Michael Johnson started sharing his life journey as an athlete during his high school days and became an employee in a company in New York. During his stay in New York, he came across a flyer while riding a bus, inspiring him to learn yoga, meditation, and Pilates. His yoga experience then made him realize that he wanted to seek more. It changed him spiritually that he decided to leave corporate life and pursue one of his dreams as a ski patrolman. In this episode, Michael shares with Dr. Kevin Pecca the disaster that led him to experience major health issues, going through different procedures and medications. Listen to how he made his life better and find inspiration to start taking action in yours today. There’s nothing better than hearing a person’s transformation to increase your motivation in getting back up and succeeding.
###Listen To The Episode Here:
A Healing Journey With Michael Johnson
Welcome everyone to a new episode of the show. You can find us on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok @DrKevinPecca Facebook @MontclairUpperCervical. If you have any questions or comments about the show, you can email me directly at DrKevinPecca@gmail.com.
We're also broadcasting live episodes on our YouTube and Facebook channels. Be sure to subscribe for those. There are a lot of fun live interactions and you don't have to wait for the episodes to come out. You get them right away. On the show, we have one of my patients, Michael Johnson. He has a phenomenal story. He has been involved with Pilates, yoga and meditation for a long time.
He has such an incredible life story. If you're interested in Pilates, be sure to check out his Instagram page. He posts so many cool daily videos and exercises you can do on your own to help you get in Pilates. He's also an expert fly fisherman and he does that as a hobby and ties his own flies. He's got a popular Instagram with that as well but I wanted to have him on because he's such a genuine person. He has a phenomenal life story and so many things he was talking about. I had no idea. He went through.
The reason he came to us was that he took a bad slip on the subway stairs and he landed right on the back of his head, near his atlas and so he started seeking out upper cervical care for that. I then got to know him well and I started following him on Instagram. He's such a unique person. He loves what he does. He gets a lot of people better through his Pilates classes. This episode is Pilates, upper cervical healing and so much more. It was an honor to have him on the show and I know you guys are going to love this episode. Without further ado. Please welcome Michael Johnson.
Thank you so much for coming to the show. For those of you tuning in, we are doing live broadcasts. Thank you so much for tuning in. We have an awesome guest, Michael Johnson. He is one of my patients at Montclair Upper Cervical. He is into a variety of different health fields and into his own health and he has an amazing healing journey. He's also got a lot of into fly fishing hobbies and he's a great guy. I love sitting down and talking with him and we're going to have a great episode. Mike, how are you?
I'm doing good. Thanks for asking. Thanks for having me.
It's an honor to have you. We've had a lot of great conversations in the office and I'm excited to have them on Facebook.
Let everybody get to know us a little better.
Mike, where are you from originally?
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a beautiful spot in the high desert out there and then mountain ranges and deserts. I grew up there and then during my high school years, I went to a boarding school in Sheffield, Massachusetts, up here in New England.
How was that transition?
It was very hard being non-preppy and going to a prep school. It was like I was a unicorn.
That's a little bit of a culture shock for sure, especially, living in Utah and then going to the Northeast. It’s very different.
That was an interesting part of that process.
Was that a good process for you? Did you enjoy that or not?
Not during. I don't think any teenager thinks any process is good. Even when they make their own decisions, they don't like their own process. If I look back on it, it was probably a storybook part of my life. It's a neat area. I went to the Berkshire school and that's where I picked up different sports like lacrosse. I had never heard of lacrosse before. I got into cross country running. I was a very good athlete for prep school or that region. I ended up going to Lake Forest College. I played lacrosse there at a division-level division. There’s three-level.
No. Lake Forest College is in Chicago. I ended up going up there for one year. It was great because we had ten high school All-Americans on my freshmen college year.
That’s pretty good for the three schools.
It was amazing to play with these guys and we went 10 and 3 that year. We played big schools like Notre Dame, Ohio Wesleyan. We'd go to these lacrosse tournaments and play like Syracuse and get our ass whipped. It was fun to just experience that as a young man and athlete or at least play at that level. You have to be fast and I ran cross country all my high school years so I'd say accumulated miles to be able to play in that arena.
What was next for you after college?
I went to New York City and I got a job on the COMEX. It’s where they trade gold, silver and copper.
How did you dive into that?
