Monday, October 27, 2014
Floating Through Life
By Amy Larson
“That was the most relaxed we’ve ever seen you, Mom,” said my daughter, Erika, after we’d spent the day at the beach on Maui. The water had been the perfect temperature, the sun had gently warmed our skin, but there was something more to it.
“I think it was the salt,” I answered, recalling author Aspen Morrow’s manuscript, “MedFree BiPolar” I’d been editing, wherein she expounded on the body’s need for salt, and how when in emotional crisis, a salt drip was the first restorative thing hospitals do for people. No wonder, since bodies are made up of a whopping 40% salt that we sweat out, cry out…then don’t always replenish.
When we get a little low, things don’t work well. Generally the organs, specifically the mind.
Funny that I’d be downtown getting my sugar fix at Candy World when the Salt Guy walked in. I quickly learned Caleb Fawkes was an avid “floater”, something I’d never heard of. He invited me to try floating at his float center two doors down. I nodded yeah, okay, but was hesitant. It sounded a little too off-beat. Being slightly claustrophobic, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with climbing into a dark little water-filled “pod” in a strange place.
More than anything, it was curiosity that got me to finally go. I needed to try it before writing off floating for good.
It didn’t hurt that once I finally got to Drop of Calm, there was resonating art, comfortable chairs, thoughtful lighting, and books everywhere. My room for the next ninety minutes looked nurturing. There was a vibe that’s hard to explain (possibly growth?) within the room.
The area holds a shower where you rinse down, both practical and psychically beneficial, clearing off hairspray, cosmetics, perfume, lotions…the masks we wear in order to be “okay”.
The pod looked like a giant washing machine, which if you think about it, is pretty symbolic. It was dark in there; that I didn’t love. Taking a timid step into the water, it was exact body temperature, so felt like nothing, and not in the least bit cold. You sit, then lie back, then feel your legs and arms pop up as you become very much afloat. Caleb warned against splashing around much, lest you get “A thousand pounds of salt in your eyes.”
The sensation felt familiar, womb-like. Made sense, since we’re 40% salt, and up to 65% water.
The darkness enabled my typically overactive mind to finally, blissfully catch a break. Part of my problem “on the outside”, I realized, was that when it was suggested I relax, I had no good frame of reference for that. The closest two instances were floating at Hawaii on a boogie board, and last summer when my daughter rowed me across Lake Cascade in our little inflatable raft while I napped in the sun.
This was like that times twenty.
In the pod, it’s just you. You’re not thinking about your weight, your appearance, there are zero distractions. It’s as alone as you can possibly get.
The first float was about getting used to that freedom. Being dark, weightless, and with no sense of where you are, other than the occasional soft bump on the sides when drifting a little, you’re in a state of blissful relief. Fists unclench, jaws relax, shoulders stop hunching, knees straighten. Dredging up petty thoughts of irritants or worries takes actual mental work, and in that condition, it’s too much of a chore to pursue. I found that only three things stood out. Those I loved, the comfort, and the soft sounds of my own breathing.
Caleb told me some struggled to get the hang of floating, but I had no such resistance. I found my perfect arm position (over my head, the one most writers and those who work on computers prefer, since it relieves forward muscle pressure), and got pretty good at stretching out neck, arms, legs, and torso without splashing salt water into the eyes.
The only part I didn’t relish was getting out. At the end of your time, gentle music comes on, slight at first, then growing in intensity to a comfortable yet audible volume, as if waking from a dream. Lifting your head, arms, and legs is a chore after being gravity-less. Your body protests and you’ll want to climb back in, lie back down.
I couldn’t wait for the next one. Once back in the pod, I promptly fell asleep, and into a state of nothingness that only REM slumber had previously supplied. By the third float, I was over-anxious to find peace again, but realized enough about the process to know I could use floating to my advantage. Relaxed minds are empty canvases for painting what you want out of life. I envisioned articles practically writing themselves, national magazines I’d write for, time with my kids, beautiful meals with family and friends, and someone giving me vibrantly-colored flowers.
It was only after that third float that Caleb Fawkes granted me an interview. With knowing grin, he expanded on why so many are hooked.
“You’re essentially soaking in 960 pounds of Epsom salt. Salt draws out toxins, and has a mild muscle-relaxing effect. There’s also magnesium. So many are magnesium deficient, and your body can’t process calcium without it. Posture depends on the person. Just get comfortable, and drop expectations. It’s going to be good, no matter what. There’s no gravity, you’re removing all stimulus, you’re getting magnesium into your body. It’s alone time…it’s an incredibly simple way to help yourself.”
Caleb’s grandfather introduced him to basic meditation when he was eight years old. He’d do a little just before going to sleep. By age twelve, he was meditating regularly, and now has over 21 years of meditation experience.
“Anytime you’re thinking about your breathing, it’s beneficial. One basic method is to mentally grab a color you think of as negative. I use red. When you exhale, think red. When inhaling, think cool, calm blue.”
When hearing about float tanks, he was intrigued.
Three years ago, he tried his first float, intentionally not meditating in the tank so he could discern the effects of the float, nothing else. When leaving the tank, he felt calm, grounded, peaceful, as if he’d meditated.
“Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life. I liked meditating and teaching people to meditate. But that’s a hard way to make a living. Minutes after the float, I knew it was the business I wanted to be in. There’s nothing there in the pods, just the core of your being. When people come to Drop of Calm, I’m not selling them anything. The world says, ‘Take this pill, use this cream, you’re not good enough’. With floating, you are enough, you are everything you need. I’m selling them nothing. And people want that nothing.”
Caleb has a long list of floating benefits.
“If you want to lose weight, when you float, you’ll either let go of the idea or be dedicated to it. After floating, people notice their digestion getting better. Chemically, floating aids a ton of organ processes. You have pure water entering your body at a cellular level, which is fantastic for your skin health. Floating helps to prevent injury, recover faster from hard workouts, and relaxes you enough to perform better as an athlete. When it comes to visualization, floating is powerful. Closing your eyes in a dark, non- stimulus, gravity-less space and imagining shooting perfect free throws for an hour is just as effective as the real thing. Those into archery can practice in their minds and have better marksmanship. A painter told me he sees floating as a way of “going to the well”. With control groups of musicians, those who had floated produced music with much more variety. Those with PTSD can benefit by getting down to nothing, so it’s safe to process those things without physically experiencing them. Those who have a hard time really being in their body, or are too much in their body, can find that natural balance. If you’re living with situations you don’t like, or going through trauma, floating helps. So, you’re removing toxins, you’re feeling better, you’re getting more connected with yourself.”
Frequency depends on your goals. For some, it’s like getting a massage, something to power down with. Some float in concert with workouts and are regimented about it, floating three times per week. If you want to maintain the effects of floating, once a week is best. You can tell when you’re ready to float again when people and things start to irritate once more. Easygoing-ness is one obvious side effect.
After floating thrice, I’d highly recommend it to others. I visualized what I wanted while in the tank, articles writing themselves (some, but not all, have felt that way), national magazines I’d write for (still working on that, but after a few more floats, hey, it could happen), time with my kids (after floating we went on two spontaneous camping trips to Lake Cascade), beautiful meals with family and friends (that happened), and someone giving me vibrantly-colored flowers. (Those were happily received).
If you want a “massage” for both the conscious and subconscious mind, and you want to feel pretty darn good in your body, I’d tell you to float.
“Once you’re good with your mind,” says Caleb Fawkes, “everything else flows from there.”