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We get asked all the time, "What's the best way to get started?" Here's the answer...
So, you just finished your first float and you feel amazing. It took a while, but your mind finally quieted, the tension you usually carry in your neck and shoulders melted away, the pain in your back melted away, and now you're sitting in the lounge feeling lighter, more centered than you have in a long time.
You might ask yourself, "Is this what it feels like to be pain/stress free?"
The answer is probably yes. We are more stressed at this point in human history than probably ever before which is odd, considering that most of us aren't fighting tigers or avoiding snakes on a daily basis. In the absence of real stressors, we seem to create our own. Our jobs become as stressful as going to war, checking our Instagram makes us feel as vulnerable and insecure as being excommunicated from our tribe. We're no less stressed, it's just that the stressors have evolved.
This creates a nasty cycle. It starts with the stress we feel, it gets worse when we feel unworthy of having that stress, and still worse when that thought "I shouldn't feel this way, my life is pretty good by comparison" prevents us from doing anything about it. Before we know what hit us, we feel physical or emotional pain, we lean on coping mechanisms to take the edge off in the short term, we end up feeling worse in the long term, then we end up hating ourselves for the coping mechanisms we've chosen.
There's a different way.
It starts with learning to recognize when we feel stressed. For me, my ears start to ring worse than normal, my shoulders are stuck up by my ears and cupped forward, I load weight on my left hip, my mind is buzzing with all the things I should be, know, or do to feel better. The stress saps my energy and prevents me from doing the things I know I should do, and I start leaning on my preferred coping mechanisms. That's when I know it's time to float. If this sounds familiar, you might find great benefits from floating.
But where do you start?
Developing Your Float Practice
The key to your first float is minimizing expectations. You may have heard a lot about what happens in a float tank, everything from being blasted into a parallel universe or hallucinating, but trust me it's not anything like that. Your only goal on that first float is to go in and notice what you notice. Notice the areas of your body that are holding tension. Notice the thoughts that run through your mind.
You might start to notice that you carry tension in a specific part of the body. Most people notice it in their neck or shoulders but it can be anywhere. It can feel anywhere from mildly annoying to completely stuck. As the body starts to relax, you might hear creaking or cracking. You might notice your neck, or back, or hips "fall back into place" or you might notice that only happens when you let them relax.
The same is true of our thoughts. Some people notice that the mind starts to "rev up" once they get in the tank. Thoughts seem come faster and are more intrusive than they are in daily life but that's just because we don't have anything to distract ourselves with. Don't get caught up in trying to change them, just notice as they come and go. Notice that there are two levels of thought, the first level is whatever pops into our head and the second level is the story we tell ourselves about that thought. Don't worry about it, just notice without trying to change it. That's when the thoughts quiet.
The second float is a great time to dial in your pre, during, and post float routine. Undoubtedly, you forgot your earplugs, forgot to turn off your cell phone or the lights, rubbed your eyes or drank too much coffee before your first float. You probably also had a hard time totally letting go of tension in the body or letting go of thoughts. This is the time to dial that in.
The pre-float routine starts long before you ever walk in the front door. You may notice that things like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc before a float make it harder to relax. You may notice that a certain time of day is better, too. You may find it easier to meditate in the mornings when you're well rested. You may find it easier to relax the body in the evenings. You might find it helpful to come a little early and just sit quietly in the lounge for a while. Asking for a refresher on the pre-float routine might be a good idea too.
A great tool to incorporate in the second float is just a more deliberate version of noticing how the body feels by using a "body scan" meditation. Don't get hung up on the verbiage, it just means systematically checking in on the body. You may want to start from the toes, notice how they feel, take a breath, actively let any tension go and moving up the body to the next part. Repeat for each body part (feet, lower legs, upper legs, stomach, low back, high back, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, face and head for example). For each area, simply notice how they feel and use the breath to release tension in any area.
Don't forget the post float routine. You may have noticed from your first float that it's not fun to go back to work after or that might be exactly what you want to do. You might want to avoid stimulation or you might crave it. Find out what works for you and schedule your day around your float to get the maximum benefit.
The third float encompasses all the techniques in previous floats and goes one step further - the mind and our thoughts. I get asked all the time, "Isn't it scary to just sit with your thoughts?" I always answer the same way, "Yes, if you don't know what to do with them."
The third float is where that work begins. You may want to start with just noticing what you notice, then moving into a body scan meditation for the first few minutes. Then, bring your awareness to the thoughts that cross your mind. You may notice a thought like, "Am I doing this right?" or "I have to do something next week." That's the first layer. These thoughts are just kind of unconscious reactions, we don't have much control over them.