It was a relationship by my father and then basically, I started as a clerk and then got on the arbitrage phones and then I ran a gold options booth for a guy and then basically went out on my own. It was one of the first guys to trade natural gas contracts that ever in the history of America. They opened up the natural gas exchange. It's surreal. I look back on it and it was like playing maybe at the NFL level but you're in the arena. It feels like you're in that Coliseum kind of thing and it's just live. I look back on it. We were told back then that we weren't going to exist. That was going to all go into computers and the open outcry system was going to change and we're like, “No,” but it changed.
I did that for a number of years and it links me into what we're going to talk about a little bit. I started my yoga practice at the same time as a young man and I found a flyer on a bus seat, it says, “Learn how to meditate.” I was 21 years old and this is a cool story. Here I'm working on Wall Street and living in Manhattan. I find this, “Learn how to meditate.” It was going up to this ashram in South Fallsburg, New York. I learned from this person called Gurumayi and she's the head of the City Yoga Foundation but I had no idea about any of this when I went there. I went up there for a weekend to learn how to meditate and lo and behold, I didn't know it was a weekend where they celebrated her guru's death, which is called the Mahasamadhi. There were 800 people there from all over the world. It was like a Woodstock Fest at this ashram.
Who is the person that passed away?
His name was Baba Muktananda, which brought the City Yoga Foundation and the idea brought yoga to the West from his teacher. That experience with Gurumayi pretty much made that shift for me spiritually, whereby I wanted to seek that a little more. I ended up leaving Wall Street and pursuing another dream job of mine where I became a ski patrolman in the Park City side at home. Eventually, I made it to the Snowbird side and ended up being a ski patrolman on the Snowbird Ski Patrol.
You went to the retreat. You figured you wanted to pivot a little bit in your career. How long did it take you to pivot, go out, hit the slopes in Utah and then leave Wall Street?
It was an on-and-off thing.
Most people don't do that. They have the shift but they don't leave.
It was like I had this awakening. It was literally within 1 or 2 years after I learned meditating, going to yoga and Pilates at the same time. I was studying Pilates, yoga, running triathlons, working on Wall Street and then trying to look at this spiritual health thing. Mental health or meditation is the thing we want to talk about a little bit. I would seek these environments where you would reach this state, let's call it in your mental capacity at the time, your neurology is learning at some point and then I would go to Wall Street and it would be like this chaos and trying to find the calm in that.
It helped. As a young man, I felt like that wasn't who I was. Even though I could perform in the environment or I had an aptitude to be in that environment, it wasn't who I was or how I wanted to express myself and be a little bit more of a broader human. I felt like a lot of those guys were socially inept. They didn't care about you or what was going on. They cared about what the price of gold was going on. It could be at dinner with somebody. I saw that as a role model type thing and it's not something that I wanted to have inherently within the quality of me.
How did your quality of life shift when you went over and you became a ski patrolman?
It was a joy. It was a struggle because you're making $7 an hour when hanging in the office challenge, chairlift and setting up pads on. It's not like all glory. You work on the mountain so people don't realize. I ended up working with a lot of the avalanche dogs and we all do. It's like a team. It's like, “You guys go set that boundary line. You have to go and reset the boundary lines because the snow levels change and you have to set the pads on the poles.” It's work. You're working on your skis and it's what an office though. What’s the difference from being in a subway in New York and then being 11,000 feet looking out onto the horizon? It’s pretty cool.
It's funny that you mentioned pure joy. I almost commented on one of your pictures of you fly fishing and then your face looked like it was sheer joy on that picture.
It's interesting because even out there, I was in that environment, I ended up being introduced to what ended up being a good friend of mine and lived with me for a while. We ended up traveling to all the sundances and all the pow wow dances because he was the chief of the Ute Indian Tribe. I ended up doing a lot of sweat lodges and things like that, even further prayer, meditations and then diving into his religious practices and doing four-day vision fasts where we would be in a sweat lodge for four days with no food, no water. He would oversee your vision.
Do you start to hallucinate?
No. You don’t hallucinate but you are sure hungry. That fasting technique was for you to look at the process of how your mind thinks it needs stuff, you get through that phase and then you think you're hungry and what your body needs to sustain itself. Usually, when you fasted beyond that thinking process and your food process then hopefully, you can have your vision or whatever shown to you when you pass out. It's a pretty intense situation. You're thirsty is anything and you end up doing these tobacco ceremonies with him and smoking this sweet tobacco but it takes away all your thirst.
It was interesting going through his religious practices and then watching him go do perform the sundances hymn and doctoring on all the people, all the old ladies and everybody coming through him and him doing his featherwork and healing people in that capacity as well. I was in learning a little bit more about how connecting with nature.
Was this guy a shaman?
