Have you tried floating?
My friend Sarah sent a link a few weeks ago for a Floating Studio in downtown Burlington. I’m always game for voluntary relaxation - especially when it claims to improve sleep. Jake has chronic back pain, and was working on our basement flooring for several days, so it was the perfect time for us to go for a float!
What is floating?
It is literally floating in a tank of water! The tanks, or cabins as they called them, are 8.5 x 4.5 feet, and are tall enough to stand in. They’re also called Sensory Deprivation Tanks, because you’re in a dark, soundproof tank, in less than a foot of water. The water is heated to body temperature, and has been combined with around 1000 pounds of epsom salts. The salt makes you float, so your face is always above the water, and the temperature of the water makes you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins.
Healthline.com wrote, You enter the tank nude and are cut off from all outside stimulation, including sound, sight, and gravity when the tank’s lid or door is closed. As you float weightless in the silence and darkness, the brain is supposed to enter into a deeply relaxed state. Sensory deprivation tank therapy is said to produce several effects on the brain, ranging from hallucinations to enhanced creativity.
Doesn’t that sound fun!?
I scheduled the appointments online, and chose 8pm on a Friday. End of the week, close enough to bedtime. The sessions cost $65 each.
Friday we showed up at a place called GoFloat. It was -16 out that night, so stepping into the warm muggy storefront was a welcome change of temperature. We took off our shoes and signed waivers that promised we wouldn’t sue them if we died in their float tanks. No big deal.
According to their brochure, people float to relieve stress, recover from injuries, and reduce chronic pain. Floating naturally reduces stress-related hormones while increasing dopamine and endorphin levels and boosting your mood. Research has shown floating to lower blood pressure, improve circulation and help those who are experiencing anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
We were taken to our rooms, given a rundown of how to shower and close the tank door. Here’s a washcloth if you get salt water on your face, here’s a foam ring to place under your head if you like. You have one hour then you’ll hear the music. At that point, you get out and shower.
I took my shower, used their pre-float body wash, inserted the complimentary earplugs, and stepped into the tank. The door was huge, and I closed it behind me, leaving myself standing in a foot of warm water. There was one little glowing blue light at one end, and that was the button that also turned off the light completely. I wasn’t ready for that yet, so I placed the foam ring under my head and laid back.
Then I started laughing.
Leading up to this experience, part of me worried I would panic being enclosed in the dark tank. I was laughing instead, and my first thought was, What am I going to do in here for a whole hour!?
The epsom salt made the water feel slimy against my skin and hair.
I believe in mindfulness and meditation, but the thought of meditating for one hour was daunting. I had heard about people who used floating as a way to get new creative ideas. I would have welcomed that if I could lie still long enough.
I can confidently say I did not experience any hallucinations. Thankfully.
In the span of an hour, I pretended to be a corpse floating in the ocean, a synchronized swimmer, a seal, Michael Phelps, a fish flopping around on dry land, and a little kid making snow angels. I was having a great time pushing off the end with my feet, then pushing off the opposite end with my hands. I wondered if Jake was having as much fun as I was, and pictured him lying there sleeping, and maybe even snoring quietly. I knew he wouldn’t be panicking because he really wasn’t afraid of anything.
At one point I pressed the glowing blue button and the tank went completely dark. I started to panic, said, NOPE! and turned the light back on. Also, because I’m a toddler, I tasted the water to see if it was salty. It wasn’t. It was disgusting and should never be ingested.
Sometimes I would lie still and try to fall asleep, but I knew it was a losing battle. I could only fall asleep in a public place if I was cocooned in a blanket and felt safe. At that moment I was naked and lying spread eagle in a tank of water, which was kind of the opposite.
I know it sounds like I played in a kiddie pool when I should have been relaxing and seeking inner peace, but I did do a lot of floating. The weightlessness part was cool. Lying with my hands above my head was the most comfortable position.
I finished my session early because I didn’t know what else to do, and I felt I had mastered my Michael Phelps impression.
I checked my phone and it was eight minutes to nine o'clock. I spent those eight minutes taking as hot a shower as possible because long, hot showers in someone else’s bathroom (that I don’t have to wipe down) are one of life’s greatest joys. I washed the salt off (and out) of my body parts, and got dressed. Jake went the full hour and he emerged from room 2, looking a little sleepy, shortly after nine.
In the below freezing weather of downtown Burlington, we exchanged our thoughts about floating. Jake almost fell asleep, felt very relaxed, and had no pain during his float. We both agreed an hour was too long. I told him that every time I tried to be a synchronized swimmer my arms and legs felt heavy out of the water.
That night, I was tired early, and slept really well. I wore my Fitbit to bed to track my sleep, and I slept through the night with a lot of deep and REM sleep. Jake did not report an improvement in his sleep that night but felt less back pain.
Knowing that floating is one of those practices that should probably be done more than once to enjoy the full benefits, here is my overall opinion after one session: I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. It was a cool and weird experience, and I think if you’ve been wanting to try it, you should!
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