Notice when these thoughts occur, our immediate reaction is to judge them. Is this a good thought or a bad thought? Once we have judged it for good or bad, we create a story about it. If we're thinking about what we need to do next week, we say that's a bad thought because we're supposed to be meditating right now. Then, we create a story about how we're not good at this, we've tried and failed at this a thousand times and this time won't be any different.
Your goal in the third float should be distinguishing the difference between the reactive, unconscious thought (the first layer) and all the subsequent thoughts that we entertain after (the second layer). Notice when the first layer thought arises, watch yourself create the second layer and notice the tension that creates in both the mind and body.
The fourth float is where we synthesize everything we've practiced so far. We have become comfortable with the environment, we have dialed in our pre and post float routine, we have practiced noticing and releasing tension in the body, we have learned to identify first and second layer thoughts. Now, we bring it all together.
For the first fifteen minutes (estimate, there's really no way to tell), we work on releasing areas of the body that are holding tension. The next fifteen minutes, we work on differentiating between first and second layer thoughts. Then, we work on letting go of the thoughts we can by using a simple breathing technique.
The breathing pattern is simple: six seconds in through the nose, six seconds out through the mouth, no pause at the top or bottom. Imagine you have to inner tube around your waist and try to fill it with the in breath, all the way into the back. The first 80% of the breath should go to the belly, the last 20% into the lungs.
Count each repetition and try to complete ten, twenty, maybe thirty repetitions. If you lose count, just start back at the last number you remember. You may notice that you lost count because you got caught in a thought and forgot what you were doing. This is common but people tend to beat themselves up about this...don't! Each time you get dragged away by a thought, simply notice it and return to the breath.
The Sweet Spot
There's a state we're looking for when floating but you can't get there by trying harder. All you can do is your practice. If you do that enough, you'll wake up into this state that feels like absolutely nothing. You can't really describe what this sweet spot is, you just have to experience. I can describe it but any description is really insufficient.
You're in the sweet spot when all of the following are true: You're not trapped in your thoughts or your mind. You still have thoughts but those thoughts are not you, they're something that is happening inside you. You're not trapped in the body. You might experience tension or be aware of pain, but again, it's just happening inside you and you're not attached to it. You're not stuck in the past, how things have been before and you're not reaching for the future, how you want things to be. In any case, whatever is happening is just happening, we're not holding onto the pleasant parts and pushing away the unpleasant. It's all just happening.
This is what people call "being in the moment" and that's precisely what the float tank was designed to do. It minimizes the external stimuli, it creates a comfortable space for us to let go of our internal stimuli and in that space, we find the moment.
Frequency and Timing
We get asked all the time what the best way to start a float practice is. We recommend floating once a week for the first month, focusing on the different strategies outlined above. From there, you can gauge if you are a once-a-week person, a once-a-month person, or an as-needed person.
Once a Week
Floating once a week can be a real life-changer. The people who float once a week come in one of two categories. The first group have a specific issue or condition they are trying to address by floating regularly. The include people that suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, insomnia and chronic pain. The second group are people who are looking to improve their output, mentally or physically. These are people like creative professionals, executives, people with high stress jobs who earn money based on how well their mind and body functions. They are also high-level meditators or want to be and use floating as a supplement to their daily meditation practice.
Once a Month
Floating once a month is our most common frequency for floating. This is great for the average person that may not be dealing with a clinical condition but deals with normal to high levels of stress at work or at home. Floating serves as a back stop and supplements their normal meditation practice, diet, and exercise. Think of floating once a month as 'maintenance' for physical and mental health.
Lots of people simply float as they need it. They have stressful events coming up, such as a work event, a test, a family gathering, the holidays, a high point in their physical training calendar, and they schedule a float to guard against the negative effects of stress. This can be highly effective because stressful events breed bad decisions in self care and more stress. It can be a viscous cycle and getting ahead of it by scheduling a float either before or after the event can prevent it. Some people also use floating as needed for injury recovery or acute soreness. Floating has been used a tool for concussion recovery and muscle recovery.
Jumpstart Your Float Practice
We've facilitated over 5,000 floats since we opened two years ago. We've listened to people's goals and talked about the benefits they have received from floating. We've distilled that information and come up with the optimal way to start your float practice. Now, we're happy to unveil a plan that will help you start your practice and save you money in the process. Click the button below to view your special offer.