Yes. He was the chief of the Ute Indian Tribe. I have a picture of him too and I have a lot of his artwork and things like that.
What's it like on the reservations and everything? I've never been to an Indian reservation.
It's very sad. It's like going to a Caribbean island, watching the poverty and then you see the big building over there. It's like the disparities. It's real.
How are the people? Are they genuinely happy or they're not living too well?
It's different. Each family is different. It depends on the opportunities and what Vera and I try to do is try to get them to meet me and have me going to a ceremony with them to let go of their anger towards the White man. I was amused. I was being used a little bit but I didn't mind because I made connections with people. I prayed with people that were different than me. We try to get overcome the differences and that's basically the concept I live by as unity through diversity.
How did you feel after those four-day fast?
Not hungry, believe it or not. When you go home, you're not as hungry as you think you are. You get a different sense of yourself and what's run in you. Those narrative threads that don't serve you or anybody else. That's what deeper meditation is and that vision fast was to be the gardener of your own mind and then be able to pluck those thought forms and sentences that don't serve yourself or serve anybody else anymore.
Did you have a breakthrough that you found that wasn't serving you anymore?
Beliefs about things and fears. You have to investigate what's the sentence structure around a particular fear. By yourself, at least for me, I would write it down, say the phrase, go introduce yourself to ten people with that phrase and you'll stop believing that stupid sentence. It's a cool way that you see it it's here but sometimes you have to write it down. Sometimes you have to say, “My name is Michael Johnson. I am that sentence,” and then hear yourself say it. Do you believe it? You then act on it. It's like thought were deed. Those in Indian religions like Hindu are karma, the path of cause and effect. It describes nature. That's what the Indians or the path of the red road, say something from the Lakota Tribe or say other than that.
They follow natural law. Nature is the kingdom and that's the same thing with Hinduism is that natural law is the Laws of Karma. It's the same thing with Taoism and the Chinese masters like Confucius and Laozi and all this is that they say this is the way. You do all those great masters, teachers, all the sages and all that were basically describing Natural Law. I was told to reread the Bible and wherever it says, Lord or God put in the word Natural Law and it will change the whole context of the meaning of the Bible. The Natural Law is my shepherd. Natural Law leads me to lie down in green pastures and still waters.
It takes off the dogma of it sounds. After doing the sweat lodges, this amazing shaman you met, what was next for you?
It was to probably go into the physical fitness business, the yoga and Pilates teaching and getting certified and creating longevity in the body because I had a long-time goal when I used to go to Park City when I was a little kid. I'd see a sign on the ticket window, 70-year-old ski for free. That was my main incentive to get into physical fitness. Not because I wanted to be better than you or anything. I wanted to ski when I go 70. It’s a huge passion of mine.
Ski for free.
That was it. As simple as that.
How did you get into Pilates? I've never had anybody talk about Pilates on this show. I've had a couple of yoga people. I've never tried Pilates myself. What has that been able to do?
It’s the big mystery of Joseph Pilates. He was a boxer and a physical fitness enthusiast. His mom was a naturopath and he created this system based off on gymnastics some martial arts, fighting and wrestling-type things. It’s a modern-day activity of his day, which was horseback riding, swimming and fencing back at the turn of the century in the 1900s. I got introduced to it by a trainer.
My mom used to have come over to the house. Her girlfriends would come over and they bought this machine called this reformer and he would train them in one day. Being a college lacrosse athlete and even a high school athlete, I got introduced to him when I was in high school. They were like, “Come on, big guy, come down here on the floor with us and try this mat work,” and it was insanely hard.
For someone that's even physically fit like yourself.
It's not hard in a way. It's high intensity hard but body control. Fortunately for me, my teacher's name was Kimly and he was a gymnast and a martial artist. He had a 40-inch vertical standing vertical jump. He could literally jump up in the air and almost touch the rim of the basketball hoop with his foot with his legs stretched up like that.
Standing still and not even getting his whole body to it.
As a kid, that was impressive. The first perspective was that he said, “This is based in gymnastics and martial art principles.” That was my first teacher. I ended up in 1995 opening up a little studio with him in Salt Lake. He moved from LA because mom or somebody who was sick. We train people and I learned how to teach his way.
Kim ended up working with all the Holywood people down in LA. He had Candice Bergen. His list of celebrities is outrageously long. He ended up working and going on tour with Madonna. I wanted to learn more about what he was doing with those people so I could step behind that. I got involved in the Pilates certification with Ramona in New York in 1997 and finished that certification. That was learning more about it.
