The Quest for Calm: A New Dad Tries Three of Philly’s Top Relaxation Techniques

A new dad test-drives three of the city’s top techniques for finding sweet, sweet tranquility.  

Illustration by James Boyle

My right wrist is … a nutcracker. My left wrist is … a pepper grinder. My neck is … a string of firecrackers.

Naked and preternaturally buoyant in the high-saline water of a pitch-black float tank, I spent quite a bit of time pondering the timbre and rhythm of each of my popping 43-year-old joints.

I’m sorry. I’m bragging.

When I was asked to write this essay — stressed-out new dad tries out the city’s best relaxation techniques — I thought: “I’m not really that stressed-out, am I?” Then I spent an hour alone with my thoughts and 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts, and it hit me: I hadn’t spent an hour with just my thoughts for … eight months. I love my daughter more than anything. But having a new, increasingly sentient baby in the house means you don’t just sacrifice sleep; you sacrifice attention. Bobbing around in the new float cabin — a super-size enclosed bathtub in which you float in darkness for anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes — at Russ Stewart’s Flotation Philly, I realized that I’d lost pretty much any semblance of “me time.” An hour of listening to my clicky joints — an occupational hazard of years spent hunched over a keyboard — qualified as decadent, to say nothing of how near-weightlessness felt on my achy back and knotted cycling calves.

Next stop on my tour de tranquility: Healing Arts Community Acupuncture. I stretched out on a massage bed while owner Steven Mavros gently placed a few needles — hands, forearms, feet, forehead — and then told me the hard part came next: Lie still, eyes closed.

My first thought was that I didn’t really feel any different. My next thought, as Mavros returned some 30 hazy minutes later: “Where was I just now?” I wasn’t asleep — I don’t think — but I had very much drifted off on a raft of my thoughts. I was miles away. And quite serene. “How?” I asked clumsily. Mavros told me, honestly, that part of the secret is just getting you to stop moving. But what’s the other part? His short answer: The go-to explanation of qi doesn’t quite cut it. It’s more about how your body, your endocrine system specifically, responds that facilitates such moments of Zen.

Finally, I attended a group meditation session at Kilkenny Tremblay’s Sanctuary Yoga & Mindfulness. You grab a cushion, a blanket and a spot on the wall before being guided through breathing exercises (pause for just a second at the top of your inhalation) and visualizations (picture a tree. How does sitting near the tree make you feel?). During the half hour, I thought a lot about Kilkenny’s voice, how she softened the A in “exhale.” Would I feel less relaxed with hard A’s? Probably. Then I thought about the tree in the front yard of my childhood home, the one my sister climbed up while wearing roller skates. I thought about how many leaves a tree has. A lot. When it was over, I felt centered and present.

I recommend all three — especially for new parents, if for no other reason than that they force you to do you.

This was originally published in the 2017 print issue of Be Well Philly. Make sure to snag your free copy here

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