What I Learned From Floating In a Sensory Deprivation Tank

What do John Lennon, Anthony Bourdain and Lisa Simpson have in common?

Aside from world fame and trips to Japan, they all, at some point, found themselves inside the curious device known as a sensory deprivation tank.

“Floating” in zero gravity sensory chambers specially designed to create the experience of weightlessness has been a thing since the early 1950s, when a neuroscientist by the name of John C. Lily developed them to test its effects on the human psyche.

Since then, the practice made its way into spas and new age facilities around the world.  Some people regularly use sensory deprivation for relaxation, enhanced meditation experiences, or even to treat pain from conditions like arthritis.

As someone always looking for experimental approaches to meditation and spiritual insight, I found this concept intriguing.

So I put it on my bucket list . . . where it remained for years.

But this week, when the folks at Mystic Flow Wellness Center invited me to try it, I felt fate tap me on the shoulder.    No time like the present to dive (or ease?) right in.

Ah, the spa.  The smell of essential oils, the skilled hands of massage therapist, the feel of mud sinking into my skin.  Just the word spa drops my blood pressure.

After 19 months of first-time motherhood, the idea of spending 90 minutes in silence should have sounded like a granted wish.  But  I found myself surprisingly nervous when I arrived in the lobby that morning.

(I distracted myself by wondering how awesome that chandelier would look over my dining room table.)

spa reception

Rose, a friendly, approachable attendant, met me at the door, introducing herself as my “float host.”

Say hi to Rose.

rose from mystic floats

She gave me a little tour of facility before my treatment, swinging open the door to one of the “float rooms” to reveal a space-age-looking machine that glowed with empyrean aquamarine light.


I wondered briefly if I might wake up in the Matrix.

But Rose assured me that I could, at any time, open the door and get out.

She also promised I’d float beyond any scientific doubt, explaining that the chamber solution contained 1,000 pounds of salt—-a larger concentration that the Dead Sea.

I was provided a robe, some earplugs (apparently, water in the ear canals is a common distraction) and left on my own to confront the alien pod.

sensory deprivation tank feet first

I got in, closed the door and laid back, surprised at my extreme buoyancy.  A robotic-yet-soothing feminine voice welcomed me to the session and the glowing turquoise light faded into oblivion.

My initial claustrophobia faded.

Inside, I struggled with all the things common to ordinary meditation.  My mind wandered.  I resisted the urge to fidget.

But some of the physical discomforts I usually experience during “land meditation”  (like my lower back pain, and tension in my shoulders) instantly alleviated.  After a few minutes, most of my major muscle groups softened.

I started to feel as though I were floating through deep space.

I personally experienced nothing close to the hallucination, but I definitely found my visualizations more vivid and easier to stabilize.

Occasionally, I bumped into the sides of the pod, which briefly jolted me from my visualization, but I found if I centered myself and held as still as possible, I could stay with my meditation for long stretches.

About halfway through the session, I started to lose orientation.  Time became difficult to gauge.  I guessed I’d been in for about 45 minutes when the same robotic-yet-soothing feminine voice beamed through my consciousness to tell me my 90 minutes was up.

I opened the pod to discover that I had not, in fact, been transported to the Matrix.

Rose met me in the lobby and told me to expect to feel pleasant after effects for several days.

She was right.  That night, I slept beautifully.  In addition, I felt the strange but delightful sensation of weightlessness for several hours, like walking around on the moon.


My Spiritual Approach to Post-Pregnancy Weight Loss


I am from the “weight loss generation” in the US.  Bombarded by advertisements for quick-solution weight loss, glossy pages in print magazines of impossibly thin women and the idea that appearances supersede inner harmony with the mind and the body, the pursuit of perfection became big business as children of the 80s and 90s grew up.

Undoing all that damage to our relationships with our bodies proves almost impossible 20 or 30 years later.

Personally, I’ve never been overweight, but I’ve never been happy with my body, either.  And I know I’m in good company.  Lots of people, especially women, average women, but even women who meet most Western beauty standards, feel as I do.

Without missing a beat, I look in the mirror daily, swiftly ticking off everything I hate about what I see.

Thin hair, scarred skin, weird bone structure, crooked teeth, wide hips, little breasts.  The list goes on and on.

Pregnancy made this ritual especially excruciating.  I counted every new stretch mark, every pound, every dimple of cellulite.  I looked at images “pretty pregnant” women—the ones with perfect, round little bumps, smooth skin all the way to delivery, most of them ten or more years younger than me (“Why did I wait so long to do this?  I’ll never bounce back at my age!”)