Once I was done with that certification, Ramona asked me if I wanted to teach and I'm like, “I know nothing.” It was overwhelming. At the same time, I was studying yoga too. I was still being athletic too. I still was going to the gym and wearing new clothes or sweatshirts, trying out all these new systems. There were the hot button systems of the day. Joseph Pilates works in what I've come to realize that study in-and-out years. I started when I was sixteen.
I believe that all these pre-1920 methods like yoga, Tai Chi, martial arts and Pilates were fascial-based systems. What do we mean by fascial-based? It’s the connective tissue that connects your muscles, tendons, ligaments organs, eyes, brain and houses your spine. The dura of your spine is like fascial XI. I believe these old systems were based in fascial models, not muscle models. A muscle crosses one joint and we use that to move that joint. People started dissecting bodies and moving the white stuff and all the fascia and putting it in the garbage. They said, “This muscle moves that joint.” They didn't realize that.
If you fascially hold your hands, get the long part of that fascial and then move your arm, you're getting the whole list of connections too and that's where martial arts and yoga. Joseph Pilates was a boxer and then his brother was a gymnast and they were into head wrestling and stuff.
They understood that this fascial tensioning thing and then moved because I realized that the brain fights for stability or balance. First, you can't exhibit power without having balance or stability. If you create stability in your hands and now that fascial tension there, now you can exhibit power but if there's some weak link here, there are ten million compensations that are happening and you're trying to isolate one muscle while you got 10,000 compensations. What I realized it was about motor control Joseph Pilates was. You have fascially tense things and then go through a motor control pattern to remodel. That's what people are calling mobility. Joseph Pilates had an advanced mobility method and we're calling it mobility now but it was an advanced mobility system.
One of the most fascinating things you showed me was gripping the floor with your foot. When you walk, you can literally feel that chain from your foot all the way up to your hip. Everything engaging. When most people are walking around, they're not activating 90% of that when they're walking.
Think of a bird grabbing a perch. When a bird walks on the ground, they can grab branches, hop and do anything. Our feet are like the dome of a bird, a claw or an animal. That engagement is the fascial tension. My fascia is so developed. That's all the years of yoga and handstands, me controlling and me moving all of that. It’s the same thing on my feet. This is what I like about Joseph Pilates, he created devices for the feet and it’s called the foot corrector. You've been a chiropractor. You understand this stuff.
I’ve never seen it. Will you wrap your foot around the top of it?
You put your foot like this and then you can get grip strength with your feet. You can get invert and evert because you got to push the pedals down. If I put my cuboid over this, I get the best cuboid adjustment because now I can adjust or mobilize my cuboid. You get different angles on the bones or the metatarsal and then you engage your foot.
Getting that grip strength, the thing I taught you is a device too, even make it more grifty. You can get to the frontline, the big toe line or the little toe line and be able to group that. That's a cool way to what I say transform the athlete to a glute dominant athlete. That's what Joseph Pilates and boxers are and they’re glute dominant athletes because they don't hit you with their quads. They hit you with their butt.
That foot to glute is important. This fascial thing was very exciting to me. Honestly, for years, I didn't even call it a fascial system. I didn't even know but I'd get off this reformer and I'd feel my body. I couldn't put a word to what I was feeling or describing but people feel better because it hydrates the fascia.
You feel like you have a solid foundation.
I think it's your skin gets like all loose and that's what everybody is like saying, “Get blood flow or get this, get that.” Remember your fascia is its own organ. It's not a separate thing. To go through a remodeling, say, becoming a fascia-driven athlete and all the fascia-driven athletes are getting paid millions of dollars. You're going to the gym and you're becoming a quad-dominant athlete and you're coming further away from these elite athletes.
I was getting these eight lead athletes and I was, “I can't do the strength training thing because that'll make them slow and down.” Making them a fascia-driven or going through this conversion process of strengthening your feet, feel that foot to glute and then once the glute is dominant because the glute inserts 85% fascial insert, the glute material. The only way to get to the glute properly is through your foot, not through glute bridging, quads or squatting. It’s what I tell you, through your feet.
That's a process where you got to relearn how to do certain movements. It's not easy.
This is an interesting part because I was talking to another friend of mine that finished chiropractic school that your brain decides at some point you're going to become a muscle mover or a fascial mover. It does make that decision. It flips. Look at a dog. A dog walks on their toes. They don't walk on their heels. They're up here on their toes. That's what we're supposed to be doing and when we lose that fascial health, the spine goes sink down.
