Meditation can be challenging at the best of times, particularly if the body is feeling uncomfortable in a seated or supine position on the floor. One of the primary draws of the float tank is its ability to make meditation much more accessible due to its hyper-buoyant environment. Floating in a solution of 500kg Epsom salt and 700L warm water allows your muscles, bones and joints to completely relax – once you find a comfortable body position, you will be drawn away from all physical sensation.
For many of us however, even when our bodies are fully relaxed, meditation can still be difficult due to our busy minds. Unlike the physical body, instructing the mind to relax often has the opposite effect. The more you try to control your thoughts, the more engaged you get in the narrative of the mind. In Buddhism, the term “monkey mind” has been given to the endless distracting thoughts that pervade our minds throughout the day. You might imagine each thought you have as a branch and your mind is a monkey swinging from one thought-branch to the next all-day long. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? The purpose of meditation is not to put the monkey in a cage (because we know that won’t work), but instead give a job to our monkey mind through techniques such as breath awareness, body scans and visualisation.
For centuries, people from every culture and religious background have been drawn to the practice of breath awareness as a way to practice concentration (Zen tradition), watchfulness (Christianity) and presence (yogic tradition). Medical science also encourages slow and mindful breathing as a way to decrease anxiety and stress, as well as kick-start the parasympathetic nervous system.
In the float tank, your breath becomes particularly audible with your ears underwater and sealed off with earplugs. Once you settle into a comfortable body position and have finished tinkering with all the different tank settings (lid, lights, headrest) begin by taking three full, deep breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth. At the end of your third breath, close your eyes and lips, allowing your breath to move more smoothly and evenly through your nostrils.
Observe the way your body responds to each breath. You may notice your belly and chest rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. You may also notice the brief pause between breaths. Don’t get too caught up any of these sensations but instead allow your awareness to flutter easily from moment to moment.
You may wish to count your breaths from 1 to 10, then start back at 1 or maybe start at 100 and count backwards towards 1. Or you might just observe each breath on its own. There is no right or wrong way to practice breath awareness, so long as you keep bringing your attention back to the breath as soon as you catch yourself distracted (which will happen over and over again). This is a very simple but profound practice – there is no end goal or achievement at the end, only a more calm and present state of body and mind.
Once you become familiar with the breath awareness technique, you can start exploring more advanced relaxation practices to take your meditation to a deeper level. The float tank offers a unique environment in which you can become acutely aware of how your body feels, both on a minute part-by-part basis as well as a complete whole.
After settling in and practicing some breath awareness, begin by noticing any particular sensations that reside in the body. Sensations are anything you might notice in the body such as tingling, tightness, temperature, pulsing, itching, numbness – this list can go on and on. Then bring your awareness to your forehead. Spend a breath or two paying attention to any sensations that arise in this space. Then move your attention down towards your cheeks, your nose, your mouth. Move slowly, taking one or two breaths at each space then continue to move down the body, eventually ending at your feet and toes.
It is perfectly normal and expected to become distracted. Your mind either wanders off to a random thought about your grocery list or a conversation you had yesterday. The practice is to catch yourself in thought and then continue the body scan at the last body part you remember focusing on. It’s also not uncommon in a body scan to fall asleep. If you drift off and reawaken before the end of your float session, return to the last body part you remember focusing on and continue with the body scan.
A visualisation meditation technique is a wonderful way of bringing positive energy into your mind and can be a very powerful tool to effect personal change. Benefits of visualising can include alleviating anxiety and depression, relieving insomnia, decreasing stress and eliciting behaviour change.
Due to its active involvement from the practitioner, it’s best to become familiar with breath awareness and body scans before endeavouring on a visualisation meditation. When practicing your breath awareness, add a visual component such as light or a nature scene, an auditory component such as music or a kinaesthetic component such as warmth to enrich the experience.
For example, when you inhale, imagine you are being filled with a warm, bright, white light. This light is filling every space in your body, permeating through you. As you exhale, release any tension, stress or negativity in the form of a dark cloud or smoke. Repeat this practice until you reach deep relaxation. If the mind begins to chatter away, acknowledge the distraction and return your attention back to your visualisation.
If you like the idea of a visualisation but find it difficult to maintain concentration on your own, you can also choose to follow a guided visualisation track in the float tank through the speakers. We have a few options to choose from, including a guided sleep meditation, a stressbusting programme or a mental detox track that will take you by the hand and guide you through profound relaxation in your float session.
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