of the negativity linked to my injury and recovery as I can right now.” This allows for the maximum amount of mental release your mind/body can handle at this time. It might take a day or several days – but you can repeat this step daily until eventually you will feel that it’s done and there’s nothing left to release.
Step 3: Find new meaning and opportunities to replace the negatives
Getting rid of the negatives linked to the injury makes room for new meaning and opportunities.
Use a permission statement to give yourself permission to believe the new meaning. For example:
“I give myself full permission to enjoy my game again and to recover with a clear mind.” Or “I give myself full permission to focus on my path to recovery, knowing that I will be a better athlete and person for this experience.” Or “I give myself full permission to trust my body’s healing process while I am doing everything I can to support it.” If there is resistance to your permission statement/s, you can use a similar statement as before to clear it, “I give myself full permission to let go of as much of the resistance linked to this permission statement as I can right now.” Once again you may clear the resistance in one moment, or over several days. Once you feel it is done, redo your chosen permission statement.
You can also replace the negatives with new ways of spending your recovery time that will add value to you and your sport. If you are part of a team, consider what other roles you can take on to contribute, how you can uniquely add value to the team when injured? You may find joy in another sport like swimming or cycling (if your injury allows). You may now have time for coaching or studying.
Once the negativity is cleared, you’re ready to activate the Healing Response:
Focus on the injured area and say the following statement out loud: “I give my body full permission to heal perfectly just the way it knows how, and I ask that my body accelerates this process by 100 times or more.” *
Now that the negativity is cleared and the Healing Response activated the remaining 4 steps involve finding the best strategy and attitude for optimal recovery.
Step 4: Become an expert on your injury and the stages of recovery
Find out as much as you can about your injury. What happened? (to the bone, ligament, muscle, etc.) Find out what the stages of recovery entail. What does progress look and feel like. The more you know the more your mind can focus on the healing journey instead of the frustrations and challenges of recovery. By facing reality the unknown has less power over you, however tough the information is, find out so you can use all your energy to focus on recovery.
Tip: When your attitude to recovery is one of patience and learning your physio, bio or conditioning coach will embrace your positive outlook which means a high commitment to quality care and faster recovery.
Step 5: Be in the moment
Arnold Schwarzenegger famously spoke about the mind-muscle connection when he said: “What puts you over the top? It is the mind that actually creates the body, it is the mind that really makes you work out for four or five hours a day, it is the mind that visualises what the body ought to look like as the finished product.”
Whatever form your recovery work takes – be present when you do it. While doing the exercises visualise the recovery and strengthening taking place. It will also help to focus on this recovery process and to “feel” it happening every night before bed.
Step 6: Celebrate every small win
There are many milestones along the road to healing and it is important to stop and reflect on each one. Celebrate your progress! Always focus on what you have achieved so far in your rehab, rather than comparing it to how things used to be. Count upwards – not backwards. If you are feeling frustrated by one day’s lack of progress, you need to review the progress for the week, and if are feeling frustrated by the lack of progress for the week, you need to review how far you have come over the last two weeks.
Many athletes are not motivated to do thirty 1kg reps to build foundational movement and flexibility because it does not feel as rewarding as a big squat or power lift. However, a series of 1kg reps is often key for recovery in order to get back to your superstar best. View the work that way and you will get there faster.
Step 7: Know the difference between Recovery Pain and Danger Pain
During recovery your body will give you feedback in the form of pain, but it’s important to know the difference between Recovery Pain and Danger Pain.
Recovery Pain: When you are injured the nerves around the injured area can become extra sensitive to movement and this will result in pain. Even simple and safe movements can cause pain, without causing harm.
Danger Pain: When you are determined to get back to form you may be tempted to ‘push through the pain’. This can push your body too far, too fast and cause serious harm.
This exercise will help train your brain to know the difference between the two:
Whenever you feel pain, focus on the specific area in your body. Look at the area if you can, otherwise close your eyes and visualise it. Ask your body: “Is this Recovery pain or Danger Pain?” Sit with the question and listen to your body’s answer. It may be very subtle at first. You may need some practice to accurately interpret pain feedback from your body, so keep on practising asking the question and track to see if your interpretation fits, over time you will become in tune with your body’s pain messages.
Step 8: Be patient
Healing takes time. An athlete who returns to full practice and competition before his or her body is ready risks more injury and time away from sport. Mental readiness is just as important as complete physical recovery. By taking the time to complete the 8 steps you will return to play a mentally tougher, more positive and therefore better athlete.
* This healing instruction is inspired by Alex Loyd’s book ,”The Healing codes” where he uses it in a very different healing protocol.