Floating is fast gaining momentum as the latest (albeit not new) wellness craze, so I grabbed my togs and headed to the closest pod to see if it brought the promised meditation nirvana people have been raving about.
Somewhat confused by the pre-float instructions — but following them anyway — I showered, inserted earplugs, and applied balm to my open wounds. Then, the lid came down and the lights went out.
With my senses deprived, I felt a bit seasick and bounced around a lot.
Every time I bumped my head, or feet, or hands, the harder it was to convince myself that I was floating in space.
Then I started to spin out.
The ear buds felt weird so I took them out and stashed them in my trunks. Then my trunks felt weird so I took them off. Then my trunks kept floating into my face so I threw them out. Then I felt weird being naked in public. (What if there was a fire alarm? Or a terrorist attack?)
What is floating?
A flotation tank (or sensory deprivation tank) is essentially an enclosed tub filled with water and enough dissolved salts to allow a person to float effortlessly on the surface.
First invented in the 1950s, modern pods are generally pitch-black, soundproof and heated to your core body temperature in order to deliberately eliminate all environmental and sensory stimuli.
This can result in a feeling of “formlessness and weightlessness”, says Andy Green, a meditation teacher and long-time floater who also works in float centres. He says this feeling can help unlock deeper states of relaxation and rejuvenate both the body and the mind.
“We live in a world that is so fast-paced – especially modern technology and our ‘always online’ culture’ – that we are constantly over-stimulated at almost all hours of the day,” says Andy.
“Being in a sensory deprivation environment can be deeply nourishing on the level of giving us relief from those things coming at [us] from the external environment.”
Are there proven health benefits?
“The effects of flotation therapy – including increased blood circulation and the reduction of cortisol, adrenaline and lactic acid – have been linked to a whole host of health benefits,” says American clinical neuropsychologist and flotation therapy researcher, Dr Justin Feinstein.
“These can range from stress reduction to improved sleep, detoxification, increased muscular recovery, reduced blood pressure and pain relief.”
Moreover, floating has shown potential in studies to help people with a range of things from jet lag to athletic performance, reducing anxiety and depression, and boosting creativity, visualisation and self-realisation.
According to Andy, there are two types of floaters: those interested in exploration and those looking to heal.
“You definitely have people who are interested in yoga and meditation and exploration of consciousness and non-ordinary states of consciousness,” says Melbourne-based Andy.
“[But] you also get the people who are just stressed out, tired and sore.”
Up on the Gold Coast, float centre operator Bryan says his client base is predominantly “blokes” who want to unwind and de-stress.
“I remember one guy came out with tears streaming down his face and just couldn’t explain it. I knew he was going through some stuff but it was probably the biggest release of pressure that he’d ever had,” he says.
Bryan discovered floating himself while going through a particularly turbulent time in his life.
“I just felt like my own demons were squashing my head,” Bryan says.
“I find the benefits are so much more mental than physical.”
What does it feel like?
First-time mum, Siobhan Hill, was given a voucher by a friend who had found floating beneficial when she was pregnant.
“It wasn’t instantly relaxing for me. You sort of need an hour to go through those periods of ‘This is weird’ or ‘Oh, this is good!!’ — just trying to get into [the] relaxing,” says Siobhan.
She admits being a little distracted by the lid, and the lights, and the ear buds (to keep the salt out) but eventually began to really enjoy the sensation of letting go.
“I had these long moments of complete, deep relaxation but then I’d bump into things and snap out of it,” she says.
“Afterwards, though, I walked out feeling so peaceful and relaxed. I felt so clean. Just really chilled. The kind of feeling where usually you’d have to do a lot of exercise to achieve.”
Siobhan says she went into labour the morning after her float and wonders whether her relaxed state had anything to do with that.
“The health benefits are often felt right away, during and after the first float session,” says Dr Feinstein.
“But it does take about three floats to fully acclimatise to the novelty of the float environment.”
“You don’t go to the gym once and come out with a six-pack,” he says.
“The best floats are when you completely disengage and completely let yourself go … It just takes time.”
For more information on the BENEFITS of floatation tanks, visit our website: www.saltfloatstudio.com.au/float-tank-benefits