GYROTONIC Local Business Mental Health self-experimentation

Float therapy for a sh*tty day

[7 min read]

My stress was at Fukushima levels as my ever-lurking tech-career burnout resurfaced again. Weeks—and by that I mean months—of tech support nightmares had come to a head after having spent yet another two hours helping yet another business software company figure out why yet another business administration product didn’t work as promised.

I’d arrived to The Unravelled Self studio after missing my 15-minute meditation, a practice I’d implemented to help me cope with this Brave New World of “alternative facts.” The place was in disarray. We’d moved one of my two GYROTONIC® machines out for The Total Woman Show that weekend, and the remote for the heater was missing. The cobblestone sidewalk outside the old white house in Uptown Waterloo was layered with ice in the freezing rain. To boot, I was even too late to do a full Gyrotonic workout—which was the whole point of the day’s experiment! I wanted to see how the movement might affect my experience of floating in a sensory deprivation tank at FlowtKW. Feeling utterly burnt out and resentful of the industry I was under the impression I’d quit, what I really needed was to just tune out the world for a while.

After having found a way to turn up the heat, I did just a portion of what we as certified Gyrotonic trainers call Progression 1—a series of sequential exercises on the machine that new clients can do in about 10 to 15 sessions, depending on their issues and fitness levels. These moves loosen up the joints in the body, allowing the shoulders and hip joints to move a little more freely and the spine to undulate better. I suspected Gyrotonic would improve what I already know to be a great experience for the body and mind. I’d floated semi-regularly years ago, but it had been a while and not since becoming a certified Gyrotonic instructor.

I was familiar with the flotation tanks and general procedures so my orientation went smoothly. Beautiful place! Filled with light. Serene. Grounding. The mini-rainforest growing in the foyer was a much-welcome and immediate reorientation of my visual and olfactory senses. After a quick shower and some water to drink, I slipped into the warm and humid tank to let the thickness of the water swirl around me. It immediately felt good to be home in a familiar place.

I behave as though I’m an extrovert—I like networking, socializing, and otherwise making connections between people with mutual interests—but I think Myers-Briggs probably has it right: I’m an introvert when it comes to how I deal with stress. I need extended bouts of solitude to regenerate from the interaction-intense lifestyle building a small business requires. Being ‘on’ is fun! Always being on is draining. The free-form floating in a human-sized tank of silky smooth water is solitude at its best. It might take some getting used to for those who like to keep the TV on for constant companionship, but once the initial and inevitable “boredom” phase passes, the 90 minutes of silence in the dark becomes a comfort. And don’t knock the temporary sense of boredom. On the other side of that is mental decompression!

Some immediate observations:

I no longer need a small pool noodle to support my head! Gyrotonic has corrected much of my “forward head posture” carved out by years hunched over a computer workstation. A move called “Turtle” targets the C7 notch to decompress the vertebrae around it, and the Upper Body Series of moves open up the front thoracic (rib cage). This means I no longer need a prop to prevent my head from tilting back too far for comfort in the tank. (FlowtKW offers multiple options to keep your head in the correct position if you need it.) Without it, the back of my neck used to “scrunch up” (shorten) and my chin would lift. Now my head lies in the water in good alignment with my back.

I spent most of the time with my arms comfortably floating above my head! This “hands up” position was impossible just a few years ago. (Truthfully, kudos go to KWPilates where I initially made my original breakthroughs in reaching overhead. The subsequent deep releases came through my own Gyrotonic work. And I still have much work to do to achieve proper form.) Back then, if I lifted my arms up in the tank, my rib cage would push up and outward arching my back and making it ache. Alternatively, floating with my arms at my side would cause my shoulders to round forward too much further tilting my head back and my chin up. The upper traps (shoulders) would then ache, and—despite the overall sense of soothing I’d experience—I’d have to adjust frequently. Not so anymore.

