What Is Floating?
A float tank is a self-enclosed tub that contains a small level of water within it. The water is heated to body temperature and contains a high level of Epsom salts to increase buoyancy. This creates an environment which removes all sensory stimulation. With no sound and no sight, the treatment can offer the ultimate meditative experience, as well as a range of wellness benefits.
The main benefit of floating is that as your brain acclimatises to the lack of sensory stimulation, your brain wave patterns slow down. The result is a profoundly deep state of relaxation that stays with you for days after. Profound experiences of meditation allow you to compartmentalise the anxieties and stresses of your life rather than allowing them to flow through to all your thoughts.
Research indicates that floating can lead to reductions in both pain and stress, lowered blood pressure, lowered levels of cortisol and improved blood flow. It also seems to have positive effects on overall wellbeing. In fact, floatation tanks are now being offered to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, and in Sweden, floating is now being offered as part of the health service.
How To Prepare For Your Float
- Like swimming, it’s best to avoid large or heavy meals beforehand. On the same note, you’ll be encouraged to use the toilet prior to entering your private pod. The last thing you want is to be concentrating on needing the loo for an hour once you’re inside.
- Avoid shaving or waxing directly beforehand as the high levels of Epsom salt can irritate the skin. Most places suggest waiting at least 12 hours after shaving.
- It’s also best to avoid caffeine, nicotine or any other stimulants in the lead up to a float, as these may interfere with your ability to relax.
- Avoid using hair dye or fake tan just beforehand. Your hair must run clear in the shower, otherwise you’ll contaminate the tank.
- It’s totally fine to go floating when you’re on your period – just treat the experience as you would if you were going swimming.
What To Expect When You Arrive
You’ll find that these are quiet, peaceful spaces. Everyone talks in hushed voices so as not to disturb others who are floating. This also creates a nice calm environment from the off, making it easier to switch off once you’re in the tank.
Once you arrive, you’ll be led to your own private room. Here, you’ll find the tank, a shower and space to get changed. You’ll be supplied with Vaseline to cover any cuts or eczema you may have (the high level of salt in the water can irritate cuts). You’ll also be given silicone ear plugs to stop water getting in your ears. Remember to apply both the plugs and Vaseline before you get in the shower. If you wear contact lenses, remove these prior to showering.
Once you’ve taken the mandatory shower, you’re required to get into the tank naked – no swimming gear is allowed. Think of it like a bath.
During The Float
Once your tank has been filled with water, you can then get in and close the lid. Soft music – similar to the stuff they play in yoga classes – will play in the tank for the first five minutes before slowly fading away. Equally, faint lighting that’s present when you first enter the tank will fade to darkness.
Once you’re in, try floating with your hands interlocked behind the back of your head with your chest pushed out or with your arms out by your sides. It’s best to try and stay still, rather than moving yourself around the tank. Close your eyes and try to erase all thoughts of work and homelife. I struggle to meditate normally and will naturally drift to doing something else. In a sensory deprivation tank, there’s no escape. It’s dark, warm and silent and you’re alone with your thoughts – in a good way.
The first time you float, it’s likely you’ll feel a little claustrophobic. Don’t worry – it’s normal the feel nervous the first time you’ve entombed yourself in a small, dark space. Experts say you should sit with the feeling and try to relax. If you can’t shake the uneasiness, most tanks come with an internal button which will put the lights back on. Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to float – if you feel more relaxed with the lights on, it shouldn’t hamper your experience.
It often takes up to three sessions for you to noticeably appreciate the benfits of floating. During your first session, experiment with positions that feel comfortable to you and enjoy the sensation of floating. For the next two sessions, try and completely let go and relax.
Floating sessions usually last an hour – the first time, this will seem like forever (after all, how often do we have an entire hour to ourselves, doing absolutely nothing?). Five minutes before the end of your session, the lights and music will gradually come on. It’s up to you how long you want to stay in to readjust.
After Your Session
Once the session is over, lift the lid, get out of the tank, take a shower and get dressed. Like high-end gyms, most venues also have a larger changing room with hairdryers and straighteners so you can continue with your day looking fresh.
Venues always recommend that you take some time out before jumping straight back into work or activities. Giving yourself time to think about how you feel will allow the sensations of relaxation to last longer. Some places – such as Floatworks in Vauxhall – offer visitors herbal tea in the lounge so you can’t rush off and undo all your hard work.
What Happens Next
Prepare to have one of the best sleeps of your life. Whether it’s a clear head from the meditation or the rare feeling of true relaxation, after a floating session you’re guaranteed to have a great night’s sleep. Post float, I also found I was slouching less than usual, and my constantly achy neck and shoulders felt better than they do after a massage. And all that magnesium from the Epsom salts also gave me an energy boost – even without a coffee.
Stick with it. As with any form of meditation and relaxation, floating is a learned art that needs practice. Experts recommend you try floating three times in a short period of time to get your mind and body used to the treatment.
It’s true that practice makes perfect. Despite feeling apprehensive during my first float, the second time I felt much more relaxed about the experience and allowed myself to really switch off. By my third attempt I fell asleep. Now that’s a result.
346 Old Street, Shoreditch, EC1V 9NQ; from £40 per float; opens 28th June
Brandon House, 4 Marshalsea Road, Borough, SE1 1LH; from £55 per float
St George Wharf, Vauxhall, SW8 2LE; from £40 per float
London Floatation Centre
32 Skylines Village, Isle of Dogs, E14 9TS; from £50 per float
Trafalgar House, Juniper Drive, Wandsworth, SW18 1GY; £50 per float
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