The float tank is an ideal environment for deep meditation. Most of us have never experienced prolonged periods of this mental state, but a float or two will typically open the door for deeper exploration. This blog is for the intermediate floater who is looking to find methods of reaching this meditative (Theta) mindset as quickly as possible. These methods are also very helpful outside of the tank and can be important tools for mental relaxation.
This is the first step for beginning meditation and as far as I've researched, it seems to be universally employed in all of the different religions/faiths that emphasize meditation all over the world. The idea in breath awareness is to distract the mind from thoughts, words and/or images by focusing all of your attention to the natural rhythms of the body. To practice breath awareness in the tank, simply breathe in as deep as possible through the nose, pause a few seconds (not holding the breath but allowing it to flow through the body before exhaling) and then fully exhale all the while focusing your attention on the process. When thoughts inevitably arise, don't resist them. Simply let them pass like a cloud moving through the sky and gently return your awareness to your breathing.
This technique should be practiced after some time is spent on breath awareness and the floater has a good grasp of meditative breathing. When ready, on the count of one, breathe in deeply and direct your complete attention to a very specific area of the body (we'll start with the center of the forehead). When concentrating on this body part, try your best to focus the entire essence of your very being into the area; all aspects of your perceived self, body, mind and spirit. Exhale completely holding attention to the area, then inhale on the count of two and move your awareness to the nose. Repeat this exercise as you move to the mouth, throat, left shoulder, left elbow/wrist/hand/fingers, return back to the throat and repeat for the right arm side, return to throat and move to the lower parts of the body: chest, abdomen, pelvis, left hip/knee/ankle/foot/toes, return to pelvis, move down the right leg side. Return up through the center of the body to reach the forehead and relax deeply. You should count somewhere in the vicinity of sixty breaths to completely move through the body. When successful, you'll find that sensation and/or visualizations arise in the area of the body you're focusing on and deep relaxation sets in.
This practice is best employed in conjunction with breath/body awareness and if done correctly, will only intensify the effects of the previously mentioned techniques. When doing your breath awareness exercise, add a visual component such as light to help hold your attention and enrich the experience. With each inhalation, imagine pure white light entering in through the left nostril and moving throughout all the regions of the body. During the pause before exhaling, imagine all of the negative aspects of your physical/mental self (toxins, delusion, negative thoughts/emotions) as an internal dark gray or blue or brown cloud being purified by the white light and changed to a radiant golden color. Then exhale through the right nostril, picturing the golden light being expelled back into the physical world. Assign a smell to the light if you wish. Imagine music that accompanies it. After ten to twenty minutes of repeating this, change the flow of breath from the left nostril to your right and repeat the exercise. Continue in this way until you reach deep relaxation. Again, gently dismiss all arising thoughts, and you will enter into deep meditation easily without having noticed.
- Jeremy DeLong
This is not the first time I have written about cupping. It will probably not be the last. I am writing about it again because I feel it is still an underrepresented modality, and a poorly misunderstood therapy. First let's start with the facts: Cupping is negative pressure. It's suction. Think of it like this: cupping pulls fluid up into the tissue instead of pressing the tissue down into the fluid. I often use what I call the rug metaphor.
It goes like this: you roll up your living room rug because it needs a cleaning. You throw it into the bathtub and turn on the water. Then you start applying some pressure and the water starts changing color as the debris starts coming loose. Yes, you are making progress; but imagine what would happen if you were to use a water vacuum on this same dirty rug. You would be cleaning it in an entirely different way. You would be sucking water up through the fibers of the rug and that would assist in dislodging debris without applying any direct pressure. I like this metaphor because it helps to illustrate that both methods are effective, just in different ways. I also like this metaphor because it allows us to talk about debris.
I prefer the word 'debris' to 'toxins.' People throw the word 'toxins' around way too much in my opinion especially when describing what's inside our bodies. Yes, there is a wide spectrum of unique cells made of separate parts making up all that debris but it's not space dust, or cancer, or 'toxins.' It's you and your life. So with that in mind we will use 'debris' from this point forward to identify all of the stuff that is kicked up and moved around during massage and cupping sessions.
Now what about all those horrible bruises? Let me ask you, what's the difference between a bruise and what is commonly referred to as a 'hickey or love bite?' Both are associated with a purple coloring or redness. Both are caused by damage to blood vessels, but a bruise (hematoma) is always associated with internal bleeding due to blunt trauma, whereas in the superficiality of a hickey (caused by suction), the damage to the capillaries is minimal. Suction from a massage cup is usually not enough to cause what is commonly referred to as a hickey but on occasion it can be. Especially when there is extreme suction and the cups are stationed in one area and not 'walked' or moved around the skin surface. It is important to note that though the visible results of cupping can appear painful and drastic, these marks usually don't last more than a week and the area is typically no more sore than an area that has been worked deeply with massage pressure.
