When I was researching unusual de-stressors, I came across floatation therapy. Or sensory deprivation pods, as they are also known.
What are floatation tanks?
These are basically large tanks filled with Epsom salt, designed for relaxation. The high concentration of salt (about 544kg at Urban Float) makes you very buoyant.
Why go in a floatation tank?
Due to this enhanced buoyancy, some people experience muscle pain relief. Since float therapy can increase blood flow, migraines may also be prevented or alleviated. Floating or REST can improve sleep, has been shown in clinical studies to help with depression, lowers blood pressure and can even improve memory.
I was interested in the pods from a stress relief perspective. The pods remove all the usual stress triggers, minimising the stimulation of the senses. Studies have shown horizontal positioning (like in a bath) to be very calming, perhaps because of its associations with the womb. And if you are magnesium deficient, you’ll be able to naturally rectify this while floating, as you absorb magnesium through the skin.
What’s the experience actually like?
I recruited a friend and we looked for something local and affordable. We got a discounted first session through Groupon at Urban Float. Due to a bunch of logistical issues (codes, registration, blah blah), I phoned through to the poor reception six times. Or maybe it was five. I don’t know. A LOT.
When we arrived in Ringwood, we had a heap of trouble finding the place. Apparently this is very common. So common, you think they might address this issue with, I don’t know, A SIGN. Or instructions on their website address.
Fear not, I’ve done the hard work for you: Urban Float is on New Street but it’s located behind the Project Tech Sports Apparel building.
Once you (finally) find the place, it’s very nice. The facilities are like a spa, all beautiful and modern.
When it was time, we were led into one of the rooms. The rooms have a pod, a shower and are very spacious. We were given a detailed overview of the process:
· Rinse off first in the shower
· Put in the provided earplugs
· Climb into the tank (clothes optional)
· Do not turn onto your stomach
· The green button on the left controls the lights
· The red button on the right can be pressed in case of emergency
· Pull the door closed
· When the session is over, the pump will come on and we will JUST KNOW
Now for the reality:
I’ve already showered before arriving but I don’t want to disobey orders so I jump in the shower for about three seconds.
My friend is patiently waiting to quickly take a photo of me for the blog. I climb into the water, which is body temperature, and get a photo. The pod is much larger than myself, which is good for keeping those claustrophobic thoughts at bay. Since the water has such a high salt concentration, and I have sensitive skin, the water stings a bit. My friend leaves for his float and I climb out to get the ear plugs. The floor is super slippery and I nearly stack it.
Since I’ve already immersed myself in the water, I struggle to put the earplugs in. Fuck. Why didn’t I think about this before? I try to dry my ears enough to make the earplugs work. The ear plugs are like plasticine that you mould into your ear. They are also bright orange, so you won’t lose them. Finally satisfied with my ear plug moulding, I climb back into the pod.
The water/salt combo makes my skin all soft and slippery. I feel like a baby seal. I have a sudden desire to put my face in the water but I remember the man’s caution. I stay on my back.
The pod moves through a light cycle, so the room becomes purple, then green, then blue. Outside the pod, the room light goes off. Note: there is no light switch in the room. It just goes off after a few minutes.
Since I watched that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets transported in his sensory deprivation tank, I am sure:
· I will not be closing the door
· I will not be turning the lights off
· I will not be removing my clothes
But what can I say? I’m curious. I leave my bikini bottoms on and ditch my top. After a few more minutes, the lights are too stimulating and the air is getting a little cool. I pull the lid shut (you can push it open at any time) and press the green button a few times until the light goes off.
It’s so dark, I can’t see my hands. I wish I’d paid more attention to where the green button was. I feel gently around but I can’t re-locate it. I start to panic. I’m trapped in the darkness. Then I remember that I am here to relax. I close my eyes and float.
I’ve never done any proper meditation before and I find it hard to still my thoughts. I promise myself five more thoughts and then I will stop. But it’s all lies. My mind will not stop! I practice breathing, in for three, out for six. Breathing is a great way to stay present and still the mind.
I often myself cold and in the pod is no exception. Nippy noodles! The parts of my body below the water are fine but all my exposed skin is getting cold. I decide I’ll just leave the pod early. I push the door open and remember that it’s pitch black in the room. The lights are sensor activated, so maybe if I dance around for a bit the light will come back on. But I remember that the floor is really slippery and I don’t want them to find my naked body unconscious on the tile floor. I get back in the pod.
I wonder how long is left. In primary school, the teacher would set the timer for one minute and we would sit down when we thought a minute was up. I was always bad at that game. Has it been fifteen minutes? Or an hour? What if my time is up and I didn’t realise and they’re going to barge in here? (The door is locked so I’m being paranoid but it’s a thought nonetheless).
The pump comes on and the water starts moving. I think the lights come back on in the pod, too. A lot of people fall asleep while floating and apparently this wakes everyone up.
I climb out and have a really long rinse off. My poor friend says he has only been waiting a minute, when I emerge, but I think he is being nice. In the relaxation room, we have peppermint tea. This is an excellent post-float idea. Peppermint tea should be offered everywhere.
My friend has had his own adventure. Despite our instructions (‘do not lie on your stomach’), my friend was unable to resist the urge to submerge. Of course, the water was salty as hell. Urban Float thought of everything, though, so there was a spray bottle of clean water beside the pod. After using all of the spray bottle, he rinsed off in the shower before returning to the pod where he then cleverly remained on his back.
Some people I know (mainly gym-goers) float on the regular, for muscle recovery and relaxation. I prefer getting a massage or going for a walk so I don’t think I’ll become a regular floater. But I’m glad I tried it and I would do it again.
Have you floated? Let me know below!