Floating, Meditation, and Mindfulness: Adding Tools to Your Mental Toolbelt

Floating removes you from the outside world and gives your mind the freedom to wander wherever it wants to go. When you float, you don’t have anything you need to do.

There’s nothing you need to work on.

You have a space where you can lie down, removed from the pressure of thinking, discussing, or participating in anything at all. It’s an environment that exists almost completely opposite our current plugged-in, sensory-driven way of life.

In a float tank, you have the opportunity to be more mindful than pretty much any other environment in the world.

What does it mean to be “mindful”?

Make a mental note of how you’re feeling right now. Now, use the next 30 seconds to try this – you can have your eyes open or closed:

Clear your mind. Take a deep breath. Deep exhale.

Another breath. Flex your toes and fingers. Exhale. Breathe normally.

Relax your shoulders and your jaw.

If you chose to close your eyes, open them slowly.

How do you feel? How does that compare to how you felt beforehand? Odds are you feel better after spending 30 seconds focusing on your breath and where you hold tension. Bringing passive awareness to your state of being reconnects your body and mind and can help remove the physiological effects from the outside world, which can often be stressful.

This, more or less, is mindfulness (although it’s definitely more complicated than this).

It can be summed up as paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental manner. It’s one of the fundamental ideas behind much of Buddhist meditation. It seems absurdly simple, especially when looking at the many benefits attributed to it.

For the past thirty years or so, researchers have been looking more closely into what mindfulness is and why it works so well for us. There are two main components to mindfulness exercises from a clinical perspective: self-regulation of attention and orientation to experience. It can sound a bit technical, but they are pretty easy to understand concepts when they’re broken down.

Self-Regulation of Attention

Much of mindfulness relies on the passive observation of where your attention is focused and maintaining that attention on the present moment. When you pay attention to your breathing and what your body is doing, you’re keeping your mind focused on only things that exist and are affecting you in the current moment.

Many people assume that in order to do mindfulness “successfully”, you have to prevent yourself from thinking, but that isn’t true. Being mindful simply means you acknowledge whatever thoughts arise before returning your focus to your state of being in the present moment. It can be surprisingly difficult to maintain this over long periods of time, but maintaining a lack of attention to your thoughts allows them to flow freely and places you firmly in the present.

Orientation to Experience

This idea is a little more nebulous, but it builds off of what was already discussed. This is what you’d think of as “being present” in mindfulness practices.

All those experiences that you feel and the thoughts you have occur and you pass them by. You don’t pass judgement on any thoughts or feelings. You don’t assign guilt to what you’re doing or not doing. Everything that occurs to you is equally worthy of your curiosity and consideration.

You orient yourself towards your experiences and become a passive observer to your mental processes rather than an active participant. You’re open to whatever occurs and you’re better positioned to accept it than you would be otherwise.

What does this do for me?

If you look at these two elements of mindfulness, it might seem like a nice way to relax or a good way to organize your thoughts – it can be difficult to imagine just how impactful it is to place yourself in this state of being present. However, it certainly isn’t a magic spell that can erase all the negativity you feel.

When you make mindfulness a habit, it starts to change how you live your life in subtle ways. It makes it easier to take control over your own behavior and moods, which in turn helps you focus on how you’re feeling. With proper focus, it can also help you build coping mechanisms for day-to-day stress, reducing the negative impact it can have on your life. This can help reduce the severity of stress-related anxiety disorders and depression, as well as manage chronic pain, improve creativity, and generally improve a person’s quality of life.

Float Your Way to a Better Way of Being

While this sub-headline sounds like a vocal warmup, it’s also a good way to make mindfulness a habit. Mindfulness is often associated with meditation, and floating is often described as “meditation with training wheels.” Floating makes the benefits of mindfulness much more accessible to people who may find meditation difficult to get into. It also enhances the meditative experience for people who are well practiced in meditation.

It makes sense. Most often, when people describe problems with meditation, they mention that they were distracted by… something. Floating is the ultimate distraction remover!

It’s not just about distractions, either: being in a float tank feels safe. Not only can nothing bother you, but everything that is stressful or dangerous is outside of the float environment. That gives you room to breathe and relax, which in turn helps nurture exactly the type of thinking that mindfulness is trying to cultivate.

We’re still learning about mindfulness as well as floating, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. We can say fairly confidently, however, that mindfulness seems to go way up in the daily lives of people who float. Meaning, when you hear about the benefits of mindfulness, you’re also hearing about the benefits of floating.

So if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, creatively blocked, or like your anxiety is ramping up, it might just mean that it’s time to go float yourself.

About Juliet

Juliet Mylan is an occasional guest contributor to Float Boston's blog. She works for Float Tank Solutions in Portland, Oregon, which has provided training and consulting to the float industry since 2012.