Travel Writing – Health & Wellbeing – Matador Network

Travel Writing

Everything you need to know before your first floatation therapy

FLOATATION THERAPY HAS become the go-to healing experience for everything from jet-lag to jangled nerves — but what’s it all about? Devotees of the practice claim floating in a dark, womb-like tank of warm, salty water will heal body, mind, and spirit from the stresses of modern life. In fact, floating has become so popular since the 1950s — when the first “sensory deprivation tanks” appeared on the scene — that most towns and cities now have their own float center. Once you try it yourself, you’ll understand why it’s arguably the most relaxing wellbeing practice available. If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s everything you need to know before your first floatation therapy.

What happens during the practice?

Inside a floatation tank, our central nervous system gets a break from processing external stimuli, and our body shifts into a state known as parasympathetic response. In this state, healing happens at an accelerated rate, blood pressure and heart rate drops, and our immune system gets a boost. Floating in the dark and quiet allows our brains to drop into the deepest state of relaxation — the Theta brainwave state — which supports profound learning, heightened creativity, and personal growth. Neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein, who is studying the benefits of floating for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, believes it may offer a shortcut to a meditative state for people who otherwise struggle with meditation.

Preparing for your first float

Before you jump in and drift away, there are a few things you should know.

  • Try to avoid drinking for two hours beforehand, and use the toilet before you hop in the tank. You can get out if you need to but will benefit much more if you remain undisturbed.
  • If you have any exposed cuts or get salty water into your eyes it will sting like crazy. Apply waterproof plasters to any small cuts or scratches, and avoid touching your face once you are in the water.
  • Wear nothing except for a pair of earplugs to keep the salty water out. Floating naked leads to the most relaxing womb-like experience and helps to keep the water clean too. The water and air inside the flotation room will be heated to the temperature of your skin, so you won’t be distracted by contrasting temperatures.
  • Shower thoroughly before and after your float to keep the tank clean and wash the salt from your skin — it can cause dryness and irritation if left.

Setting yourself adrift

Once you step down into the tank and lie back in the water, prevent yourself bobbing about by touching the sides of the tank for 30 seconds or so until you feel stable in the water. Then relax your arms and legs, and you should float steadily in the center without any further effort. You will now be alone in the dark with your thoughts for an hour or more, which might feel daunting for some. Quieting the mind takes time and practice, so don’t be disheartened if you feel distracted or restless. Seasoned floaters recommend that you relax, let go of expectations, focus on your breath and simply allow your mind and body to adjust to the new environment.

Everyone’s experience is different, but most report feeling euphoric, rejuvenated, energized, and clear after a float session, with heightened perceptions of sensory stimulus. Take a few minutes — or longer if you can — to integrate the experience of floating, and prepare for the outside world. Most float centers have a relaxation area where you can enjoy a glass of water or herbal tea and adjust gently to the world beyond the tank. 

Wild floating

For those who prefer to relax out in nature, you can experience the benefits of floatation therapy in any naturally occurring salt lake.

The Dead Sea, situated between Jordan, Pakistan, and Israel, is perhaps the best-known destination for wild floating and one of the most saline bodies of water on Earth — almost 10 times as salty as the Pacific Ocean and completely hostile to life. In the US, the Great Salt Lake in Utah can be accessed for floating from Antelope Island State Park, which lies about 40 miles north of the city and has campgrounds and shower facilities, as well as roaming herds of bison and sheep. 

Moving to Africa, Lake Assal in Djibouti has the highest salinity of any lake outside of Antarctica and is one of the hottest places on earth. The lake has formed inside a volcanic crater lying 150 meters below sea level, which can be found about two hours out of Djibouti City along National Road 1. If you are in South America and make it down to Chile, Las Lagunas Escondidas is a collection of small turquoise saline lagoons situated roughly an hour’s drive from San Pedro de Atacama. Here you can enjoy a cool, relaxing float against a backdrop of ice-capped mountains, with simple shower facilities available to rinse off the salt. 