The whole kinetic chain goes out of whack.
That's why I felt like it was a way to rehydrate or recondition the fascial system. That's what Tai-Chi really meant. It was like, “If I go slow and I'm tense, my brain is learning every millimeter of that rotation.” Tai Chi translates into the highest learning. Your brain is learning and it's the same thing. Fascial tensity and then move. That's how they were able to repair, remodel and mobilize the workspaces of their joints.
Tell me when some of your health issues crept in. Let’s talk about that.
I studied for 30 years for these methods. I was a good athlete. I was doing splits to handstands and back to splits up to handstand. I was getting these combinations down. I was getting integrity strong and then one day, it was a rainy day in Manhattan. I was running down the stairs. The next thing you know is my feet are right at a high level and I come down. I hit the back of my head on the C1 on the corner of the escalator stair. Backpack goes like this and I lost back and then click. I heard it. I was laying there for a second. I'm an athlete. I've been hit hard. Your stomach goes weird. I laid there and then the whole right side of my body went numb. Literally, I’m down to my toes. My toes and hand was tingling.
Did you think you were paralyzed for a second?
I didn't know. I was like, “Shit.” That's all I could think about. I was in pain. Being an athlete, I got up and went home. The counter piece here was that I had a labral tear and a bone cyst on my right hip. I was a little unstable on my right hip and that was from a ski injury. From skiing moguls and deep powder and one day punched tear. I was unstable on my hip. Believe it or not, I was in more pain in my hip than I was up here.
I went home and I fell asleep. About 4:00 in the morning, I hear these weird sounds in my head. I woke up and I tried to get up and go to the bathroom. I couldn't walk to the bathroom. I was in complete vertigo. I got my wife, “Please, help me get to the bathroom. I need to go to the emergency room.” I had no idea what was happening to me.
I didn't go to the emergency room. I try to make an appointment with an ear, nose. and throat doc and so I go to the doc and then he orders all of the scans. He does the full-core press and the CAT scan. I was experiencing hearing loss, vertigo and tinnitus. I presented as I had suddenly come down with Meniere’s disease. He prescribed me some steroids, Meclizine and come back in for ten days once you finish these Z-Pak. They did hearing tests and I had hearing loss. I had no idea. I thought I had Meniere’s disease.
Even then, it's like, “Now what?”
I thought to myself, “You don't suddenly come down with Meniere’s disease.” Something proceeded it and I said to him, I said, “I got hit right there. My ear is right there. The proximity is less than a thumbnail away. Don't you think it's related?” “No. It's not related.” I looked at him straight in the face and I said, “I don't think I can have you as my doctor and that's when the problems began with that medical community because then they don't back down on their diagnosis.”
They don't back down and don't get offer any solutions either. They say a lot of scary stuff to people too, that you're going to have to live with it for the rest of your life.
I had once gone to the hospital. I had a 27-hour vertigo session. It’s so bad that the ambulance guys had to come and pick me up, put me in a wheelchair, take me out to the ambulance, go to the hospital. I was 27 hours in the whole room. This is where the meditation practice comes in. It was so bad. I was throwing up and shit my pants. I could nothing to shit or throw up anymore. If I picked my head up, I'd throw up. If I looked that way, I'd throw up.
Tell me about the meditation creeping in then.
This is where the meditation comes in. When I used to go into vertigo, I was like a little seed in a tornado. I could find the calm in the storm and my body was going through this snow globe thing experience. After that 27-hour experience, the neurologist comes in and he wants to prescribe me Depakote. I said, “You have to give me empirical evidence that why are you giving me Depakote?”
“Don't you want your life back?” I said, “I'll get my life back once the snow globe settles without your drugs and without you in it.” He didn't know how to respond to me. That's what the meditation practice allowed me to have clear thinking in a situation where people are relying on a doctor to have them take care of them and then where I had to take responsibility no matter what state my process was in to take care of myself.
Any panic that sets in that moment is probably going to increase vertigo as well too.
It goes through those anxiety things.
For people generally having vertigo, you start panicking. You’re done. It’s not going to get better.
I would say that on anybody probably. I would read the newspaper and I get about 3rd or 4th sentence and then feel it come on. That's how bad my eyes, adrenals and then I went through all kinds of weird stuff without having that brainstem being compressed. The thing that got me out of it wasn't chiropractic care. It was a direct IV ozone therapy, which was getting oxygen to my brain.
What was that experience like for you and what even made you jump into that? That's so far off the radar for most people.
It’s like concussion health.
Even ozone therapy in general.
