Up to 90% of your nervous system is dedicated to the retrieval and processing of information from your environment. Your brain is always working in the background, sensing for information to process. The goal of a float tank is to remove all external stimuli giving those processes a well deserved break. Floating calms the nervous system and maximizes your 'brain bandwidth' for deep thought, concentration, and healing.
Floating is like meditation on steroids. For even the most experienced yogi's, physical sensations are a distraction that take time and persistence to overcome. Floating in a lightproof, soundproof float tank on a bed of warm water eliminates all distractions and you're left with only your body, mind, and soul.
The float experience is entirely yours, and you are free to let your mind travel to wherever it needs to, but there are some techniques that you can use to narrow your focus, and really take advantage of the meditation benefits the tank has to offer.
Counting – this is a technique I picked up from fellow floater, Shane Stott, author of The Float Tank Cure. Count down from 100. Visualize each number in your mind, in the form of a birthday candle, digital clock, or acme style dynamite! Whatever works for you; it makes no difference. When you lose track, or mess up - start back over at 100. It makes no difference how far you get or how many times you start over; it’s a brain calming exercise that works wonderfully!
Breath Awareness – is one of the most common forms of meditation. Simply observing your breath brings you into the present moment. A mantra (more on those to follow) that I like is “Focus on the breath, be mindful of the breath”. I repeat this over and over to myself. It’s incredibly effective because it’s hard to say one thing, and do another, therefore I find myself very focused and mindful of my breath.
Feel the air pass in and out of your lungs, be conscious of it's path. Observe how your chest cavity and abdomen move up and down. No need to change how you are breathing, just observe it. Another lovely mantra is “breathe in peace, exhale joy”; repeating this will provide for a calm state of mind. Mix it up and personalize these to your goals and intentions, such as “breathe in healing, exhale pain”. Or just simply watch and observe your breath; feel the expansion.
Visualization – this is where a lot of magic happens in the float tank. Athletes use visualizations in the tank to run plays or strategies in their mind, but you can transfer this technique to any area of your life. Many notable professional athletes and organizations have incorporated floating in their regime.
A study performed by Alan Richardson in 1969 divided participants into three groups and observed any improvement in their ability to sink basketballs over 20 days. One group would practice throwing basketballs, the second group did not practice, instead only visualized themselves sinking baskets, and the third group did not do anything (the control group). The result was that the control group's accuracy did not improve (shocker!). The first group that practiced everyday showed an increase of 24% accuracy, and the second group that hadn’t touched a basketball; only visualized had an accuracy increase of 23%! Only one percent variance from those that practiced everyday! Of course this is only one study, but there are many more that support these findings. If visualizing a sporting technique (or anything that you want to improve) can increase your accuracy without straining your muscles and risking injury why wouldn’t you do it?
You can use visualization for weight loss (see our blog on that topic), to promote healing, or to lock into memory concepts and study.
One of our favorite floaters came out of the tank and said he didn’t know what he was ‘supposed’ to think about (note, there is no right/wrong thing to think about, it’s your brain, you can use it as you wish) so he imagined himself playing his favorite golf course; all 18 holes! This is a perfect example of visualization and how meditation can be used to improve your game!
Watching Your Thoughts – this can take some training and dedication. It’s easy to get caught up in all the information our brains have to process, and sometimes in the tank when you’ve removed all the external stimuli, your brain will jump into hyper drive and take the opportunity to process of all the little things that you have buried in the recesses of your mind. Sometimes I will go through my ‘To Do’ list, adding and prioritizing the tasks and goals I have. I consider these ‘def-rag floats’ because I’ve organized my thoughts and feel in a better position to take action on my tasks.
I digress, to watch your thoughts is to take yourself out of your own mind and try to see things from an outside perspective. We all have a million thoughts bumping around our minds at any moment, but that doesn’t mean we need to dwell or obsess about any of them. It was once said to me to imagine your thoughts as clouds; here one moment, gone the next. Allow your thoughts to flow freely without rein or expectation. You can imagine you are standing in a river and your thoughts are the water rushing past you. If that doesn’t work for you try fireworks! Whatever the imagery, you stay in one place but your thoughts are allowed to come and go without any expectations or judgments.
Mantra – I briefly touched on this above, because you can incorporate a mantra into pretty much any other meditation theme. A mantra is a word or phrase that you repeat to yourself either out loud, or in your head. Transcendental Meditation is a practice specifically focused around a word that you repeat to yourself over and over again. In Kundalini yoga mantra’s are used to salute and pay homage. When you chose a mantra for yourself it’s important to chose the right context. Avoid ‘I will’ ‘I want’ statements and encourage ‘I am’ ‘I do’ phrasing. The idea being, if you say, ‘I will lose weight’ you are telling your body and mind that it will happen… someday, but if you instead say ‘I am losing weight’, ‘I am perfect in my skin’ it sends the message that it is happening, right now, not in the distant future.
Don’t move! - find a comfortable position and remain as still as possible! Sometimes in the tank it’s fun to take advantage of the anti-gravity effect and play with different positions and stretch in ways that you can’t do from the ground. It's fun play time, but there is also tremendous benefit to it’s counterpart. When you’re laying so absolutely solid you barely move in the tank, and rarely bump into the sides.
Flow State - When you practice something, and you do it over and over again, you get good at it. You'll do it in your sleep, you'll daydream about it, and eventually you find yourself doing it entirely from muscle memory, and forget you were doing it in the first place.
Driving is an obvious case of flow state for me. It's something I've done a lot of, and I find I can sorta zone out and still be an active participant in the process. My mind can wander to a far-off place, and yet my physical body is still acutely aware of the road, other vehicles, and traffic signals. You are almost in two places at one time, somewhere between the conscious cosmos.
When you build a solid float practice, you can take the magic you feel inside the tank, and sprinkle it across the rest of your life. The ripple effect may result in a reduction of stress and pain, and increased happiness and serenity.
For more on the flow state, and many other meditation and tank related information I suggest reading Michael Hutchinson’s The Book of Floating. It’s a must read for any avid floater.
The most important thing about learning meditation is to remember that you are never doing it wrong, and unless you are a Monk (and even then) you will never get it entirely perfect. Who defines perfect anyways? Any step you take towards calming your busy mind and directing your focus inward is a step closer to a mindful life. Never get down on yourself or think that you aren't doing it right. After all, meditation is as subjective as floating; you can never judge or assess how well someone is doing it.