Float was a one-day festival in Manchester on 22nd September that brought together makers, foodies, idea creators, mindfulness practitioners, work/life development gurus and yoga teachers with the mission of ‘opening your eyes and quieting your mind’. Our founder Omar was asked to sit on a panel discussing men’s mental health, so here’s what he had to say about the event and the two lessons he learnt (editor note, I was hoping he learnt a 3rd one which would be to pay me more)......
Well; the Float festival... as soon as you say: ‘festival’ my mind wanders to notions of Burning Man Festival, my tent going underwater at Glastonbury ‘03 or what I thought was a leaking tent at Reading Fest (which just turned out to be a particularly inebriated friend of mine; I’ll say no more…) and yet another tent-incident at Benicassim in which mine turned into a temporary kite - come to think of it, tents and I do not seem to get on particularly well. But anyhow, one digresses. Hopefully you get the idea that the framework I had in place for what a festival consisted of; was one of a deep-rooted ideology.
I rocked up to Float Festival an hour or so before the panel discussion. I thought I could wander the fields and find my Lost Vagueness to open up a multitude of new experiences but common sense didn’t knock on my door to say, ‘how many fields are there in Salford you fool’!
Lesson 1- Read what you’re actually going to.
Float is definitely a festival of mindfulness and new experiences but those that are gained though attending the workshops, not sullying in ones wellies in a field out in the middle of the countryside. The stalls had all sorts going on.
But I was done walking round the stalls in 20 minutes. Luckily I had my laptop and when you run your own company there are a million and one emails to attend to so I started cutting into my wait by deleting most items in my inbox.
As time for the discussion crept up on me, I bumped into host of the panel Kate Cocker. I’d spoken to Kate earlier in the week so her enthusiasm which was infectious to say the least was heaven sent as I do have problems at the best of times with public speaking.
On the panel was the Founder of BreathPod (an organisation that empower you through breathing workshops)- Stuart Sandeman, the charismatic Jamie Williams who is the Founder of imannedup.org (a simple platform for guys around the world to share their mental health stories) and myself.
The discussion itself was great with Stuart and Jamie sharing their stories which are both completely inspiring and resonated deeply with me- so please do check their websites out as I’m hoping further down the line to collaborate with both of them.
Having Kate leading the conversation was awesome, as I personally believe that within the framework of men’s mental health, we will always end up at a similar destination. Men sometimes don't realise they are struggling with their mental health, that the culture for men is not to talk with friends, but that actually instead of talking there are other ways of experiencing your feelings. However, Kate steered the conversation onto actual tangibles that we need to adhere to.
We decided some hacks for this which were... 1) Make sure that we normalise mental health care practice. 2) Practice breathing. 3) Try writing / journaling. 3) Feel the fear and do it anyway: speak up when you can. 4) Support and teach emotional intelligence to the next generation. 5) watch how we talk to people and how we talk about mental health.
Overall a success and I got myself a free humus wrap. Winner, winner, humus dinner.
Lesson 2- You’ve been doing it all wrong.
In life we all go through those life defining moments, the first time you speak unironically to Siri, your first kiss, your first job, the first time you get a telling off for leaving the toilet seat up and Float Festival gave me a "first".
I have Stuart Sandeman to thank for this ‘life defining moment’ and what did he teach me to do, he taught me how to breathe because I’ve been doing it all wrong.
My mental health journey has made stops in various pits in the area of meditation. I like most people on said path have flirted with meditation and breathing apps that in hindsight have not been up to scratch. When using said tools I’ve found myself, counting down time to when the session ends rather than enjoying and engaging in the process. Prior to Float if you would of asked me if I knew how to control my breathing whilst meditating I would of said yes. But having had a session with Stuart I’ve found how wrong I’ve been!
To be fair, I’m not surprised I’ve been doing it wrong. When I decided (cause I’m an idiot) to run Edinburgh Marathon I went to Asics to pick up some new trainers. Now these guys ended up doing a gait analysis (is the systematic study of human motion, using the eye and the brain of observers, augmented by instrumentation for measuring body movements, body mechanics, and the activity of the muscles.) So basically, they record you running to help you with your technique and unbeknownst to me I’ve been walking like Mr Bean doing an impersonation of Big Foot. Which explains why my converse last a whole 4 months.
Breathpod which was founded by Stuart Sandeman, looks to deliver ‘powerful coaching and breath work sessions that break negative habits, beliefs and patterns to move into a state of learning, development, self-awareness, growth and flow.’ Breathpod.me informs us that,
“we breathe on average 20,000 times a day yet most of us are unaware of its incredible ability to transform the way we feel. Most assume the autonomic action of everyday breathing is sufficient. The truth is many people breathe in shallow and constricted patterns. 1 in 10 people have symptoms of dysfunctional breathing and we ALL have experiences in life that affect our breathing patterns.”
Stuart guided the class through a breathing session where we had to breathe via our stomachs. With his soft Scottish accent, he could be reading out the ingredients of peanut butter jam (I’m allergic to nuts so I hate all things nut related) and it would send me into a soulful, relaxing trance state. I spent the majority of the workshop breathing incorrectly and I knew I was doing this but couldn’t make the right adjustments.
Having Stuart and the awesome Nova to literally guide me through the workshop was the difference to this being an hour of me thinking, ‘what am I doing here’ and me leaving the session having felt an experience I can only describe as transcendental. I feel that I'm being rather nebulous about the whole matter but I'm still struggling to coherenatly, articulate how it made me feel. I can tell you this though, it is (breathing via this method) something I am now invested in and I will ensure it will be available to the WeAreASSIF community when we go live (how, I’m not sure yet).
Float festival managed to achieve its mission of ‘opening your eyes and quieting your mind’ with me and on top of that, it didn’t fuck up any of my tents.
Thank you to Nova for the images, Kate for calming my nerves, Float Festival for having me, Zara Hill for getting me on the panel, Jamie for his inspiring story and Stuart for enlightening me.