It is also important to remember that cupping from a licensed massage therapist differs from that of a licensed acupuncturist. Most L.A.C.s perform what is called 'fire cupping,' which requires a flame to create a vacuum in a glass cup. L.M.T.s typically do their cupping with silicone suction or plastic pump style cups. The goal of the L.M.T.s tends to be more about breaking up adhesions, mobilizing tissue and increasing mobility, both locally and regionally. But there are surely as many ways to incorporate cups into a treatment scenario as there are massage therapists. The idea with cupping is to allow the therapist to custom tailor the session around you and your expectations, not around his or her particular skill set.
- Matt Dalton, LMT
A while back a woman came to see me about generalized neck pain. She had heard about me through a friend of a friend and had some time and thought she would get a massage. The pieces of her pain puzzle started to come together after listening to her complain about her upper back and neck and then observing that she had circled TMJ and HEADACHES on her intake. When I asked her about about these symptoms she dismissed them as chronic. "Oh the doctor said this and that and the chiropractor did this and that and it helped for a day or two but . . ." Her tone implied that she was uncertain as to why I would even be asking her about it, since she was there because of her neck. What I thought was an obvious connection between the jaw, neck and her headaches was completely missing from her frame of mind. I knew that her symptoms are more common than not. Connections that are readily made by therapists are typically just beyond the regular scope of the average person.
So with that in mind. If you are suffering from chronic headaches and also have been given a diagnosis of TMJ and/or bruxism (teeth grinding) and you also have neck pain; it is highly likely that bodywork can help. According to the ACA (American Chiropractic Association) 95 percent of ALL headaches are stress/muscular tension related and not caused by disease of any kind. The Illinois Department of Public Health has published similar numbers. This is not to say that there are no other kinds of headaches or that statistics are anything to put all of your faith in. But it does stand to reason that it is safe to say if most headaches are stress/tension related than there is something that can be done that does not involve taking pain medication. Now factor in the umbrella of TMJ into this tension related scenario. TMJ is a VERY GENERAL DIAGNOSIS which in most cases means the joint that we typically call the jaw is regularly in pain, and that this is caused by some known/unknown trauma.
Now for anatomy. One look at an anatomical drawing of the muscles of mastication (chewing) should make it pretty clear that the muscles involved in chewing are INTRINSICALLY part of the musculature that wraps around the skull. Our primary example of this is the Temporalis muscle which fans back from our temples to the side of our skulls. You can feel the strength of this muscle firing by placing your hands on the side of your head while chewing. Imagine this muscle being as tight as the muscles that you often report as being tight in your back. Imagine it clenching like a clamp. From here the Occipitofrontalis begins its compensation which begins to effect all the attachments of the mastoid process which then signals the muscles of the cervical column (your neck) to begin contracting to hold their ground and then . . . You can see that of course this is oversimplified but it is certainly not a stretch to imagine something like this going on unmitigated for long enough to cause hypertonicity (tightness) tensions, pains. So those of you with what has been diagnosed as TMJ, or those of you that regularly grind your teeth, those with chronic headaches: bodywork can and does help manage and sometimes completely unwinds the pathologies behind what is causing you pain.
If my hands can resolve a conflict of tension in the upper or lower back, they can certainly be tasked to the pain of headache and jaw pain. If you are seeing a bodyworker of any kind, please remember that they can and do offer treatment for these sorts of pain. I'll be the first to admit that massage cannot fix everything, and that the cause and effects of pain are as complicated as the stories of our lives; but before you give up or resign yourself to pain pills, or surgery of any kind, see someone with experience in the therapeutic field of massage.
- Matthew Dalton, LMT
As a licensed massage therapist, I have received a lot of massages as part of my training and for my own self-care practice. I’ve had some bad ones, some okay ones, and some really great treatments by talented therapists. However, I had never received a massage that delivered such profound and lasting results until I discovered Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy.
Like many of the clients I work with, I prefer a very firm massage. I’m strong. I have a lot of muscle. I work hard, play hard and need good firm, consistent pressure to get relief. When I discovered Ashiatsu, it was like my body finally received the proper treatment it had needed all of these years!
To clarify, Ashiatsu oriental bar therapy is performed by the therapist using their feet to deliver broad, deep effleurage and compression strokes to the body to release all of the large and deep muscle groups. There are parallel bars above the massage table for the therapist to use for stability and variable pressure. Because the pressure is more broad and diffused, it is deep without being painful. It is referred to as the “deepest, most luxurious massage in the world.” And that’s no joke!
