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My Olympic Journey to “Relaxed Chaos”

Written by Megan Henry

I had heard of floating while I was out training in Park City, Utah preparing for a skeleton race during USA Skeleton Team Trials as an athlete for the Army. Skeleton, it’s that crazy winter sport where you go head first down an icy chute on a lunch tray…a really expensive lunch tray. A massage therapist was telling me about a sensory deprivation chamber in Orem, UT. It was a bit far for me to go during the races, but I made a mental note to look it up when I returned home in the off-season to see what I could find. I was elated to find iFloat and read the benefits on the site and spent months eager to try floating and add it to compliment my growing repertoire of healing and recovery methods. Plus, who doesn’t like giant Epsom salt baths? Bonus points for muscle recovery, right?

As you can imagine, going headfirst at speeds up to 80mph and traveling every week for 6 months can get a little crazy. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it can get hectic. I have been an athlete most of my life, but skeleton is by far the most mentally demanding and challenging sport I have ever taken part in. I had started to use meditation as part of my mental routine to help me relax. I wouldn’t consider myself an overly stressed person, but I think relaxation is necessary for everyone regardless of what you do. Skeleton, in particular, requires you to be in what some call “relaxed chaos.” If you want to be successful, you have to be capable of being relaxed while going up to 80mph in curves up to 5G’s of pressure. Any sort of outside stress, anxiety, self-doubt or tension will creep into your sliding and show up on the time sheets. Maybe you won’t see it physically, but believe me, it shows in your times – even if you have a stellar run.

Floating for the first time was the ultimate meditation session. It allowed me to feel like I was floating in space (gee, wonder why it’s called floating?) and it was the first time I have ever felt like I left the planet. You know when you want some me time, but someone always comes to your thinking-spot-of-solitude? It’s not happening here. Floating allowed me to have moments of self-reflection and come to epiphanies I may not have come to without all the other external distractions we sometimes let take our focus. Even during meditation, there is still the sense of touch or external noises. This session allowed me to take leaps of personal growth – like my brain was my own personal psychiatrist…it just needed to be given the opportunity to uncover some mental gems. This part for me was truly rewarding.


Want to Reduce Stress? Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously

I worked as a New York City public high school science teacher for eight years before doing iFloat full time. During the first two years I remember my students taught me a lot. One of the things that often happened was they would make fun of the way I talked or looked. They were all Latin American or African American and I was a liberal arts educated white guy from the suburbs of Boston. As time progressed I began to embrace their sense of humor, such as, “David you’re just too white,” or “Why do white people always do this or that?” What they were often doing was challenging me to not take myself so seriously. When I would laugh or smile at such statements they would also laugh or smile. It’s like they were saying, “We have to poke fun at the seriousness of the ethnic/racial divide in order for us to be close.” They were right. Bit by bit, I loosened up and I was more comfortable.

I had a similar experience when I was in the Peace Corps. I was a Christian living in Morocco – a country where almost everyone is10.2.14 guy laughing Muslim. The people there made fun of me for all sorts of reasons. First, they laughed at my inability to speak their language. Later, when I could speak the language, they laughed at me for not being a farmer or not being a Muslim. Bit by bit, I began to see their laughter was the way they could relate to me. Guys would often joke around with me and say, “You just need to convert, be a Muslim, be a farmer like us, and everything will be okay.” We would laugh about stuff like that. Instead of me saying, “How dare you. I was raised Catholic. Don’t you understand what that means?” I said, “These guys are funny,” and we would often hold our bellies joking about me being one of them, converting, etc. The reason it was funny was because they knew I was not going to do it. They knew I was eventually going to leave, but it was light hearted because it was their way of saying, “We like you. We want you to be one of us. But it’s okay if you’re not (even though we are still going to try).” If I had remained serious about “who I was,” I would have missed all the fun and all the unspoken attempts at them relating to me and cultivating a friendship with me.

It is when the personality we attach ourselves to gets threatened that there is an opportunity for growth. I am not just “from the suburbs,” “catholic,” or “white.” I am much more complex than any of those things. First and foremost, I have an essence like all people (whether you call it the Soul/spirit/universal essence) that flows through me and that flows through everyone. My students in New York City and my friends in Morocco were keenly aware of that essence. Through their joking they were saying, “That stuff you hold onto about ‘who you are’ is a bunch of crap. It gets in the way of you relating to us. Let it go. Be our friend. We like you.”

One of the things we cultivate at iFloat is to not take ourselves so seriously. When people spend time in a sensory isolation tank mid dark Mikethe “I’m important” script gets challenged. You’re not important in the float tank. There is no time, no phone, no meeting, almost no external stimulus to remind you of “who you are.” You could be anywhere in the float tank. In many ways, you are “nowhere.” The experience of floating is threatening to the places where we make ourselves more important than the people in our life. However, as a person clocks more time in the float tank (whether it is in a single session or over the course of many sessions), their mind begins to let go of where they are attached to disadvantageous patterns. I often observe people who come regularly to iFloat relaxing the self-imposed rules they have placed on themselves. When they toss the rules to the side, they are more fun, lively, and engaging with other people.


