Everything begins and ends with the breath. It’s central to all life experience, and the way we breathe at any given moment both reflects and influences our physical, mental, and emotional states. It is the bridge between the body and mind - a connection which is vitally important to master if we wish to live at our best. This is nothing new to the experienced yogis and meditators out there - breath has been the starting point and foundation for all meditative traditions for thousands of years. And yet, in the chaos of our modern lives, breath is so often underutilized and taken for granted. We often treat the breath as automatic, and therefore undeserving of our attention.
Many of us lose track of our breath throughout the day, allowing the flow of stresses and external circumstances to dictate our rhythms. That’s okay, but if we start to observe our inhales and exhales more regularly - choosing to cultivate a mindful practice around breath awareness - we gain the power to influence our health in profound ways. Whether you’re trying to reach an enlightened state, or simply want some relief from daily stress, conscious breathing is the key. Working with the breath can ease tension in your body, calm the storm of thoughts that pass through your mind, and potentially take you to some pretty awesome places. Through practice, we can develop the ability to rebalance our state of being at will, even in the most difficult of life’s situations.
But isn’t meditation hard?
It doesn’t have to be! Enter the power of floating - this is the most direct and effective tool that I’ve found for strengthening breath connection and subsequently exploring consciousness and self-healing. The environment inside of a float tank is perfect for meditation, whether you’re just starting out or have been practicing for years. With no prerequisites, floating allows effortless access to benefits and states of being that usually take years of practice to achieve. The high levels of epsom salt in the water and general lack of gravity will naturally relax your body, and with no external stimuli to get in the way - all of the heavy lifting of removing distractions is done for you! If you’re lying still and breathing in the float tank - guess what? You‘re meditating! You’re essentially practicing mindfulness by default, instantly and intimately connected with your breath...
You don’t need to actually DO anything in the float tank to have a profound experience. You just have to BE. However, if after your first float or few, you’re looking for a bit more - there are plenty of breathing techniques that you can use to relax more quickly, delve a bit deeper, and really get the most out of your time in the tank. Here are some tips and exercises to get you started:
Deep Breathing - This first tip is nothing special, and you may end up doing it intuitively anyway. Simply take a long inhale through your nose, filling the lungs with air. Hold for as long as it feels comfortable, and then slowly exhale back out the nose. Repeat. Count your breaths if you’d like, and if your mind wanders and you lose track - no worries, just start over! Focus on the sensation of air coming in through your nostrils on the inhale, completely filling your lungs and body, and then noticing the warmth generated in your exhale as you gently push the air out. If you can, work on breathing more into your diaphragm than your chest, feeling your belly rise and fall with each breath. Continue this throughout your float and you’ll find your breaths calmly extending longer and longer. Thoughts and feelings will come and go - your goal is not to stop them but let them pass. Just return to your breath whenever you get too far off track. Simple deep breaths like this can sometimes be all you need to reduce the production of stress hormones in your body and begin calming your nervous system.
Cleansing Breath - This technique involves a bit of visualization. There are many different versions that I’ve heard of and used, so feel free to be a bit creative with it and use your own imagery. Choose whatever feels comfortable. The essence of this breath, is that you are inhaling and filling your body with healing energy - often in the form of bright white light, vibrations, or water (think waves washing up on the beach). Whatever you choose, it is the quality of this energy that counts, as you imagine it moving through your body and infusing your joints, muscles, and bodily systems with renewed vitality. With each exhale, imagine all of the toxins, negativity, and things that no longer serve you being flushed out. Watch the tide going back into the ocean if you’re feeling passive, or actively usher any perceived nastiness and sludge out in the form of thick black smoke. In with the new, out with the old. After several rounds of this type of breath, you should start to feel both recharged and relaxed.
Body Scan - This is a basic mindfulness meditation technique that I use at the beginning of every float. The idea is to slowly move your awareness through your body, scanning for any spots that are holding tension. It doesn’t matter if you start at the crown of your head and work down or opposite starting from the tip of your toes - just be sure not to neglect anything. When you find something that needs attention - a sore knee, a tight hip, etc - take a deep breath and imagine sending oxygen directly to that spot. With the exhale, allow any tightness to release. Breathe into each spot as much as you’d like, and then move on up or down the body. Feel free to use visuals from your cleansing breath to make it more effective. This exercise helps to cultivate and train your awareness of the body on a micro and macro level. It helps to relieve physical tension and let go of emotions that you’re holding onto. When you’re finished, you’ll likely be in an incredibly relaxed state - your body no longer working against you in your quest for calm.
Endurance Runner Hot/Cold trick - If you ever find yourself having difficulty taking full, deep breaths in the tank, simply try this trick that endurance runner’s use for different situations. Place the tip of your tongue behind your two front teeth and smile softly while taking a full breath through your nose. You’ll find that you can draw more air and completely fill your lungs with ease! Runners use this when the air is hot, cold, dry or humid - and it can sometimes be a great help in the tank!
Try one or two of these next time you float - I’d recommend focusing on a technique for maybe the first 20 minutes or so and then revert to doing “nothing” for the rest. Get to a place of deep relaxation and then allow your mind to wander off wherever it wants to go. You never know where you may end up!
More tips and techniques to come soon - we’ve only scratched the surface with this post!