But crossing over from Maid to Mother gives me a new perspective on my body.   To see it as sacred, the ultimate temple to be maintained with devotion instead of daily assault and emotional self-abuse suddenly seems much kinder and justly grateful for what blessings it bestows on me.

The time arrives now for me to aid my body in postpartum healing—which is not the same thing as restoring it to its pre-pregnancy status, but to embrace all its new features, nurturing it as it is now.

I believe that all meaningful journeys in life begin in the spirit.

This seems especially true when on sets out to alter the body through discipline and conscious effort.

My plan is not to count calories, track minutes of exercise, or otherwise live a regimented life style, but to see things differently, change my attitudes and bring my child up with a healthy understanding of the mind/body connection.

Everyone’s ideal journey differs, but the following ideas are thoughts I’d like to adopt to replace old attitudes ingrained by mass marketing and pop culture.

1.  I’m going for a daily walk with the baby because it’s as good for my mind and soul as it is for my body.  Making exercise a chore is the fastest way to give up on it.  The freedom to walk, ride a bike or run in a natural setting is a profound gift.  Even if you live in the city, walking among people and appreciating the sights, sounds and smells of your surroundings brings tremendous mental clarity. I intend to look forward to my time outside.

2.  Food is either poison, or it is medicinal.  There really isn’t any gray area.  When I look at nutrition this way, it becomes much easier to make good choices.  We like to make diets complicated—or rather, the for-profit weight loss industry does.  I’m not going to get into a big debate about the morality of food with respect to meat and animal products, but setting that aside, I am of the personal opinion that natural is best.  The more natural, the better.   That’s what I’m going for.

3.  Yoga just feels good.  There really isn’t anything to dread about exercise if you enjoy it.  For me, yoga is a perfect integration of the mind, body & spirit, all of which it emphasizes beautifully.  The goal of harmonizing one’s body with one’s mind and spirit inspires me.

4.  Belly dance is a celebration of womanhood.  Long ago, I chose belly dance as a way to express myself and condition my body to align with my soul.  Focusing on developing it further seems especially appropriate during and after childbirth, when the power and beauty of womanhood expresses itself so profoundly.

5.  Water is life-giving.  There is nothing “boring” about drinking water.  Water is an element, it sustains life all over the planet, and it is the only fluid necessary to sustain my life.   I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with juice or coffee or tea, but just as food either nurtures or poisons you, fluids either flush you of toxins, or cleanse you of them.

So that’s it.  That’s my plan.  I’ll let you know how it’s going a few months from now.  Wish me luck!

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10 Tips for a More Spiritual Mind/Body Workout


Mind/body workouts are all the rage right now.

But Eastern societies have long understood the connection between the mind and the body.  Tai chi, yoga, belly dance and a variety of martial arts incorporate spiritual elements into physical conditioning.

Make your workout do double duty as a sacred time to reconnect your higher spiritual awareness to your physical body.

1.  Take it outside.  The simple act of moving your yoga mat outside transforms your practice tremendously!  Now that warmer days are on the horizon, take advantage of them.

2.  Use soothing music.  While many people think fast-paced, turbo-charged music “pumps up” or energizes them during workouts, soothing music actually helps to make difficult postures and movements easier and less strenuous by tuning you to your inner thoughts.

3.  Remember that slow, controlled movements are good for the mind and the body.   Mind/body workouts tend to use slow, precise muscle control to condition the body.  Warrior pose may look easy to the casual observer, but ask him to hold it for five straight minutes and he’ll see just how hard it is!  The concentration required to achieve and hold these postures aids meditation, self-control and the sacred connection between the mind and the body.

4.  Use your workouts to “un-knot” mental blocks.   If you’re feeling tense, frustrated or anxious, use your mind/body workout to work through these feelings.  We tend to encourage ourselves to “let go” or forget about our struggles while working out, but it can be just as useful to focus on relieving and healing them. 

5.  Be creative!  Try customizing your own workout, or inventing your own new fusion.  Popular workouts like barre and Zumba are really just someone’s creative ways of integrating different disciplines.  Maybe you can think of an interesting way to integrate yoga with a martial arts discipline you know–try it, and keep things interesting.

6.  Make your workout space a temple.  Try using an oil burner to diffuse energizing essential oils like orange and lemon, or light candles to encourage a peaceful state of mind.

7.  Don’t just stretch–“check in” with your body.  Notice areas of tension, aches and pains that you might not be aware of when you’re distracted by your daily activities.  Listen your body; it probably has something to say that you may not be hearing.

8.  Try a simple meditation session after your cool down.  Grounding and centering is a nice way to transition back into your everyday life.

9.  Instead of showering after your workout, try a candlelit bath.  Bust out the essential oils and rub your muscles down with a salt scrub.  Take the time to treat your body like the temple it is.