What made me get into this? I was going to this Korean guy. He doesn't have a health food store anymore but he was down the road from me and I was getting a fruit juice or a smoothie. He and his wife had experienced some problems. He was always into health and it started talking to him about the hearing loss and this and that. He says, “You need to go because we thought it was viral or you don't know.” The many pain things can cause the symptoms, vertigo and hearing loss. It could be viral or medication but I didn't take any medications. I had an accident. I said, “Maybe there is a virus that’s causing the tinnitus or ozone can kill the virus then I'll go and see Doc Robins. That's how I started.
Me and Doc Robins started looking about how my immune system was depressed and then we got a lot of blood tests and I was going to Dr. Kellman at that time. I was getting vitamin drips and ozone therapy. I'm trying to boost my immune system that allows it to heal itself. That's how I think I came out of a depleted state because my the brainstem. Once I started getting better, I started seeking more chiropractic care but I was in serious pain. I look back on it. I'm like I was in so much pain. This is important to say to people when we're talking about mental health.
I slipped and fell on the subway stairs. About a month later, my brother died and I had to go to Utah to bury him. Three days later, I got hip surgery and then after the hip surgery for three months on the cane, I started going like this. It's like a downward spiral. It’s vertigo every 4 to 7 days, clockwork, almost like a cycle. I didn't reach ozone therapy for another 8 or 6 months, then it wasn't another six months until I started feeling better. It was like a year and a half and then I started finding Upper Cervical Care. At first, I found the endonasal cranium release guy down. If anybody knows what this is, it basically tries to move this sphenoid bone, which is the bone that's in the center of your head at the bottom of your eyes.
It's like at the top of the palate of your mouth. It's like a wing. That's like your temple bones and how they try to move it as pneumatically pass a balloon through your nasal pharynx, which can maneuver. This procedure gave me my breathing back doc. I couldn't breathe out of the right side of my face. After he open the center of my head, I could feel the air rushed back.
Was it instantaneous?
The balloon goes in your nose and all of sudden, you hear this weird sound. You can hear all the scar tissue move and then you hear this cracking in the inside of your head and all of a sudden, I started crying because I could breathe. I started bawling my eyes out because I could breathe. I could feel that breath on the back of my eyeballs.
I could breathe for the first time. That was significant and I didn't have the money to continue to go see him but he was a function neurologist and did that endonasal cranial release. I then saw the Nuka guys because that's cervical and then I started doing more research about it. I got a sphenoid bone and the C1 atlas. I tried the Nuka thing and I didn't get any help from that. I did it 22 times or 2 packages. I was faithful. I went to that and that didn't help. It was a process. I kept trying to go, “Next.” The main driver that drive me to seek many different modalities was I had tinnitus. It wasn't the pain and the lack of function. It was the tinnitus. That was the main cheerleader for me to be in action and continue to be in action about trying to solve my issues.
How bad was your tinnitus?
I used to tell people on a scale of 1 to 10, mine is a 25. Louder than a siren running down the street, 24/7, full-blown on not letting go.
Were you able to sleep at night?
I would sometimes go eleven days without sleep, an hour of sleep or something like that. Sleep and getting rest was the biggest problem. The point I was going to say is that I was in a yoga class once. I had a full-on emotional release come out of my hip. We’re doing this hip opening. I started bawling and crying in the class and this and that. After class, I told the lady the story because I would still go to class, even though I was having vertigo stuff. I was trying to be normal. She goes, “It looks like your brother doesn't want to live in your hip anymore.” I was amazed.
Does she know you?
She didn’t know your brother died?
No. I did tell her that I had this surgery and she’s like, “Your brother doesn’t want to live in your hip anymore.” She said something even more important, which I want to bring up to people and our talk is that I used to take her class a lot. I know some of you out here in the room are in pain or maybe somebody is reading this. She goes, “If you're in pain, go find somebody that's in more pain than you then go help them and see what happens to your pain.” I hung on to that one. That was a vitamin for me because no matter how much pain I was in helping people in the yoga practice or continue to teach, I always remember that. This person might be having more difficulties than me.
That's one of the most powerful things I've ever heard.
In my capacity to continue to work, I found the older population that needed help and that was in pain and for the last years while I was experiencing all these difficulties, I worked with the elderly population, say 78 to 95 up to 105 and help people with their parents and help them work out. Whatever capacity I could work, help people and I did under my own thing. I wasn't this rock star teacher I wanted to be but I was helping people.
What did that do for your pain levels?