Assisted floating

If you love the idea of floating but accessing a salt lake or float center doesn’t work for you, you can still get involved and experience the benefits of weightless relaxation in water. Flothetta — a specially designed therapeutic kit originating from Iceland — lets you experience floating in a normal swimming pool while wearing an inflatable helmet and knee pads. 

Alternatively, Watsu water massage — originating from the Harbin Hot Springs of California — combines support in the water by a trained practitioner, with muscle stretching, Shiatsu massage, and dance movements. A Watsu therapist takes clients into a warm hydrotherapy pool where they can completely let go as the body is gently manipulated using the water’s resistance to create flowing movements. The combined pressure of water and massage improves lymph drainage and reduces swelling, as well as providing pain relief and improving mobility.

Floatation therapy brings such a range of benefits for body, mind, and soul through the simple, accessible experience of floating in water — it’s easy to see now why it’s so widely practiced and becoming more popular.

Article first published June 2019:


Travel Writing – Health & Wellness – Matador Network

Article, Travel Writing

6 underrated Nordic wellbeing practices you need to try

IN RECENT YEARS there has been a surge of interest in lifestyle and wellbeing trends from Nordic countries. With their commitment to decent parenting leave and almost spiritual devotion to the afternoon coffee and cake break known as fika, it’s unsurprising that the rest of us look up to our Nordic brothers and sisters when it comes to wellbeing. Most people will have tried, or at least are familiar with, mainstream Nordic wellbeing practices like saunas and Swedish massages — but there’s so much more to discover. Here are six less well-known Nordic wellbeing practices you need to try.

1. Birch beating

The practice of beating and scrubbing your skin with birch leaves during a sauna originates from Finland, but has been adopted across the Nordic region. Birch beating is said to aid circulation, relax the muscles, be good for your skin, and create a lovely smell inside the sauna. 

A great place to experience this practice is at Stockholm’sHellasgården — a wooded sport and leisure park surrounding a lake just 15 minutes from the city. Here you may be lucky enough to stumble across the weekly birch scrub sauna. Local sauna aficionados gather to lather themselves — and each other — with a mixture of birch leaves, salt, and butter before squeezing into a super hot sauna to sweat it out. An officially appointed sauna meister stands in the center of the sauna, pouring birch infused water onto hot rocks and whipping the air around with a towel, a practice known as aufguss or loyly. People then make a dash for the icy cold lake and leap in, before heading back into the sauna for a second — and perhaps third — session.

2. Hot pots

Iceland lends itself beautifully to treatments involving extremes of temperature. The ancient therapies of bathing in different water temperatures to boost health and wellness are known as balneotherapy and have long been practiced in Iceland. With around 800 geysers across the country, Iceland is blessed with an endless supply of volcanically heated water reaching temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius.

Reykjavik has several thermal pools, known as “hot pots,” where locals and tourists can enjoy bathing to reduce stress, release muscle tension, and improve sleep. Interchanging between hot and cold water is said to boost your blood flow, circulation, and metabolism, and is deeply relaxing. To get the maximum benefit from the practice, take a short swim, shower, and rest after your final cooling off period. 

3. Flothetta

Flothetta is a relative newcomer to the Nordic wellness scene. It involves putting on an inflatable cap and knee pads and floating serenely around a swimming pool. Icelandicproduct designer Unnur Valdis came up with the concept, which allows total relaxation of the body. The benefits for your body include melting muscle tension, lowering blood pressure, and overall stress reduction.

You can purchase the kit and float solo wherever you fancy, or attend a Flothetta gathering and float with others. Several pools across Iceland host regular mass Flothetta sessions — known as samflot, meaning floating together — and some are even accompanied by yoga stretches, healthy snacks, and sound healing for a holistic experience.

4. Sisu

Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for several years, so there’s no doubt that we can learn from the Finnish lifestyle. The Finnish ethos of sisu — meaning courage, grit, or guts — is the latest aspect of Nordic culture to be celebrated. In the book Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, Finnish author Joanna Nylund defines sisu as a blend of qualities, including courage, resilience, tenacity, and cheerful determination.

