We have all tried the meditation.

Personally, I have tried apps, books and even a group zoom session (the latter being about as relaxing as it sounds). I sit down with the best of intentions and begin to focus on my breathing. It is going well.

Inhale. Exhale.

I wonder how my Aunt is, I should really call her.

Inhale. Exhale.

Did I remember to send that email in the end?

Inhale. Exhale.

No, just focus on the breathing.

Inhale. Exhale.

What’s for dinner tonight?

By complete coincidence, a friend of mine recommended I read a book by John C. Lilly called ‘The Centre of the Cyclone’. Ostensibly not the most relaxing title I had ever seen but I decided to give it a try. This book covered a variety of strange and interesting topics, all with the overarching theme of exploration of the mind, a subject which has always interested me. Central to a lot of these themes was a method called ‘sensory isolation’. The first experiments with the practice were essentially in a diving suit suspended underwater in total darkness for hours at a time. After a few hours on YouTube and Wikipedia I was convinced that this was something I wanted to try. Thankfully, the diving suit no longer seemed necessary.

This is how I found Float in the Forest, located around 30 minutes from me in the enchanting Forest of Dean. To my delight, with only a short commute I would be able to experience floating first-hand and explore the benefits for myself. So, I booked my first session.

After spending a fruitless half an hour trying to explain what I was going to be doing that evening (‘So is it like a big bath?’), I set off for Float in the Forest. The feeling of driving away from busy towns into the forest for the first time was surreal and relaxing. Before I knew it, I was arriving at a small business park nestled amongst the trees just outside of Lydney and waiting to be called in for my first float experience.

I must admit, I was fairly nervous upon arrival, but any feelings of anxiousness were immediately dispelled when Shari (one of the owners of Float in the Forest), waved to me from the door.

Upon entering I felt a comfortable warmth, both physically and mentally,

as I was walked through the procedure for my first float. This included basic ‘float etiquette’, what to expect in the pod, the colour of the lighting, fitting a pair of flip flops and finally what to expect from the session in general.

Once I was satisfied, I was lead through the building and able to get myself acquainted with overall layout of Float in the Forest. Any areas of potential stress or friction had clearly been reduced to the point where the experience was entirely focussed on enjoying my time in the float pod. Once I was happy, I was left to prepare and after having a soothing shower I opened the pod for the first time.

You really do float. After spending a short time getting used to floating like a fallen leaf in a pond I reached up and closed the pod door. Any worries about the space feeling small were dispelled as I took in my surroundings and reached to either side of the pod wall. Roughly the size of a double bed. With the pod light still on, I lay back in the warm water and tried to find my balance. Once I stopped trying to force myself to stay centred in the water and just relaxed my body entirely, I was able to come to stillness. Immediately I turned off the light.

The darkness was total but not uncomfortable and with no external input my eyes drifted closed. For the first ten minutes calming music plays. I noticed that my neck was tensed and I allowed the tension to be released, fully relaxing for the first time and letting my mind wander.

Did I send that email? The music is still playing. I am trying to empty to mind. What am I having for dinner? This doesn’t look good. How long it is until my next MOT? This is exactly what I was trying to avoid.

Then the music stops.  I can hear the beating of my heart.  The silence is total.

After taking a second to get used to this I start to focus on my breathing.

Inhale. Exhale.

I don’t count the breaths or try to focus on anything.

Soon, I feel as though I am drifting into a sleep-like state. There is a point just before you fall asleep when you are unsure if you are still totally conscious and this is exactly how it felt. I see flashes of colour. I see trees and mountainous landscapes. I see faces and familiar places. Sometimes I see nothing. Then, as if after 10 minutes, I hear music again. I slowly come back to my body and stretch my limbs. I feel heavy and relaxed, as though I have slept for hours. My back and legs no longer ache from a particularly taxing gym session a couple of days ago. I feel deeply peaceful.

Since this first floatation experience I have been back to Float in the Forest a number of times and have even signed up as a full-time member. I now look forward to my monthly journey into the forest to reset, meditate and contemplate the previous weeks. Floating offers a way to become comfortable once again with my thoughts.

In a time of constant distraction and taxes on our attention, the ability to sit with ourselves cannot be taken for granted. I use floating as a tool for self-improvement and exploration, it’s worth finding out what it could do for you. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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