Recently, I completed an audition for the Niagara Symphony Orchestra (NSO). In my preparation, I decided to try something different. I had been researching meditation and mindfulness techniques and their effect on music performance and retention of material. I decided to take the plunge (literally) and try a sensory deprivation tank (or “float tank”) at a local spot in Hamilton called “Zee float”.
WHAT IS MEDITATION or mindfulness?
I think that most people have a vague understanding of what mindfulness or meditation is and what it can be used for. Mindfulness is exactly like the practice of meditation in terms of mindset but it is applied to everyday tasks or practices that are not specifically the act of meditation. I think of it as focusing my awareness and intention into whatever I am currently doing in the moment. As for meditation, it is usually sitting alone for an extended period of time and trying to empty one’s mind.
Some of the specific benefits of these practices include increased positive brain activity in areas associated with memory and general cognition, increased interpersonal perception ability (awareness of surroundings and ones effect on them), perception of self and one’s own emotions, reducing of pain perception, and even the reversal of aging. There are many meta analysis available that outline the research, but this Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_on_meditation) does a reasonable job of summing some of it up. I may make a write up with sources explaining what it all means in terms of music, the benefits and potential adverse effects and an explanation of what I try to do daily in more detail in the future.
Through my own curiosity and research, I have read about many high-level musicians playing on the professional audition circuit incorporating mindfulness techniques into their practice regimes and performances. A great resource containing articles and interviews with high-profile musicians is https://www.mindoverfinger.com/, specifically their podcast. Check it out if you are interested in hearing some amazing interviews with professional musicians about their positive experiences implementing mindfulness and meditation.
what is floating?
Floating is a form of meditation that is done in a tank that attempts to remove all sensory input. For most people, the most difficult part of meditation is that there are constant sensory interruptions in all of our environments (e.g., the car horn outside, the floors creaking, the itchy tag of your t-shirt, what have you). As such, it is difficult to maintain absolute focus in order to maintain a meditative state. “Float tanks” are also called “sensory deprivation” because they dampen your main sensory inputs, such as sight, sound, and touch. The tank itself is usually only a few squared meters in volume. The water is about 30 centimetres deep, so very shallow, and is heated to skin temperature (about 35.5 degrees centigrade). The water is typically full of magnesium sulfate (e.g., epsom salts). This allows your body to feel extremely buoyant when laying inside the tank, essentially floating on top of the water (hence, “float tank”). The tank is also completely dark and soundproof. Combined, all of these aspects produce an ideal environment for meditating. A float typically lasts anywhere from an 30 minutes to 2 hours and induces an intense meditative state due to the sensory deprivation aspect. I realize this experience may sound a little alarming or claustrophobic to some. I won’t lie, it was a little disorienting being in complete darkness and silence, unable to feel any sensation or weight on my body but it didn’t take very long to adjust to the experience. If you would like some more thorough information, check out this short documentary on YouTube:
I watched it before my experience in order to fully prepare and relieve some of my personal anxiety. When it finally came to the day of the appointment the experts at Zee float in Hamilton really helped to ease my nerves by explaining everything very thoroughly.
Zee float is located on 430 York Boulevard in Hamilton and is renowned for being the best float spot in the area.
Zee float features a cozy, clean, and relaxing foyer, with soft music and dim lighting. At the front desk, there are knowledgeable and friendly staff who greet you upon entry. The building has many different rooms but is all on one floor (I think). The feeling once inside is very relaxed and zen, which made me feel invited and warm.
After a quick tour of the whole facility we [Alex, my significant other, and I] were shown to our float rooms. Before leaving, the Zee Float staff member explained everyone must shower before and after a float and showed me how to enter and exit the tank. In the room, there was a shower, a bench, and hooks for your clothes. The tanks are inside of these rooms and take up most of the space but are spacious enough as to not create a claustrophobic atmosphere. The rooms come with everything you may need for your float. On the bench, there was soap, wax ear plugs, a towel, and a water bottle. The rooms are very tidy as they are cleaned out after each customer. I stood in front of the closed door which had a mirror on the back of it. The mirror had instructions on it. It outlined that all customers are to shower off any skin or hair products prior to floating and (it goes without saying) no bodily fluids in the tank. I had considered floating in my bathing suit but the instructions advised that it is best in the nude (but to do whatever is most comfortable).
The doors of the tank are large but they do not lock, which relieved some anxiety. I opened the door, crawled in, closed the door behind me (and then pushed it back open to really make sure it didn’t lock) and laid myself down into the body-temperature water. There were lights in the tank itself that I could turn on and off with my hands or my feet depending on which direction I was facing. I also left the door of the tank open for a few minutes, as I felt unsure of being completely isolated inside the tank. Similarly, after I shut the door, I left the light on for a few minutes while I adjusted to the water and the silence. Then, I decided I was “ready” and turned it off. I closed my eyes while my body drifted aimlessly in the super buoyant liquid.
I had an expectation that I was going to become claustrophobic and panic but I didn’t. It took a while to relax and acclimate to my surroundings, but it eventually happened. Once I was relaxed, I started to focus on my audition repertoire, going through a mock performance in my head. I did end up achieving a meditative state, although it took what felt like ages. While in this state, I started to feel my body melding with the water. I also started to feel as though I was falling forward, or that I was on a decline, slipping downwards into the tank towards my legs. This feeling was quite interesting and I thought that it was my brain trying to understand why I couldn’t feel gravity or the water on my legs, or anywhere on my body for that matter. It almost felt like I was asleep but I was still aware of my body and what was happening to me. At one point, I saw small bright, yellow orbs floating in my apparent field of vision (I’m not really sure if my eyes were opened or closed). I thought to myself that these orbs had somewhat of a presence to them and for some reason determined that they were my Grandparents that had passed away. These orbs provided a very calming and reassuring energy to me regarding my audition. The overall relaxation and mood boost during this strange part of the float felt amazing. I remember feeling completely at ease and sunken into my body and mind. After what felt like a long while, I think that I was either asleep or in a very deep meditative state as I was startled “awake” by the music that they play when your floating time is up. The music was very soft and calming, but I was so startled that I flipped around and received a large amount of salty water in my eyes. When I exited the tank to rinse my face and eyes, the soothing music and purple light in the room felt alien, but oddly comforting. I sat down on the bench in the room for a few minutes after and tried to debrief myself on what had just happened. My body and mind felt completely at ease and I felt very refreshed, despite my slightly burning eyes. After the float, I met up with Alex in a different room. In the “lounge” room, we drank complementary kombucha and breathed in flavoured oxygen while we discussed our experiences.
I would recommend that everyone try a float at least once and see how it affects them. I think that it really set the tone and mood for my audition and also put me into a calm and control that lasted for quite some time after, a few days for sure. Although I did not win the audition (actually, nobody was selected), I felt that it was the perfect way to calm my nerves, clear out any doubts or cobwebs surrounding my upcoming performance and to ensure a good night’s sleep the night prior to my audition due to the magnesium that I had absorbed from the water. Furthermore, it made me more aware of how meditation ought to feel at its best, subsequently making it easier for me to maintain a meditative state outside of floating. Meditation and the practice of mindfulness in general, whether it happens in a pitch black tank filled with water, in your living room for 10 minutes each day, or while taking a shower before work, is an excellent and essential tool for self-reflection and emotional regulation. There are many guided meditation applications in which you download and try for free, such as https://www.calm.com/ or https://www.headspace.com/. Give it a try and see how it makes you feel! Finally, I would absolutely recommended ZeeFloat to anyone for providing such an interesting and well thought-out floating experience. Check them out at http://www.zeefloat.com!