Stress, anxiety, and anger can all affect your sense of well-being and impair your judgment and concentration. If you follow health and wellness trends (which you likely do since you're here now), you've probably heard about the benefits of mindfulness for alleviating stress mentally and physically.
Perhaps you've received some high-level instructions on paying attention to your surroundings and focusing on the present moment. But for many, turning the concept of mindfulness into practice can be tricky given only vague recommendations to "focus on the present without judgment." So we're going to give you a few specific ways to practice mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biologist who's considered the father of mindfulness-based stress-reduction, specifies it as "moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness." Another way to describe it is "the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us."
The concept is simple enough, yet being fully present and toning down reactions in a stressful situation is undoubtedly challenging. It requires practice like any other mental or physical endeavor.
Increased mindfulness is also a benefit of float therapy. Floating provides a sensory deprivation environment making it ideal for focusing on mindful practices without everyday distractions. However, it's important to remember there's no way to turn your mind off completely–that's a misconception of the goal of mindfulness. That said, the float tank can be a helpful place to practice mindfulness where it's just you and your mind.
So, if you love the idea of mindfulness and the ease it can help create but find it hard to envision exactly how to get there, these exercises will be a fantastic place to start! Of course, the best way to practice these in a float tank is with the least entertainment or distractions. We recommend not having music on and keeping a low light–enough to maintain a soft gaze rather than tune out surroundings.
There's a reason that every relaxation technique you've ever encountered relies on breathing as a cornerstone. Slowing and regulating the breath and body is highly therapeutic.
It's too unclear to approach this as focusing on your breathing in a general way. Many will start out focused on their breath and shortly see themselves off to tumble through the mindstream and possibly lead themselves right back to the source of their stress without an anchor.
Here are two ways to count your breath:
- Count to ten on the inhale and to ten on the exhale. Repeat this as long as possible. Your mind will wander, and that's okay! You don't need to stop the mindstream (you can't stop the mindstream), but by having a method to follow the breath, you can return to the count each time you find you've abandoned that focus. The goal is not to stop your wandering mind; it's to see how it wanders and return to the breath.
- Another calming way to regulate your breathing is with a three-part count. Inhale deeply for three seconds, hold your breath for two seconds, then exhale for four seconds. With this method, you can follow the counts for a few breaths then breathe normally. When your mind wanders, or your breathing becomes fast, return to the count.
Body scanning exercises are used everywhere, from daycares to yoga classes to therapy sessions. This method is helpful for progressively and intentionally relaxing every muscle in your body. What better place to do this than a float tank?
For this, you can close your eyes or keep a soft gaze, whichever is most comfortable for you.
- Begin by taking a few deep, slow breaths.
- Notice your surroundings, the way your whole body feels, and the way it floats in the water.
- Take a few more deeps breaths and notice the way your belly rises and falls. Relax your body a little more with each exhale.
- Now begin at your feet and focus your attention there. Ask yourself if there's any tension and if there is, see if you can soften that area. You may have to try a few times and may spend more time on some places. Once the area has softened, move on to the next part of your body.
- Do the same thing with your legs, hips, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, back, neck, jaw, and face.
- Now notice your whole body at once again. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
- Blink or open your eyes to ease out of the exercise.
There are many ways to use visualization to ease stress and anxiety. For example, you may find that picturing yourself on a beautiful beach with the sun warming your skin is enough to relieve tension.
To practice mindfulness, you can combine awareness and visualization by bringing attention to the object of stress and then release tension by sending that object off.
Here's a simple way to do this in the float tank or anywhere:
- Imagine a river flowing past you as if you're on the bank.
- See the ripples, the rocks on the bottom, and leaves floating by.
- Find the tension in your shoulders, knot in your stomach, or tightness in your jaw and chest, wherever it shows up for you.
- Picture yourself turning that tension into a ball in your hands like you would a piece of Play-Doh.
- Now imagine the ball is feather-light and place it on a leaf floating by or onto the water.
- Watch it move away from you on the current until it disappears on the horizon.
Clients have shared numerous stories of the way float therapy has helped increased mindfulness in their lives. For example, in a recent survey, one wrote how float sessions gave them "the ability to return to the relaxed floating state" when they felt stress. But, they also noted, "it didn't happen immediately. I floated weekly for three months."
Mindfulness takes practice, and wellness requires consistency. For most people, floating 2-4 times per month is where the most benefits become evident. Those include increased mindfulness and the ability to better work through stressful feelings and situations without being overwhelmed by them.