Floating for pain relief: Sandip Sekhon’s expert tips
Sandip Sekhon, CEO of Pathways Pain Relief app, shares some tips on floating for pain relief.
A number of studies have been published over the years showing that floatation therapy offers relief in various chronic pain conditions ranging from fibromyalgia to whiplash, muscle pain and beyond. For chronic pain patients, floating can be a rare opportunity to find peace and pain relief.
That comes as no surprise. Deep relaxation, mindfulness and meditation are well established for their pain relieving effects. When those techniques are combined with floating in pitch black silence, your usual sensory experience shifts even further.
When you first start floating, it’s best to keep it simple, let go, and enjoy the experience. Once you’ve enjoyed a few sessions, and particularly if you’re dealing with persistent pain, it’s worthwhile trying other mind-body techniques that can help to boost healing and reduce pain sensitivity.
Here are four of the most popular pain relieving meditation and visualization exercises from Pathways (our chronic pain relief app):
1. Belly Breathe
We know that when you’re in pain, your body can start to tighten up, and so does your breath. As a result, pain patients are often chest breathers, which keeps the mind and body amped up - sapping the immune system.
Deep breathing helps take the body out of fight-or-flight mode and into the rest and digest mode - allowing your body to heal and recover.
When floating, you could focus on the breath at your nose or your mouth. You could focus on the feeling of your gut expanding and falling with each breath.
Or my favourite: focus on the rise and fall of the belly and how the water gently ebbs and flows with each breath. It can be mesmerizing.
2. Breathe in healing, breathe out pain
This follows on from belly breathing, but in this exercise we create a vivid mental image that’s useful in changing our pain experience and calming our pain system.
Once you’ve settled in, start to imagine your pain in whatever colour comes to mind. For most people, it’s red.
As you breathe in, imagine red-coloured pain collecting from all over your body, and as you breathe out, you exhale this red pain. On each exhale, the pain grows smaller and smaller.
When you’re ready to change the visualization, imagine that you’re breathing in healing green oxygen. This spreads to wherever your body needs, and on every exhale, you release any remaining discomfort.
Try changing the colours in this visualization, and even the shape a texture of your pain. Changing the mental imagery associated with your pain is one of the most effective ways to reduce pain.
3. Visualize Pain Free Movements
Sometimes particular movements are simply too painful to perform in real life. It might be moving your neck in a certain direction, typing at the computer, or just getting about.
We start to expect and anticipate pain. And everytime we’re proved right that a certain movement hurts, it wires the pain response deeper and contributes to pain sensitization.
We need to break out of this vicious cycle, and a great way to start is by visualizing yourself performing movements that are usually painful, pain-free. Just imagining yourself moving a part of your body pain-free, helps to train the brain to reduce pain sensitivity.
That’s because 25% of the neurons in your brain are what’s called ‘mirror neurons’. These start firing just when you think about moving or watch someone else move. It’s why sports people often imagine an activity before they do it.
When a part of your body is just too painful to move, this practice exercises the brain before the body - the pain sciency term is explicit motor imagery. When we’re able to practice these visualizations without any distractions whatsoever, it can help you to give this exercise a new degree of focus.
4. Focus on the good bits
When we spend too much time focusing on pain and the quest for pain relief, it can work against us as we become hypervigilant of bodily sensations. So we need to learn how to direct our focus to take away some of that pain focus.
A great exercise - especially when floating - is to focus on the good parts of your body, and developing the skill to switch your attention to and from different parts of your body.
It can be tricky, but the more you practice this, the easier it’ll get. After some training, this can be a really useful technique to help you shift your focus away from pain when you need it most.