In floating, the mind follows the body

One of our guest floaters, Joshua, came out of the tank with an interesting comment that he had found the sense of relaxation he obtained to be quite different than his experience of massage or yoga.  We asked him what he meant, and he wrote us a great discussion.  With his permission, we’re sharing it here:

Floating Manop
©2007 Manop (Flickr)

Many people compare floating to the relaxation available from meditation or yoga. In quick simple terms, I found floating to be the exact opposite of these two techniques. In floating, the mind follows the body. In yoga and meditation, the body follows the mind.

I also experienced a marked difference in the type of “quiet mind” that the other two techniques produce. Having said that, once familiar with the experience of floating, even when going back to meditation it became easier to “get there” and easier to “stay there”.

A little elaboration on the techniques of “Quiet Mind”: both yoga and meditation require the mind to “focus” on the body in some way. In meditation it is commonly the breathing technique, although there are many methods such as mantra, walking meditation, and sitting meditation where the denial and eventual overcoming of physical pain leads the mind to overcome the body, which allows users to “drop” further into “Quiet Mind”. This creates a “feedback loop” where mind focuses on body, relaxing the body, making it easier to relax the mind.

This method requires mind over body, and is effective, but requires the mind to lead the way. Many people have extreme trouble with this technique, as no matter how long they sit, or focus, the mind eventually sneaks in. Practitioners call this “clouds in a clear blue sky”, in essence, as thoughts appear which is inevitable, you are supposed to see them, feel them, watch them, and let them pass.

Yoga is very similar in this regard. While some people misinterpret the methodology here and think it is the mind following the body, it is supposed to be the same thing as meditation, body following mind. Yoga means to “yoke” the mind to the body. Many yoga teachers and gurus have explained that the sole purpose of yoga is to focus the mind on the body, and without that focus all yoga becomes is good exercise, but does not lead to “Quiet Mind”. Again, we see a technique where the body follows the mind if done appropriately. Here too, we find the “feedback loop” where the mind focuses on body, which relaxes the body, which allows the mind to focus and quiet even more.

The ultimate objective of meditation and yoga is the eradication of the ego, but this requires years of study and practice. In the tank, it’s virtually unavoidable.

I have at various times participated fairly heavily in the study of both techniques. Being familiar with these techniques, it was surprising to find floating to be the exact opposite. Here, due to the loss of sensation and input, the isolation and sensory deprivation create a rapid sense of deep body relaxation, freeing the mind to calm down rapidly. (Most of the time, that is, depending on the mindset going into the tank.) This is the exact opposite of the other two techniques. The body experiences deep relaxation, which frees the mind to wander, but without any input, there is no where to wander to. The mind, following the body, rapidly quiets down. This may make it easier for people who have tried meditation or yoga, and just haven’t been able to quiet the mind.

One other interesting factor here, is that the presence of the feedback loop is absent. The body rapidly relaxes, and that’s that. The mind then is forced into quiet, and “drops” into the deep delta that is associated with master meditators and yogis. The absence of the “feedback loop” means the mind is free to be quiet for longer, and easier periods of time, depending on the length of the Float.

Time loss, and the lack of “hereness” due to the sensory deprivation, was significantly more effective from floating.

One other important part I found during my floats, was that the “release” period was markedly different. The mantra in both meditation and yoga is Be Here, Now. This requires effort on the practitioners part, and is often a source of disappointment in beginners, causing them to give up. Asking the mind to Be Here, Now, is nearly a Sisyphean task. The mind always wants to interject. Again, proper use of these techniques, and regular practice, will eventually result in the objective “nowness”. With all my practice at meditating and yoga, I’d say I was able to truly hit that place once, maybe twice, in all my efforts.

Here is where I experienced a difference in float versus mediation or yoga. Once relaxed and quiet, there is no “nowness”. A sense of loss of time, accompanied every float I had. Time loss, and the lack of “hereness” due to the sensory deprivation, was in my experience significantly more effective. In the tank there is no Here and Now. The mind has nothing to do but to focus inward, and rapidly quiets in that. This lack of “Hereness and Nowness”, created a rapid egoless experience. Which is the ultimate objective of meditation and yoga, but the eradication of the ego requires on average years of study and practice. In the tank, it’s virtually unavoidable. Death of the Ego, due to the lack of input and the deep relaxation of the body, was a common touchstone I experienced. This is a highly sought after emotional and psychological state.

Most commonly, the Death of the Ego, is what substance abusers are seeking. It’s what modern society is seeking through the meditation and yoga movements. It is my opinion, that this difference, would significantly aid recovering addicts, and a host of other negative experiences (stress, PTSD, depression, etc). In addition, just the relaxation of the body, triggering the relaxation response in the autonomic nervous system has been shown to have significant health applications by lower blood pressure, reducing stress, etc. If for no other reason than the rapid relaxation response, similar to cranial-sacral massage, this would be a strong argument for float therapy.

Further reading and sources:

  • The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga, Mavin Levine
  • Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert (a local professor, Harvard)
  • Buddha’s Brain – Rick Hanson, PH.D.

Many thanks to guest Joshua for this great discussion!



About colin

Cofounder, FLOAT. Colin has been an astronomer and a software developer. He's watched the sun set from Angkor Wat and rise over the Arctic Circle, and believes that life is much too important to take seriously.