A floatation tank is a large pod filled with ultra-salty water to a depth of 25cm (think Eleven from Stranger Things). You lie inside it nude with your ears plugged (to prevent the water getting in), allowing the dense solution to cradle your body. There’s soothing music, then silence, then the lights go off, and you’re left floating for an hour. The sensation is very relaxing – magnesium in the water releases the tension in your muscles – and, deprived of external stimulation, many people report entering a meditative state where they seem to be floating in space. Time Out did not encounter David Bowie when we tried it at the Sydney Float Centre, but we did emerge feeling rejuvenated and even a little reborn – although that could have something to do with the pleasantly sticky consistency of the salt water that’s a bit like amniotic fluid. We’re told that it can take a couple of attempts to achieve what floatation fans call the “magic float”.
These no-nonsense workshops offer practical advice and tools for slowing your mind down and de-stressing. The focus is mindfulness – a practice that trains you to pay attention to your thoughts and slow down using techniques like mindful meditation. If you have the attention span of a goldfish (this writer may have checked her email three times and started writing two other stories while writing this) there are very real benefits of slowing down and switching off. If personal testaments aren’t enough, mindfulness has been scientifically proven to help lower stress and anxiety levels too.
A lot of people might be broadly aware of Australia’s Aboriginal history but the mistake is in considering it just that: history. The spiritual practices of our first peoples are still part of their daily lives in 2016, and through Splendour Tailored Tours you’ll get a glimpse into the world’s oldest continuous culture, as it is lived, not how you imagine it to be. Prepare to get up early because you’ll be meeting Aboriginal elder Aunty Margaret Campbell under the pylons of the Harbour Bridge for a welcome to country and to acknowledge the ‘grandfather sun’. Aunty Marg’s stories will transport you a time and place before colonization, when people could watch the whales from the lookout that existed long before the bridge and bring their fish to the cooking fires built on the same sandstone they used as a foundation for Sydney.
Ever fantasised about walking into a cave made of crystals, then chilling out under a blanket for an hour? That’s what Salt Room therapy is all about, and the salt-crystal cave in question has been built in the corner of a Bondi Junction parking lot. Salt therapy, also known as halotherapy or speleotherapy is meant to help ease the symptoms of allergies, skin conditions and asthma. On the day we attended, we were lead into a chilly room, its walls lined with translucent white bricks of salt, its floor covered in fat chunks of the stuff. There was a halotherapy machine tucked into the wall next to us, whirring as it filled the air with tiny salt particles. Within five minutes, having rubbed our bare feet on the salt, and licked the wall, just to see (it tasted salty), we’d become bored so we snuck out to grab our phone. Fortunately, texting doesn’t change the efficacy of the treatment. Speaking of efficacy, the Lung Foundation does not recommend Salt Rooms as a proven fix for, well, anything, but it could be a fun way to switch off from your daily routine. This asthmatic patient detected no discernable difference in breathing ability post-treatment, but our face was covered in a thin and pleasant coating of salt afterwards, like a trip to the beach with the volume turned down.
There’s a reason the Greeks invented catharsis: so you could purge those pesky emotions and get a little peace. ‘The Letter Writing Project’, currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of their free exhibition Telling Tales, offers visitors the chance to get something off their chest by writing a letter to a deceased or absent loved one. Within the gallery space are three petite plywood ‘pavilions’, each fitted with a writing desk at different heights, corresponding to the three poses of Buddhist contemplation (sitting, kneeling or standing). Choose a pose/pavilion, remove your shoes, and enter to write your letter, then leave it (unsealed if you’re happy for other visitors to read your words) in one of the slots along the pavilion walls. Letters with valid addresses will be posted by the MCA, free of charge; unaddressed letters will be delivered to artist Lee Mingwei, who created the work in 1998, at the end of the exhibition.
As Choir of Hard Knocks and Sydney Street Choir founder Jonathan Welch says, “Singing for an hour a week in a choir has now been scientifically proven to help build your immune system and fight cancer, build neural pathways for those who’ve had strokes and can't speak ... the list goes on.” It’s also anecdotally proven to make you feel happy. Inner Westies can check out Newtown’s Welcome Choir, which meets weekly and is open to people who love singing and are willing to learn the lyrics – you don’t need to audition, you don’t even need to be able to read music. “We want to offer a place that is also safe for greater diversity,” says co-founder Betty Judd. Lead by musical director Bek Jensen, the 30-or-so regulars have a feelgood repertoire that includes Adele, Fleetwood Mac, Outkast, Prince and Madonna.
Waterfalls, weeping willows, lily pads and blossoms make this one-hectare garden a charming and calming place to visit. The garden transports visitors from Sydney's city of sin into a world of tradition and calm – a refreshing change from exhaust fumes and traffic. The garden is dotted with hidden treasures, including an ancient cyad (fossil plant) and the red silk cotton tree (a floral symbol of Guangdong). A highlight is the Lake of Brightness, which is full of chubby carp. Savour the peace and quiet and be cocooned from the crazy city.
When you’re getting stuck into a dirty job there’s no time for texting. Put your phone away and lend a hand down on the urban farm. Not-for-profit organisation Pocket City Farms have turned a former disused bowling club into a fully operational urban farm, called Camperdown Commons, and they need people like you to muck in and help keep the project running. They have regular volunteering slots that run from 10am-noon, and tasks include weeding, planting, chicken coop cleaning, mulching, compost turning and many other day-to-day duties. Sign up to help on the Pocket City Farms website and farm manager Michael Zagoridis will be in touch with the days they have available for helpers. 10am-noon. Free. Various days.
Spin some yarn, literally and figuratively, at Work-Shop’s Free Form Weaving class. It’s social and you’ll learn a new skill, plus we’re pretty sure you can’t check work emails as you craft your wall hanging. Teacher Sky Carter will run through simple techniques to create a woven masterpiece, and you get to take home your own loom so you can repeat the skills you’ve learned in front of the TV. Other courses at Work-Shop in September include Introduction to Sculpture, Shibori: Indian Dyeing, Creative Fine Line Illustration and Cheesemaking.
Meditation is said to improve sleep patterns, reduce anxiety and improve rational decision making, but it’s not easy to achieve on your own. If you struggle to switch off without a bit of guidance, drop into Centred Meditation in the city for a half-an-hour calming experience in an armchair. Each session is free of chanting, prayer or religious affiliation and you can book your slot in advance or simply show up. They offer three different types of meditation, called ‘clarity’, ‘confidence’ and ‘calm’ which means you can choose the one that suits your frame of mind whether you’re anticipating a big day ahead or want to zone out after hours. There are cushions, blankets and tea to help make the experience more snug.
Tai Chi has been described as meditation or medication in motion because the gentle movements between postures are thought to massage the internal organs, increase strength and flexibility, improve circulation and produce a sense of calm. If you’re new to the exercise, the Tai Chi Society in Sydney is a good place to start. You’ll find beginners’ sessions at locations like Annandale, Waverley Primary School, Chatswood and at Argle Street in the city. Come dressed in comfortable clothing and flat shoes. 02 9954 7266. Eight weeks $85-$105.
Whether it’s a luxury getaway that you crave, or a peaceful place to practice, there are yoga retreats in New South Wales that cater for different budgets and experiences.