My pain was there but there's something life-giving to serving others and that's what all this experience on earth might be about. It’s finding your passion and learning how to serve in the best way. It makes you feel useful. In that sense, when you're so gone through such a head trauma, brain injury, mental health or we talk about these things. It's about being an action and showing skill how to get back up because everybody falls. It's how you show skill to get back up. That's important.
What choices do you make to be skillful and knowing when to apply massage and when not to massage? Knowing what to apply what you do, Upper Cervical. Knowing when to back off of it instead of learning how to think, not what to think. That was the biggest approach that was life-giving for me. It helped my mental health help me be able to work out again because I couldn't even ride on a bus because I was afraid to go on into vertigo from looking at the trees go by the window.
I was afraid to go on the subway. I couldn't go in a car because I couldn't see the white lines on the road. I was having serious problems. For me to exercise again, to be able to read again, to be able to even help somebody again, teach online or teach someone how to do a rotator cuff exercise. That brought joy to me because I was laying there at one point in my life. I thought I was going to die in vertigo. I never thought I would be able to do anything. I thought that my life was going to be injecting volume in me to keep me out of vertigo.
I was thinking this exact same thought. I don't know what made me think of it but with my own health issues, I got to a point where I never thought I was going to be able to exercise again. Five pushups, the room would start spinning. I remember after 7, 8 or 9 months of Upper Cervical Care, I went for a jog one day and I did it without any symptoms. I started bawling my eyes out crying. It was like a high school track. I did 1 or 2 laps and that was the biggest victory. I started crying on the track. It's like you tell somebody you went for a jog and you started crying. It was so much more than that.
Victories are important and then being able to support your victories. It was like with my fitness page. You see what I've been doing. One day, I had to stop and say, “I'm not competing with yourself or anybody else. It's amazing that you can even do any of this.” If people want to know what I did to overcome head injury, just go over my fitness page.
I do it every day. It’s helping my nervous system learn again because it went through a traumatic and you have to recalibrate your nervous system. If you think it's doing its job, it's not. You have to go and learn how to do this again because your brain has been numbed. It had gone through an experience or a trauma.
What is your Instagram tag so people can look it up? Forget any of your injuries. What you're doing on there, it's simply amazing some of the exercises you're able to do.
I'm mimicking Joseph Pilates work, some yoga stuff and some functional training work. It's funny because when you get invested in a method, you want to see if it works. One of the things is that you can work very hard, exercise and not get what you want and you feel very defeated. It was for me to work very hard and get what I wanted.
My Instagram is @Matfit_NYC. I acquired a trademark Mat fit because I wanted to bring globally all the mat exercises from all the different systems because every system has a mat exercise to it whether it’s judo, karate or yoga. Pilates has a mat. My idea was to be fit on the mat. No equipment is necessary. I try to exhibit on my Mat fit page daily exercises that can help you in your mat practice.
What has Blair Upper Cervical been able to do for you? I remember we were talking about it, unwinding the entire system and everything.
What you do if people don't know, upper cervical is adjusting the C1 up here where I got hit and you've seen on the X-rays and you can tell people better than me, the rotation that it displays on my X-ray. There's actual evidence that there's a need for this type of adjustment. We looked at that evidence and then you adjust me at that point.
What I feel is what it did when I told the doc when I was in the office. The last couple of times is basically reduced the neural tension I feel in my spine. That right there has been a huge problem. I immediately feel neural tension released. Does it take away my other complications? Maybe not yet. As you described, it’s a process to allow this. Let’s say your house is on fire to allow it to smolder, coals and end up burning. Your house is on fire to maybe coming back into homeostasis. That process, you have to be gentle on that too. This is where you've been and where you're going.
That's interesting about your story too is some people will try a certain modality and if it doesn't work then at that exact instant or maybe a couple of weeks in the care that modality is garbage, it doesn't work and they don't even want to experiment and don't want to dive into that field anymore. You've run into so many roadblocks and things that didn't work for you but you, you kept exploring. How did you keep that open mind because a lot of people try one thing and they say it doesn't work.
I would attribute that to my yoga practice because the path of action is karma yoga. It's not this retribution thing. You create the life you want to live in and that's the cause and effect of every decision you make. If I have to be in action about not having stinky thinking, meditate, write down your stinky thoughts, go introduce people with those stinky thoughts and see how long you keep those thoughts. How good are they to you?
If you're telling yourself bullshit, you're going to run on bullshit. Being in the path of action, it's always about what action can I take? What can I afford and what doesn't going to be harmful or hurt me. It doesn't hurt me. I'm going to go try this and I have to give it an honest effort and look at myself in the mirror and report back to you what I'm feeling. Sometimes those adjustments make the ringing worse but they align the spine.
