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September 26, 2013 Comments (0) Training

Floating on Cloud 9

When I was in my mid-twenties I was coming off of a “few year run” of rarely taking care of my body. I lived and played hard, and only rested when I was “beaten into submission” and forced there. Introspection of my thoughts and actions were pretty much non-existent, and I was quickly getting “backed into a corner”. In 2004, after making some major changes in my life, I met a smart, sweet, caring woman named Erica. We had some things in common and Erica was a really good influence on me. She invited me to some of the “Satsang” gatherings she was attending (and sometimes thoughtfully facilitating), and I was open-minded and curious to what they entailed. Okay, I was mostly interested in Erica, but I was willing to give anything that was new and positive an honest effort. My old ways were clearly not working so well! Then the amazing happened. I started falling in love, not only with Erica, but with the practice of meditation and yoga, and felt many of the transformations and benefits that come along with the ancient practice. Sitting still was (and still is) very difficult and unnatural for me, but over time, and with consistency, I got better. Things started “flowing” and my life changed drastically.


Over some time endurance training and competition (triathlon, marathoning, & eventually trail ultra running) took a front seat in my life. My meditations, and yoga classes moved from the mats in studios to faster moving ones on the roads and trails. Occasionally I would pop into a class here and there, or sit or practice at home and on vacation, but never with the same regularity. Erica and I continued to date and in 2009 (about five years after we met) got married and moved to Portland, Oregon. I was deeply engrossed in the competitive trail ultra running “circuit”, and landed in arguably the best trail running region in the nation. By now I had had some success in the sport and I sought out many different ways to continue and improve my performance. I experimented with diet and nutrition, and with therapies such as massage, chiropractors/Active Release, and acupuncture. Luckily, Portland is a great and very “active and outdoorsy” city that has a plethora of options in all the aforementioned areas of therapy (and much more).

One day, I believe for an anniversary or birthday, Erica gave me a gift certificate for a new business here in Portland. The company specialized in “floating”, and she thought that I’d really benefit from it because of the heavy training that I’d been doing, and the recurring nagging injuries. I had never heard of it, but again, was open-minded and gave it a go.

Let me tell you about it:

“Floating” (also known as sensory deprivation therapy) involves entering an enclosed tank (basically a bath tub that has a dome cover over it) that has about a foot of body-temperature water filling it. In addition to that, the tub and water is filled with approximately 800 pounds of Epsom salt. This super-concentrated combination affords you the ability to lie on your back in the water and float on the surface. Also, because of the enclosed tank you don’t get much sensory input because it is completely dark (although not all tanks are enclosed; some are open in a completely dark room), and you have wax plugs in your ears to block out any noise. Because you are floating there is no pressure being put on your body’s frame, and you have a feeling of weightlessness.

My first time in the tank was a huge learning process. It’s basically the opposite of everything you experience on a regular basis. I remember itching my eyebrow about 10 minutes into the float and having some water drip down into my eye. Ouch! Highly-concentrated Magnesium Sulfate really burns when you get it in the eyes! I had to get out of the tank and quickly find my way to the light switch in the dark room, and then to the shower to flush out my eyes. I tried getting back into the tank for another 15 or so minutes, and may have had brief moments of relaxation. I left before my 90-minute session was up, and the man at the desk was very surprised I was done so soon. To be honest I had a tough time being still, and after the burning eye issue I decided to move on. However, I do remember walking out in the street a little later in the day and feeling very happy, and feeling like I had a lot of energy. Despite this I did not return for any floating for a long time.



Fast forward to the Spring of 2012 and my good friend and fellow ultra runner Nick Triolo (who I had shared many miles on the trail with) told me about a nice couple he had met out in the forest while hiking. Their names were Sandra and Dylan, and they recently started and own-operate a business called theFloat Shoppe. Nick told me about how he went and tried out this thing called “sensory deprivation floating”, and I quickly explained that I knew all about it (from my pathetic single experience two years prior!). I was intrigued again and eager to give it another chance after hearing about Nick’s connection with Sandra and Dylan (read Nick’s report HERE). My soul brother Nick and I were training for the covetedWestern States 100-miler and we were playing any card we could in order to give us a fair advantage. We knew we had the physical component pretty dialed in, but this was a potential mental “wildcard” that we were both “sold on”.

