By focusing your attention on your breathing, the interference of thoughts, images, and words through the mind are quietened.
During the float, the senses of sight, sound and even feeling, have been restricted. Because your ears are submerged, your body’s internal sounds can take on new-found epic proportions: the rhythmic beat of your heart may sound, the awareness of your breath through your lungs, flowing in and out. Whilst these things may be distracting to some, tuning into the body itself and simply being aware of its inner workings can provide a way to lessen the flow of thoughts. Breath awareness can really enhance the relaxation aspect of the float, particularly as breath has the ability to control our nervous system.
Relaxing your abdominal muscles is vital to correctly breathing into your belly, allowing it to expand and rise. Many people maintain a constant tension in their abdominals, which restricts their ability to breathe fully. By allowing these muscles to relax, taking in deep expanding breaths, you are able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates physiological changes that allow us to feel relaxed and at ease.
Instead of “chest breathing” (expand and contract the chest and ribcage), try and focus on expanding and contracting the diaphragm and belly. Imagine your stomach being a balloon that you need to fill with air, bringing the breath down deeply into your belly. Shallow “chest” breathing uses only the top part of the lungs, and can keep us in a state of arousal. The top part of our lungs contain receptors that correlate to the stress response of the sympathetic nervous system, and can create feelings of stress, including anxiety.
A very popular breathing practice among floaters, and a great practice outside the tank too, is to focus your attention on the breath as it passes in and out of the nose. Michael Hutchinson in his book of floating suggests the following technique: “Feel the air pass into your nostrils as you inhale; focus on the coolness it brings to the tip of your nose between your nostrils. As you exhale, notice the warmth at the same spot. If you wish, count your inhalations, numbering each from one to ten; when you reach ten begin with one again. Should thoughts come into your awareness, don’t resist them but allow them to pass, and then return all your attention to your breathing”.
So the next time you come in for your float try using the abdominal and nose breathing method and let us know how it felt for you after your session.