I have to live with that for 1 to 2 weeks but it's a process. I'm willing to go through that for what I can afford and look for myself at the end of the day, knowing that I did whatever I could to help myself and know that I was in action. You can learn something from your injuries and being in that process about where your mental health state is, how patient you are with yourself, how upset you get and how angry you are. If you're angry, it's not the doctor's fault. You're the one that fricking fell and the one that has the problem.
Be gentle with yourself and all those things that go on with health. There are a lot of people out there that are helping people with coping methods. If you're not organized in your mind, go get coached and have people help you with that like the yoga, meditations, my dedication to myself of longevity and wanting to have those goals, no matter if I fell down. I could still ski at 70. That’s what I tell myself.
What is fly fishing do for you? You're an incredible fly fisher and an incredible fly maker. It seems effortless to you. It brings you so much joy. How important did it play in your healing process?
Fly fishing also gives me back to nature. It brings me back to Native American medicine, the path of the red road. When I'm out in nature, I'm literally fully immersed into the playground that's going on there. When you get into the river entomology, trout and fly fishing, you're mimicking that environment. What I love about fly fishing is I can't bring my frenetic self to nature.
Here's this Natural Law thing. Whatever's going on in my frigging little brain that doesn't apply to what's going on out there in the river. You have to let go of that and immerse yourself into those playgrounds and that's a meditative practice. That's what meditation is. The river is like a moving meditation and that part is so healing to people who have post-traumatic stress disorder because it gives them a break from their K fuck sentence that they're saying to themselves or K fuck radio is going on or whatever so they get a break and all of a sudden they feel this peace.
They get back to the launch, they get back to sleep at night and I was like, “K fuck radio.” I go out fishing again. They get this little break. That is a way to help help you. I also got into the artwork part of it. I'm a fly tires. Our page is @TheFlyWarrior I give lectures. I volunteer also in that environment. I go open and spend a weekend with people with breast cancer recovery, teaching them how to fly fish and go to this rotator cuff because they realized this motion opens up the breast tissue after they've had mastectomies and all this stuff. My friend Beth runs those weekends and she gets all of these girls up there and we have a doctor and we take these women to fly fishing after their breast cancer experience.
I get involved that way. I've also made a green sustainable product for fly tires, which I sourced, alpaca wool from the alpaca farms in the cast skills, dive it, cut it, blend it and put it in packets and we sell that up there at the Delaware River Club for fly tires that want a green, sustainable dubbing. That's a natural fiber.
I've gotten involved in that. These are things if you look on hospital lists that how to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. Number one is the artwork. Number two is meditation. Going long walks hold your partner's hand. Know that your situation can change. When we had the lockdown and COVID, I'd checked all those boxes. I was like, “I meditate. I go for long walks. I have an artwork. These things can help you overcome these types of head injuries and things like that.”
My fly fishing page has been a great recovery tool not only for me to have an interest like color therapy for me. I get to work with yellows oranges or purples. It's a fun thing and I'm going to start selling out these flies. I've never wanted to sell them but people love my page and so I'm going to start selling small amounts and try to supplement things that way as well.
At the end of every show, I like to ask all my guests. What is one piece of advice that has resonated with you over the years that you would like to give the audience? It could be absolutely anything. It’s a loaded question.
I would say cultivate prayer work in your life. It's something that was so life-giving and so enriching for others as well as for yourself and for others. No matter how you pray, it doesn't matter. In all the situations when you've gone through tragedy, trauma or world situations as we have been through. Learning how to pray is so important and there's no wrong way to pray.
Michael, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. One last thing, where can people find you in on social media and check out your work and everything you're doing?
I have two Instagram pages. It's @Matfit_NYC and my art pages are @TheFlyWarrior. You'll see all my artwork. It is pretty cool.
Michael, thank you so much for coming on. I will see you around the office soon and I would love to have you back on here to give everybody an update.
We’ll catch up with all my relations. Thanks, doc.
Important Links: -Instagram
About Michael Johnson Michael Johnson holds certificates in Pilates from Kim Lee and Romana Kryzanowska. Michael has been teaching for 15 years and is recognized for his motivational teaching style and straight forward approach. Michael lives and teaches in New York, where he continues to enhance the quality of people’s lives through exercise and the power of the mind body connection. His philosophy on Pilates is that they must be an integral part of everyday life.
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