10.  Make massage a regular part of your fitness program.  You may think you can’t afford regular massage, but many malls offer $1 per minute massages, Groupon has specials all the time and most gyms have automated massage chairs at little or no cost to members.  If nothing else, trade massages with someone who loves you!  It’s a great bonding activity.  Massage is a fantastic opportunity to concentrate completely on your body while someone else brings your attention to areas you may often ignore.

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The Spiritual Side of Dance

DSC_0477bite lip 2

I started belly dancing about six years ago.

I was awful.

In the beginning, as with any discipline, it is important to first learn proper technique.

“You must know the rules before you break them,” as the saying goes.

I had been a competitive ice skater for many years in my youth.  In some ways, this was an advantage—I knew proper dance posture, I had a sense of my body and what made it look graceful.  But in other ways, it made it more difficult to break ice-skating habits (which are more like classical ballet) and relax into this very different, spicy Middle Eastern style.

There were many awkward moments in my bedroom with a full-length mirror.  Why was it so hard to make a maya look easy?  And a  reverse undulation?  It was like a magic trick.  Does the human body even really do that?

And then it happened.  Something clicked.  The rhythm of the hand drums suddenly seemed to synch up naturally with my own heart beat.  I wasn’t thinking anymore—I was just doing it.  Every dancer knows this moment when you are suddenly able to own a style.

Now you are allowed to break the rules.

I believe this is the moment when dance transforms from the technique to a powerful form of spiritual expression that can be used to build power in rituals, add flavor to your ceremonies, and help you become in tune with your mind/body connection.

Here are a few tips to help you get in this frame of mind.

1.  Choose a style.  Some people say this is unnecessary.  I’m not saying that total improvisation can’t have its own kind of power and beauty.  But as a general rule, I think most spiritual disciplines are just that—disciplines.  Yoga, meditation and tarot reading all benefit from a certain period of structure where the focus is learning something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally at first.  So pick something.  Any style will do, but styles I’ve found to be especially conducive to spiritual expression:  belly dance, African traditions, tribal dance and dance styles from the Far East.

2.  Get the technique out of the way.  Depending on your skill level, this can take weeks, months or even years.  But it’s worth the effort to really get to know a given style well enough to execute it fluidly.  This is akin to learning another language.  Become comfortable enough with it that you converse fluently, without “stuttering” through transitions or getting stuck on proper form.

3.  Pick music that really speaks to you.    Your mileage may vary.  My husband owns a record store.  His big pet peeve is the tendency for people to be elitist about music tastes.  “The pleasure of music is a chemical reaction in the brain.  For some people, Barbara Streisand really does do it.  I can’t stand Barbara Streisand.  I don’t get it at all.  But I don’t judge it, either.”  Well said, love.  I don’t recommend Barbara Streisand for dance, but you get the point.  Choose music that moves you, not someone else.

4Cleanse the space.   If smoke doesn’t bother you, try smudging.  Or sprinkle spring water, or salt, or whatever you do to cleanse a space before any ritual.  This can help you get in the right frame of mind, and help you to think of dance more as a ritual than purely physical experience.

5.  Dedicate your practice to something.  Say it out loud, if you don’t feel too foolish.  “I dedicate my dance to healing my body and mind.”  “I dedicate my dance to X deity.”  “I dedicate my dance to peaceful sleep tonight.”  This simple act of consciously focusing your intentions does wonders for the power of expression.

6.  Feel, don’t think.   This is a big leap.  You’ve just spent all that time thinking.  That’s what learning technique is—you have to think.  It’s much more cerebral.  I would not be surprised at all if you actually use a different part of your brain to learn technique.  But now it’s time to push that aside and let your “automatic pilot” take over.  Instead of thinking about transitions, posture and poise, just think about the music—-where is the music guiding you?

7.  Close your eyes.  Find a nice open space with some privacy.  Save complex balance-heavy moves for later.  For now, stick to something easy and just focus on the simple pleasure of movement.

8.  When in doubt, breathe.  If you start to over-think your dancing, just return to your breath as you would during meditation.  This is meditation in motion, and all the same principles apply.

9.  Have an out-of-body experience.   Okay, not really.  I mean that would be cool, but let’s not shoot for the stars just yet.  Still, the closer you can get to believing that you are not in control of your movements, the better.  The idea is to become open enough something “higher” or transcendent that you allow yourself to be guided by it, instead of guiding yourself.  Try imagining yourself like a string puppet, with a hundred tiny threads connecting even tiny muscle in your body to the ceiling, and allow someone else to “pull the strings.”  That sounds so weird, but I can’t of a better metaphor.

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