The first time I received Ashiatsu, it changed my life and my massage practice forever! Never before had I had such relief from any other modality of massage. It decompressed my spine, lengthened my tight muscles, and improved the mobility of my hips and shoulders like nothing else. I felt like my entire body had been steam rolled (in a good way)! I was hooked. I had to learn this modality so that I could share it with the clients I work with. A few weeks later I was signed up to begin training here a Mudra Massage with Nancy Failla DeLong.
Ashiatsu is great for clients who desire a gratifying, results-driven treatment session. It’s well suited and adaptable to meet the needs of physically fit individuals, larger clients, and those who can never seem to get enough pressure in a massage. It can of course be modified for those who prefer moderate pressure as well. It’s also great for chronic upper and low back pain relief, improved posture and joint mobility, sciatica, tight hamstrings and IT bands, Lordosis, and Kyphosis to name a few. Whether the work you do is physically active, or involves working at a computer, this form of massage is definitely worth considering to help you feel better and more balanced in your body.
~Vanessa Duthie, LMT
In early 2012, the owners of Float On (SE Hawthorne), now the largest float center in the nation, decided to organize and host an event for anyone and everyone interested in floating and floatation therapy. The conference was to be held in one of the major hubs for floating in the United States, beautiful Portland, Oregon, and the goal was simple: to foster growth in the floatation community by gathering leading experts in the field, and having them present and share their research and experiences of floating.
The conference drummed up an amazing amount of support in the community, and in October we were joined by floatation enthusiasts and leading researchers from around the globe for the Portland Float Conference, which had become the largest of its’ kind. The presentations were fascinating, the floatation community was strengthened, information and experiences were shared, and we resolved then to make the Portland Float Conference an annual event.
With the success of our first conference, the floatation community is buzzing about this year’s event. We’re gathering another captivating panel of expert presenters, and an even larger crowd of floatation enthusiasts, to join us for the second conference this August. The 2013 conference will feature exciting new research and presentations from leaders in floatation therapy, and is the perfect place for anyone interested in float tanks and floatation therapy to come share their support of the community.
The 2013 Conference will be held August 16th-18th at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are still available! Visit http://www.floatconference.com for more information.
I closed the door to this homemade float tank and let my world go dark. After settling in and getting used to the buoyancy of the water, I can recall how the sound of my breath seemed like bellows in a cavern, echoing through deep spaces. It wasn’t too long after I had thought, “hey this is just like meditating,” before my mind had let go of itself completely and I was simply adrift in a black sea at night, a cloudless sky above me, very much a mirror of my present state of mind.
I jumped in and out of this ‘pure-mind’ two to three times during my first float, which lasted about two hours. During moments of waking consciousness in the tank, I laid there not feeling bored, but excited and energized by my ability to get into deep levels of meditation with such ease (not to mention that being in a zero gravity chamber does wonders for your muscles and stretching around in the tank while awake was the like Yoga on steroids). So time in the tank went by quickly and before long I was being prompted out by gentle music. I can still remember clearly how I felt after my first session; my body and mind felt better connected/reinvigorated and my perception of stimuli was heightened to a degree that even successful sitting meditation had never offered me. I was immediately hooked for life.
- Jeremy DeLong
From time to time clients will come in and say something like “go ahead and beat me up” or “you can go really deep on me. I don’t mind if it hurts.” Personal pain tolerances aside, the frequency of this request brings up a really good question: “Does massage have to hurt to be effective?”
Therapeutic massage can be uncomfortable and yes, sometimes painful when working on recent or chronic injuries, but the pain should not be a result of a massage therapist digging an elbow into you and ironing you out like a sheet.
Therapeutic discomfort is something to be worked with cautiously and within limits. For example, working within a client’s pain tolerance using a pain scale of 1-10, a well-trained therapist will work within a range of 5-8 and only for a limited amount of time.
The body and mind work as one, with the body being a reflection of the mind and mental state. When the mind can relax, the body will follow. That is why I blend both therapeutic and relaxation work into all of my massage sessions, along with hydrotherapy and aromatherapy as appropriate to assist in this process.
If you are seeking massage for muscular tension or chronic injuries, look for a therapist who is able to work with you using a variety of techniques and whose goal is more than just giving a deep massage. Do they check in regularly with you regarding your pain level when doing therapeutic work? Are they able to develop and discuss a treatment plan with you if you plan on coming in for a specific injury or problem? And most importantly, what does your body tell you? Do you feel better for a few days after your massage or does your condition seem worse?
When it comes to massage therapy, tuning in to your own body and feeling its response to particular techniques or a particular therapist is a much better indicator of effectiveness than the how much pain a therapist can inflict during a session.
- Karyn Verzwyvelt, LMT