Floating. Pod. Sensory deprivation. Have you heard of this relaxing and somewhat intriguing practice? Have you been fortunate enough to test it out yourself? I was lucky and very grateful to catch up with the team behind Gravity Float in Northcote, one of the first Float Tank centres in Melbourne and experience their introductory 3-float special.
Float "pods" or tanks are filled with water and ~600kg of magnesium sulphate Epsom salts dissolved into the water, creating the buoyancy that allows you to float effortlessly. The water is heated to your skin temperature and after a few minutes, you can’t feel it surrounding and supporting you. The tanks are light proof and sound proof too, so the combination of weightlessness and sensory deprivation is truly a unique experience. Floating is a tool with many benefits, from anxiety to arthritis, pain relief, and physiological reset. It’s a form of facilitated meditation, particularly helpful for those that find it difficult to sit comfortably and relax.
Floating, AKA sensory deprivation, isolation or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) was developed in the fifties and gained popularity as both a therapeutic and spiritual experience in the 1970’s (often amplified with the use of drugs like LSD). It was initially thought that if you could shut the mind off from all sensory input, the brain would switch off. It actually turned out to have the opposite affect: the brain became highly active and creative.
Here are some of my top takeaways and why I can't wait to go back:
The tanks were surprisingly roomy.
This is one of the most commonly asked questions and reservations about floating and before I tried my first float, I pictured a coffin-sized, closed lid that wouldn't allow me to move freely, but this isn't the case at all! The tanks are 2.6 x 1.8 metres and very spacious, like the size of a small car. When lying in the tank, you can’t touch the roof above you and you can even leave the lid open if you want more light and space above you. Surprisingly, I found myself eager to shut the lid and get myself into total darkness as quickly as possible! Rather than feeling claustrophobic, I actually found that my sense of space changed in the darkness and I didn't feel anxious at all.
The cleanliness of the pod and floating water was another concern of mine. I knew that floating was to be done in the nude, and this seemed a little eebie-jeebie at first. Before you float, you must take a shower in your private float tank room. It's like a large bathroom with new and open shower facilities. After a good wash, you can get straight into the tank. Ear plugs are provided and were great for keeping the salt out. The floating water is filtered and filtered and filtered continuously while the tank is not being used, and the water cleaned with high tech UV and particle filtration systems. The salt content of the water itself creates an environment that doesn't promote bacterial growth.
It was difficult to relax, at first.
The salt content in the water creates a fluid-like medium that pops you right up onto the surface of the tank. At first, it was a little difficult for me to relax into it and I found my neck muscles were fighting to stay active and support my head. After a few moments of focussing on my breath, closing my eyes and sinking into the supportive water, I could really start to let go. Without hearing, seeing, feeling or doing anything, I was able to completely let go into the darkness and focus on the feeling and sound of "breathe in" and "breathe out" until finding total calm.
I'm definitely the type of person who finds it difficult to switch off and relax. I can sleep very well, so I'm normally awake and "doing" or instantly asleep. There's very rarely an in-between state of relaxation. I've been wanting to incorporate a daily meditation or quiet practice for some time, but I find it difficult to hold this as a regular habit. For me, floating is a relaxation luxury. It's forced time without your phone, disruptions or an escape route. Not only does the sensory deprivation help to naturally calm the body - it's incredibly comfortable. For many, the sometimes uncomfortable act of sitting can be a barrier to a daily practice. Although still on my journey to realising my own form of meditation or quiet time, floating has facilitated this process and has helped me to bridge the gap between falling asleep and frantic activity!
Some tips I would pass on to my pre-float self:
- Wear the provided ear-plugs
- Wash your hair and body really well after the float to remove salt particles
- Don't drink coffee straight before a float (or straight after)
- Plan a quiet afternoon after your session (hold onto the blissful state for as long as possible!)
- Relish every minute of peace and quiet!
- Go back. It can take a couple of floats to relax into the experience and tune into the benefits
Have you tried floating yet? What do you think?