After I was discharged from hospital my initial elation quickly gave way to quiet desperation. Our house was not wheelchair friendly and life became a series of frustrations. I wanted my freedom back as a matter of urgency.
Not so simple when you have brain and spinal cord injuries and only one leg. My head throbbed nonstop and my body felt very heavy and exhausted all the time.
Desperation drove me to understand more about how the brain motivated and moved the body. Or more correctly, which chemicals were released in my brain that helped me to feel motivated to move?
I knew that feeling very well from my racing days - how my fatigued body miraculously recovered, making me feel exhilarated and alive. One particular race stands out; the feel good rush happened right at the end of a very exhausting and very prolonged cycling race while I was cycling at a very high intensity.
On the lab bike I would have collapsed in a heap - out on the road racing away from the chasing pack I was invincible!
Knowing I would win if I kept the intensity high caused my brainstem to flood the rest of my brain with dopamine, norepinephrine and other neurochemicals that up-regulated my skeleto-motor system and my psyche.
Spiderman on speed - an all but unbeatable combination.
If I could tap into these feel good chemicals while engaging in physical activity, I would surely be able reclaim my body and keep in shape effortlessly.
Fine in theory, but unfortunately exercising my withered body required the expenditure of an extraordinary amount of energy. What was more, I felt plain awful.
The only time I got something approaching a second wind was when I haltingly made my way to the supper table to tuck in to yet another of mom’s sumptuous offerings.
Though hunting and gathering these days are far less demanding than in times past, walking to the fridge/dinner table or down the supermarket aisles are none the less forms of physical activity.
As it turns out the motor control of all motivated behaviors – whether eating or reproducing or engaging in a particular movement pattern like running, cycling or swimming - are regulated by the same neural circuitry in the reptilian brain. These patterned activities coordinated by the reptilian brain are known as locomotor activities.
When sprinting for the line or tucking in to a hearty meal; the only things in our thoughts should be the goal of the behavior we are engaging in and how good it makes us feel.
This enables us to keep focused on the task at hand to ensure successful execution, rather than thinking about how to contract your muscles or how to hold your fork. Put in another way, it is not necessary to expend all that much conscious effort when engaging in motivated behaviours.
They pretty much run themselves and they make us feel good
In a way I had to start from scratch to learn how to work with my body to whip it back into shape again. Before I was run over by a truck I simply pushed through all the discomforts knowing that it was just a matter of time before my body responded to all the high intensity hill repeats and exhaustively long cycles.
Following my accident I was forced to listen to my body, forced to cut back completely on the intensity, forced to learn how to let my reptilian brain take charge of the movement itself.
This allowed my thinking brain enough freedom to appreciate and eventually start enjoying physical activity. The key being to practice deep relaxation to enable us to listen to our bodies and to the still small voice of God. The best way to practice deep relaxation is via posturally correct movement sequences that will free up your reptilian brain to get on with it’s amazing job of keeping you motivated and healthy.