Nature can be your accomplice for cultivating sisu; challenging yourself outdoors is a great way to develop your grit. In Finland, winter bathing is a popular accompaniment to a sauna session and involves plunging into a frozen lake. Many Finns start the morning with an icy dip in the lake for an energizing boost that lasts all day — they say there’s nothing better!

5. Summertime hygge

When we think of hygge, the Danish ethos of cozy living, we might think of cashmere cardigans, cups of hot cocoa, and an evening by the fire. Hygge, however, is a year-round philosophy. Summertime hygge is about getting out into nature to enjoy intimate, laid-back time with friends and family.

Wellness blogger Kayleigh Tanner suggests summertime hygge activities, such as barbecuing fish on a campfire, lazy picnics by the river, collecting shells on the beach, or enjoying a glass of wine and a good book in the garden. Hygge simply requires us to slow down and savor the sensory delights of everyday life. 

6. Melankoliad

In the long darkness of Nordic winters, people naturally seek out ways of warming up and cheering up. However, there is more to winter wellness than cinnamon buns and keeping cozy. Sweden’s Happy Friends of Darkness and Cold is an association with an aim to develop positive experiences in those parts of the world that have a prolonged period of darkness and cold. 

The group organizes a series of events named the Melankoliad, which embraces the extremes of winter. It includes bathing in frozen lakes, as well as walking and sitting in quiet reflection in cold temperatures. The organizers state southern tourists often come north during winter to experience the deep peace of the cold and darkness. The Melankoliad reframes the melancholy of long, harsh northern winters as a chance to dig deep inside and find inner strength and peace.

Article published June 2019:

Article – Interview – Travel & Lifestyle

Article, Interview, Travel Writing

As something of an on-off digital nomad myself, I’ve enjoyed curating content and writing blog pieces and interviews for Digital Nomad. This online community portal curates and creates relevant content from personal stories to packing lists for those who may be considering taking to the open road and sustaining their journey by working online:

Portrait: a digital nomad living outside the tribe

Much discussion around the rise of digital nomad culture is focussed on the hubs and tribes, the clusters of nomads finding community wherever they find themselves, in co-working spaces and deeper connections through co-living projects scattered across the globe.

What of the nomad without a tribe?

The solitary wanderers and techno-hermits tucked away in all corners of the globe, creating vast online platforms that bring us all together. The paradox of digital work finds many nomads, by choice or by circumstance, alone in their hotel room, or tucked away in a cabin, bridging continents and creating virtual communities through their computer.

So what is it like to choose this path? I made a date with Ed Dowding, creator of Represent, a digital democracy platform which facilitates transparent, non-partisan, real time peer to peer polling and generates a clear and representative collective voice from scattered and distorted political debate in the UK.

Our interview begins with a classic digital nomad scene. After shifting times around a little we connect through skype, quick hello then robot sounds… Connection drops. Battling an intermittent wifi connection in a cafe and fielding calls to the mobile office take a little time and some creative problem solving. We shift channels, I am renting a UK local rate landline number which diverts to the landline of the retreat centre I am working from in Greece, which he can call from his mobile in Bristol. Ten minutes later with a clear line and a warm “hello” we dive into Ed’s story.

Ed made the shift to a nomadic life in 2002, four years into his career as a digital entrepreneur, arriving finally at a point where he felt confident that he could do his work entirely remotely.

“I realised that I was already effectively working remotely, so I might as well work remotely from the Alps! Technology makes it possible, so why not do it? I feel the same about paragliding. Our ancestors must have sat on mountains looking out and wanted to fly, now we can, so why would you not?”

His first step as a nomad was to move into a soft-top convertible he bought in Edinburgh!

“It was horrible, a colossal pain in the ass. I knew it wouldn’t work in winter and so I would have to leave before then. It served its main purpose, which was to get me out of there ”

Over a decade later and he now enjoys the relative luxury of a ski-in ski-out apartment in the Alps where he spends about three quarters of his time with the remaining quarter in the UK bouncing between meetings for his digital democracy platform Represent.

