During our first week in Noosa, the Swedeheart happened to walk by Float Noosa, a local floatation therapy studio. For a long time, he’d been waiting for an opportunity to give this experience a try. I was game, so we gave it a go.
Floatation Therapy, Explained
Floatation therapy is a chance to experience sensory deprivation, where no sound, light, or feeling reach you. You basically get into a tank or, in our particular case, an egg-shaped pod just big enough to stretch out your limbs and touch the edges. The vessel is filled with about a foot of water and 500–800kg of Epsom salt.
If you’ve experienced floating in the ocean, you’ll probably know that salt increases the density of water thereby causing you to float more. Well, now imagine an extremely saturated salt bath and you can imagine the buoyancy during a float session.
At floatation studios, the saltwater solution is also heated to skin temperature which eliminates the sense of feeling. In addition, with the lack of sound and light entering a pod, you’ll experience the sensation of weightlessness. This is the closest you can affordably get to replicating the sensation of moving around in space, or reliving your time in the womb.
Floatation therapy is said to come with a whole host of benefits, including relief from stress and physical pain, increased creativity, and accessing your subconscious.
The First Float
I was unsure of what my first experience would bring. I had this notion that floats were meant for escaping from all thoughts. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like sitting still, so I was concerned about how I would be able to refrain from thinking.
The one time I stayed overnight at a spa, all I wanted to do was explore the various relaxation rooms and try each of the pools and saunas. The Swedeheart, on the other hand, was content with just reclining in a chair and unwinding.
The studio attendant at Float Noosa suggested that I try counting my breaths, just like in yoga or meditation. Skeptical that I could keep the mental chatter at bay, I went into the room.
First, I had to take a thorough shower to rinse the body of dirt, sweat, perfumes, and oils. Then I stepped into the pod, in my birthday suit, and shut the lid.
Soothing music played for the first 10 minutes before fading out. There’s a light in the pod that constantly changes colors, but you can turn that off at any time to immerse yourself in total darkness. And there’s a panic button to call the attendant if necessary. But don’t let that panic you! 😉
After I had turned off the light and the music had vanished, it became clear that my worries about my active brain were unnecessary. My mind was so preoccupied with the experience and new sensations that there was no room left to consider anything else!
Tripping on Weightlessness
The sensations that come with floating are pretty trippy, which I guess is why some people say it’s a safe alternative to psychoactive drugs. If you are familiar with the head high of cannabis, then you’ll have a good idea of the feelings you might experience.
Because your skin and the water are at equal temperatures, it’s really difficult to gauge any movement of your body. In addition, the water’s extreme salinity aids in moving objects more quickly across its surface.
Case in point, I could very gently tap the side of the pod with just a finger, and although it felt like I was just lying in the same spot, my body was drifting and suddenly I came in contact with the other side of the pod!
Sometimes, my mind played tricks on me. Even though I couldn’t feel any movement, I attempted to establish in the mind’s eye that I was floating from left to right. With my body so convinced by this mere visualization of movement, I experienced the sensation of my body rotating endlessly out in space, in nothingness, toward… nothing. Trippy, right?
The fact that you receive no visual or auditory feedback helps to heighten this sensation.
During one particular moment, I had become very comfortable and relaxed. It was as if I was sleeping, yet I was alert but not thinking about anything. Suddenly, the tip of a finger graced the pod. It was an ever so slight touch, yet it completely startled me out of my zen state.
Muscles Against Nature
During my first float, the muscles in my neck really protested and cramped up. This wasn’t a problem, though, thanks to the halo-shaped floatation ring that the studio provides for supporting your head if needed.
After the session, the attendant explained that with floating, the spine is able to naturally align itself. But the muscles which are so used to holding up the weight of the head and protecting the spine were working against this and causing the tension.
A few years ago, I became aware of how foods affect my body. Before, I had attributed once-in-awhile neck stiffness and small cramps in my digestive tract simply as facts of life. But thanks to a 30-day diet free of foods that cause inflammation (this experiment was for the Swedeheart’s psoriatic arthritis), I realized that most of my common ailments were food related and could be avoided.
I therefore became curious as to how floating could inform my posture. Ever since that first float, I’ve been attempting to “correct” my head-neck-shoulder position closer to its natural alignment.
The Think Tank
Over the course of our first five or so floats, I was convinced that I needed to keep my thoughts at bay for each 60-minute session. Although this unnatural feat is much easier without the senses being bombarded by the world around us, it’s still pretty impossible. Yet during each session, I attempted to focus entirely on my breathing.
On my sixth float, I nearly panicked and had to grope for the light button. I’m not claustrophobic nor am I afraid of the dark, but I had let my mind focus on these ideas and they had grown to an enormous fright.
After a short while, I managed to calm myself down and then kept on floating. It was after this session that I had two important insights:
- First, every float is different. Some days might be easier than others to find a relaxing mental state. Other days, your mind might be racing at a million miles a minute. This is OK.
- Second, it’s OK to let the mind think!
I shared my panic experience with the Swedeheart and also how I had spent every float trying to keep the mind quiet. He was shocked and quite impressed that I had spent a combined total of 600 minutes trying not to think.
It was then that he told me that he uses his sessions to deliberately think about various topics and creatively brainstorm about ideas he’s got. What a brilliant idea, using the float tank as, well, a think tank!
After that conversation, I have allowed my mind to choose its occupation during floats. If it wants to think, let it think. If it wants to rest, let it rest. So simple.
The Long-Term Effects
I really can’t say what kind of long-term effects, if any, the floatation therapy has had on me. That’s what the many scientific studies on the subject are for.
I can, however, attest to experiencing positive effects up to three hours after a session. As I said before, I usually have trouble letting my mind relax and just enjoy the present. But after almost every float, I haven’t wanted to talk or think. I just want to be. This is the head high.
Along with the 15 minutes of meditation I do nearly every morning, I think these pauses for the brain have helped me to take life one moment at a time, to focus less on a moment in the future that doesn’t even exist, and instead enjoy more of the present.
If you’ve tried floatation therapy, how was it for you? I’m especially interested if you’ve tried it for longer than 60 minutes and what that experience was like.