From April until June 2012 I got into some very consistent floating (about once per week) and learned how to be very mindful (which included not getting salt in the eyes!). The sessions are 90-minutes but obviously you can leave when ever you like. When your time is up some light music comes on to notify you to get out. Like most things done consistently the more often I floated the better I got at it. There has been a lot of research done in this area and surprisingly floating is not “new”. A simple “Google search” and you’ll be flooded with articles and information about this interesting and powerful practice.

There are different stages of consciousness that you go to when in the sensory deprived tank. When floating your brain generates theta waves, which promotes vivid memories, sparks creativity, serenity, and inspiration. This is experienced by most of us just before we fall asleep every night, though we don’t realize it. When floating you are awake but able to enjoy the thoughts and images that are passing through. I have had many beautiful and potent images of myself running a great race through the mountains. Visualizing myself passing through the different sections of the race, interacting with my crew, running strongly and smoothly, and crossing the finish line with a smile and fist in the air celebrating, are just a few of the repetitive imagery that I have while floating. Doing this over and over has helped me on race day because I almost feel that I have already experienced it. When I am actually out there my body is going through the motions that I have rehearsed in my mind many times before with total focus. I also have dreams of being with my daughter and family and am reminded of how fortunate I am. Visions of the past and of the future come and go, and I often have just very random (and sometimes strange) images that appear so crystal clear. For instance one time I envisioned myself as a beautiful lotus on a lilly pad. I was so completely still that the water was like a “glass pond” without a ripple in it, and I was seeing (and almost feeling) dragonflies, birds, and other water plants around me. The human brain is absolutely fascinating! Honestly, there have been times that the music sounded to end my session and I said to myself, “oh, there must have been a mistake, it hasn’t been 90 minutes yet”. Then I will get out and look at my watch dumbfounded about how time flew by so quickly!


Other benefits of floating include: 

The healing process of muscles, joints, and connective tissues, is expedited which is extremely beneficial for ultra runners that demand a lot from the body. Inflammation is reduced and the absorption of nutrients is increased, as well as flushing out harmful toxins. The zero-gravity allows your spine to elongate and for the space between vertebrae, and joints to get some movement which helps alleviate any pressure or stiffness. Even when you are lying on your comfortable mattress at home there is still pressure being put on your joints and your body’s frame. While floating you are weightless and the remarkable repairing process is sped up. Also worth noting is that your respiratory rate, blood pressure, and heart rate plummets, as well as your cortisol levels, and other hormones are regulated. In the world we live in hopped up on caffeine, multi-tasking all the time, and for me running many miles per week, our adrenal glands are squeezing out cortisol more than normal. This can cause a whole host of health problems over the “long run”. Taking the time to “recharge” and slow down is very important and beneficial especially in this day and age with ultra modern technology where we are often staring at computer screens, phones, and sitting at desks. Floating also helps me to push out negative thoughts and emotions, and helps me to focus on positivity and the things I am grateful for in my life today. This leaves me feeling more calm and happy, and helps me be more patient and tolerant with my fellow humans. My family is much happier when I float as well, and I am glad that I have found this practice. I could go on and on about the benefits!

I am sure that there are sensory deprivation centers close to where you live and I definitely highly recommend it. If you’re in Portland, Oregon then you should block off a couple hours on your calendar and head down to see Dylan and Sandra at the Float Shoppe on NW 23rd. It might just be that missing link that you need to push past a barrier in your life, and it could very well leave you “Floating on Cloud 9!”

Completing my "Dream-Vision" of Top Ten at the Western States 100-miler! Photo: Meghan Hicks

Completing my “Dream-Vision” of Top Ten at the Western States 100-miler! Photo: Meghan Hicks

Do you have experience with “floating”? Tell us about it!

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