“A ratio of 30 days here in the Alps to about 10 days in the UK works well for me. Sometimes I cluster meetings more and it’s 60:20 but then the balance gets out of synch and a bit unmanageable with more activity and meetings and less time for follow up. It does depend I guess on how big a team you are working with.”

Ed also does occasional month-long house-sits in France and the UK for a bit of diversity, but makes clear that he is not one of the wealthy digital nomads with an easy residual income, rather one that lives outside the UK largely to save money, as well as  investing more time with fewer distractions in an online start-up.

As a solitary nomad nested in the midst of a transient crowd of holidaymakers and lots of snow, I was curious to know if he was at all drawn to the booming community of Digital Nomads in balmy locations across South East Asia:

“It’s sort of interesting, I know a few people who are there trying to work it out, but Asian Hoxton is not my style. Chances are that if a whole bunch of people are doing something and think it’s “cool”,I won’t.”

So what kinds of communities does this independent and deeply focussed entrepreneur identify with?

“As a wilful outsider I am quite ephemeral between communities – core friends, working relationships, interest groups, local connections – and at the same time I know very few people in France, it’s a resort not a village, most people who are there aren’t there the next week.”

Unlike many digital nomads who cluster in co-working spaces and co-living communities, hungry for collaboration and cross-pollination In Real Life, Ed seems to relish most of all the sense of connection he finds with nature:

“The giant mountain beckons you to the top of it without much resistance, walking through pine forest and nice mountain parks and gorgeous views. It is incredibly uplifting being at the top of a mountain for sunrise, watching the stars fade out and the colours come across the sky, it’s glorious.”

He speaks also of the challenges and quirks of these spells of solitary existence:

“If we exist largely in the eye of others, it’s other people’s reflection of us that help us work out who we are, so unless we consciously take time to think about who we are, then that doesn’t happen so much, to the extent I can sometimes look in the mirror and realise how very different I look, compared to how I feel.”

Most important to Ed, and the focus of the majority of his time and energy is his mission, the evolution and roll out of his digital democracy platform Represent:

“I’m pretty sure this one is my life’s purpose. If I can make this work, then it will be the most important thing I ever do.”

Spending most of his time at a distance from the UK, insulated from and not immersed in the daily reality and scale of the system he has tasked himself with transforming furnishes Ed with sufficient “delusion and belief” to support his mission focus. He seems to need only his own core belief in the value and importance of what he is doing to fuel his committed effort.

His philosophical reflection on purpose is sweetly representative of hours of undisturbed immersion in a a curated and theoretically dense cornucopia of podcasts and Sci-Fi audio books – the Utopias and dystopias of “social anthropology played out”:

“It’s incredible how many people believe that what they do is the most important thing they are doing, and from other people’s perspective it’s quite rubbish. Some people go to work because of the why, and some go despite it. It’s like the people who go to war not to fight for a noble cause, but because their friends are going and they want to help them. Perfectly mad.”

The flip-side and the challenge of such absolute mission focus, in Ed’s experience, is the ever-present risk of becoming “quite annoying, mono-thematic and single-minded”. Being relatively solitary he finds it easy to forget how people think and how to communicate ideas. This is especially hard when there is no shared understanding of the topic to begin from – so perhaps a like-minded community of digital nomads and entrepreneurs has its uses after all!

It is evident that there are many benefits and challenges to the solitary path of a digital nomad, just as there are in the close knit communities and cliques where we gather and grow together.

I personally find balance in moving between the two. For the last three years I have alternated  extended periods of solitary, simple, grounded living in remote valleys of Devon, Greece and Gran Canaria,  with creative whirlwind summers amongst my scattered global community, bouncing from couch to camper van and moving every few days to a new adventure. This summer however I’ll be renting a room for six months in the city as a base to put down my bag and move around from, as the “right  balance” for me changes and I move with it.

Each person’s balance will be different, and it just goes to show there are as many ways to make the nomadic life work for your as there are nomads doing it. Make the road your own! What’s your perfect balance?

Portrait: a Digital Nomad living outside the tribe

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