Got Blues? Go Float

12.16.14.sad man

People have always talked about how the holidays can be the hardest time of year. I understood how that might happen on anintellectual level, but I didn’t have the experience until this season. My father passed away six months ago and this is the first holiday season I am experiencing since he passed away.

The biggest thing I am noticing is that I have a constant desire to always be in motion. It’s almost as though if I slow down I am going to sink or fall into an abyss. At times I don’t even realize I am doing it. I can sense the frustration and I keep moving around, or doing other evasive things like eating, to prevent from dealing with the mourning. The week of Thanksgiving was hard. On an intellectual/logical level everything seemed fine. I slowed down and asked myself, “What is going on?” The answer then became clear. When I realized I was tense because mourning my dad, the next thought was, “How can I fix it?” It was as though I was on the eightieth floor of a skyscraper and there was a fire on the third floor – and there was no way to get to the third floor to put out the fire. I just couldn’t seem to do anything about it.

Fortunately, I have easy access to floating, and I knew a way into the fire of my mourning was to go float. I will add that I float frequently (once a week, but usually several times a week). On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving it had been several days since my last float. My mind was tense. When I went in to float I immediately began to sense a relief upon turning off the light. Slowly my mind slowed down. The tightness abated and things began to flow. I don’t remember much of what happened during the float. I did not cry. The best way I can explain it is I “loosened the screws” and the pressure lifted. It was as though I was able to transport myself down to that third floor with the fire, and walk into the fire, and realize it was not going to hurt me. In fact, there was comfort in the warmth. At one point, I sensed the presence of my father – whether he was actually there or not does not matter to me. There was something comforting about that sense of real presence and connection between me and him, and that sense of connection is not something I could have achieved outside the float tank. When I finished my float, I was at peace. The tension was no longer there. I have continued to do a lot of floating this month. It has been helping me a lot.

Mike darkened


Bring Life into the World

A few years after finishing college (over 15 years ago) I began studying neo-shamanism, which is a practice of using drumbeats wooded pathto slow the mind and explore one’s mind through a form of active imagination. The exploration is done to develop greater awareness about oneself. I took an eight week course that met every Saturday. There were about fifteen other participants and we all did ten or fifteen minute journeys on topics ranging from things like, “What is your power animal?” to “Having a conversation with a relative who has passed on.” My journeys were always very intense, vivid, and imaginative. At the time, I thought the “journey” was what mattered. However, as the months and years passed, I realized the journeys I did with the drums were small drops in a much larger lake known as my life. The journeys were not the important thing. What mattered was the insights I gained from the journeys and how how I integrated those insights into my life. My teacher always hammered away at, “How are you going to bring this [insight] into your life and your community.” I discovered that when I acted on the insights I developed, which sometimes took great courage, my life improved. I developed closer relationships with the people in my life and I began to act in a way that brought greater harmony to myself and those around me.

As a float facilitator, I always encourage my clients to integrate their float experience into their life. For example, someone recently came out of their float feeling really relaxed and blissful. It was the middle of the day so she had to go out and go to meetings, do errands, etc. It was her first float. She said how it would probably be better to float at the end of the day so she could go home and not have to deal with things like making dinner, etc. I gave her a different way of looking at it. “No,” I said. “The objective is to take this sense of calm and integrate it into your day so you can go back home to your kids, and dinner and be in a calmer state of mind.” I told her how I used to float in New York City on 23rd Street and I would immediately walk out onto the street and “plug in” to the speed of the city. I would go shopping, meet up with a friend, or get on the subway to get home. “A person can be slow in their mind but quick in their movements,” I said. She was thankful to get that perspective.

Integrating an uncomfortable float is as important as integrating a blissful float. I had someone in recently hands reaching outwho had a panic at the end of her float because she could not find the door. She had become so disoriented that she lost her sense of direction. I told her it was great she unplugged so much that she forgot where she was. I also pointed out how if someone panics in there, it is pointing at places where a person is panicking or struggling to control things. “We all do it,” I told her laughing. “I still have times when I panic in a float.” It is a wonderful thing because it is pointing at a place where we resist. The important thing to do with such an event is to ask, “What am I really panicking about?” Could it be frustration in a relationship? Could it be uncertainty about a career? It is very important to examine those types of questions because the answers are where the “float gold” lies. The answers are where we can begin to approach our everyday life in a different way and that is ultimately where the richness of life is found.

Instead of always reflecting only on how your floats are going, consider asking, “How is floating affecting my life or how is it I am using my float experiences to enhance my life and the lives of those around me?” Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” I encourage you to infuse the world with life by using your float experiences to make you and your world a better place.