As my spine settled into its natural position, I could feel a pleasant extension through many joints, from head to toe. It’s reminiscent of dangling in a hammock. By natural, I mean natural to me, not what would necessarily be considered biomechanically ideal. Though I’ve made great progress unravelling my tight and immobile body, I still have muscular imbalances, over-compensations, fascial adhesions, and spinal misalignments (like just about anyone). But because I’m the Princess and the Pea, I start to feel them relatively quickly. And because I’m a mobility geek, I start to play with them! In the tank that day I learned something…

Out in real life when I stand on the floor, my rib cage twists ever so slightly to the left. My sternum “points” to the left rather than straight ahead, as it would with perfect alignment. In the tank I noticed my torso was not twisted; my sternum pointed straight forward (up). After what I’d guess to be 60-ish minutes in the tank, I became aware that my right leg was doing that thing. It was slightly, almost imperceptibly tense. It was not even with my left leg, either. My right leg fell further into the water by about a centimetre, from the hip down. When I brought the right leg up to align with the left—the way they’d be positioned while standing on a hard surface like a floor—my torso would twist ever so slightly to the left! Some time spent alternating between the two positions—leg back/torso straight vs. leg forward/torso twisted—showed me what’s really happening. My right hip holds more tension and tilts forward, which moves my leg back, which in turn twists my sternum. Something in my lower left back is going on too, and I’d bet a physiotherapist or kinesiologist could tell me exactly what’s happening in the kinetic chain. Whatever the issue really is, ground zero seems to be hip tension, so I’ll be working a little more with the right hip when I do the leg work on the Gyrotonic machine.

Then, I napped : )


The Eolos expiratory and inspiratory breath retraining device.

I remembered I had my Eolos breath-retraining device in my purse and brought it into the tank. Singers and athletes use this device to improve lung capacity and diaphragmatic function, and I was introduced to it by Trista Zinn, a Hypnopressives instructor in Toronto. A tank is an ideal environment to do some for some deep breathing exercises of any sort. At home, I usually rush through the exercises or skip them altogether because I find them b-o-r-i-n-g, despite the benefits I derive from them. But in the tank, distractions are eliminated. I’m not going anywhere for a while anyway, and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous I look breathing in and out of something that looks like a stunted snorkel, sounding like Darth Vader. I really got into it and did about 10 minutes of breathwork. Once I removed the device and assumed regular breathing, I could detect an astounding sense of connection between my pelvic floor and respiratory diaphragm. The smooth water let me feel a far more pronounced yet gentle contraction in the front of my torso. Perfect rhythmic breath with ease!

Then I napped again : )

I also did some ab work in the tank. The buoyancy of the salt water does for abdominal work the exact thing that the straps on the Gryotonic machine do for leg work. The straps hold much of your leg weight so that your effort is not spent keeping that leg lifted in the air. That way, you can get deeper into the intricate muscles around the hips and pelvis—something the average person has a hard time doing (never mind actually keeping the leg in the air!). For abs, the dense water took some of the weight of gravity off, allowing me to more efficient curl myself up after the deep abdominal muscles had kicked in, which is proper form. In actual fact, I did this only a few times out of curiosity.

Although I wasn’t able to complete the intended full Gyrotonic workout before the float, the experience was a great one overall. I am currently working deeply through some musculoskeletal issues with Gyrotonic and my right shoulder is subtly restructuring itself, so the acute tension was a big distraction. That, along with the stresses of that day, meant the float wasn’t as… peaceful as I’d remembered them to be. I expected to feel more loosey-goosey, like an octopus. Instead, I was more like an astronaut—free floating, but all bound up in restrictive clothing and equipment. I plan to book another float soon after this acute shoulder tension passes (and I hope on a day that won’t be so stressful!). Still, the opportunity to turn off the world that day—even for those 90 minutes—rejuvenated me. I got play, relax, turn off the mind, play some more, relax more deeply. I experienced a deep creative insight about a long term problem in my body. I left happy, and felt serene and have been craving another visit to FlowtKW for the last few days.