I had been thinking about testing out a sensory deprivation aka flotation tank session for a few months, but finally took the plunge and lost my ‘virginity’ on the 4th of July. The past few months have been particularly stressful (life happens) – even to the point of where I have trouble just breathing. After seeing a friend post a Facebook live video after her flotation tank experience in California, I decided that I needed to give this a try.
Wait a second – Houston, we have a logistical problem. I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere (albeit a lovely, green Happy Valley nowhere). We don’t have flotation tanks readily available. (I think one is coming soon, but not sure when.)
Welp, when opportunity knocks, open the door (as the cliché goes). This past week, on a mini-vacation to Toronto, I decided to put my foot down and claim some ‘me’ time for a flotation tank session.
What, might you ask (if you haven’t already heard of this), is a flotation tank? Well, it can be either a pod or an open tank (pool) of water with hundreds of pounds of Epsom Salts.
Such a soak is therapeutic because the amount of salt added creates a buoyancy similar to swimming in the Dead Sea (or so I am told). By taking the stress off of the body with presque zero gravity, soakers can lie back, float, and just chill out.
Does this really work?
On July 4th, I called the owner of Rest Nest Float Club in Toronto. Very friendly guy who, when I gave my cellphone number was slightly confused by the area code, was quite delightful when he found out I’m American. “Oh, yes, we have lots of Americans who visit us, they stay down the street at the Four Seasons.”
(Sign of relief as my experience when told ‘we have lots of Americans’ isn’t necessarily always followed by a warm welcome!)
Before booking a session, I shyly ask, “What exactly is the etiquette, umm, protocol for flotation? I mean, do I wear a bathing suit, or is this naked, similar to Japanese onsen (hot springs bath)?”
The owner gently laughed and patiently explained that before floating, one takes a shower ( I chimed in, “Oh, so simliar to Japanese onsen?”) and then typically the experience is done in one’s birthday suit (naked).
Ok, I’ll try it!!
At the appointed time, I signed in, filled out a questionnaire and waiver, and was led back to the flotation room. Actually, another flotation tank virgin was also led back, so we were both given a tour and asked if we wanted music during the entire session or for part of the session.
I opted for music during the entire session; my fellow virgin opted for the most popular option of 15 minutes on, 30 minutes of quiet, then 15 minutes for the relaxing sprint to the finish line.
We each went our separate ways and into different rooms. I took my shower, then, so excited and nervous about trying this out, I made my first misstep.
I got all the way into the pod and realize, oops, I had forgotten to put in the ear plugs (more like a plastic modelling clay that you plug into your ears, malleable enough to fit your orifice).
So, had to get out and start again. Deep breath, stay zen.
Ears plugged, I set out to float again. I took the foam halo that the owner said some folks use as additional support behind their head. Started out with this and then realized where I really needed a little extra support was behind my tush. The foam support just so happened to fit well behind mine, so modification number one!
It felt fantastic to feel my hair swishing behind me. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.
But I was still a newbie and somewhat nervous about floating inside what looked like an alien space ship pod for an hour. I kept remembering the warning not to get any of the salty water in my eyes–if so, there was a mini spray bottle of desalinated water for emergencies. (Fortunately I didn’t need it).
I started out by not entirely closing the pod, but quickly realized it was quite spacious and the body temperature water setting would remain if I closed it up.
So, finally settling in and floating. It felt great, but I still could not turn off my active mind.
I had read about sensory deprivation before making my appointment and the guy who tried it out kept saying his mind would wander to thoughts about sex. Yeah, I guess I could see how that might happen.
Floating around in the buff is sensual. That said, I kept finding the need to prop up my generous bosom to get comfortable. When I would intermittently relax, my mind wandered to thinking about cuddling in bed with my spouse.
Yes, that’s about how I would describe it – an aqueous cuddle.
Must be the oxytocin release.
Semi-erotic images of Millais’ Orphelia morphing into Leda and the Swan wander in and out of my mind.
Suddenly, there emerged an awareness of all of my (physical) trouble spots.
I’ve been told the therapeutic effects of such a massive amounts (I think the owner said they use 800 pounds) of Epsom Salts have been known to relief aches and pains.
In my case, the semi-relaxed state allowed me to actually feel that day’s aches and pains. Sore ankle from hiking around a new (to me) city.
Periodic sharp pain in my knee from supporting my body in my change of pace. Dull but not enduring pain in my lower back from schlepping around my cross over pocket book (my Le Sports Sac that feels like a ton of bricks when I am fully equipped).
What bothered me the most though was the confirmation that I am such a ball of nerves that it is diffcult to breath. In part I have chronic sinus issues, but in part this is due to stress. I tend to hold my breath in and clench my teeth.
So, my floatation tank experience morphed into an aquatic attempt to breath better.
Damn, I should really try out yoga again. (My first attempt at yoga was a disaster since I had tried hot yoga and couldn’t stand the stench of other classmates’ body odor oozing out of their pores).
Focus on your breathing. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
I subconsciously start to rub my overextended belly. Relaxed, as if conducting an imaginary conversation with my stomach, I think to myself, “Thank you to my womb for birthing my two wonderful sons. Job well done, you have served your purpose. Now I can let you go.”
I delicately rubbed my belly and thought it is time to let it melt away.
The music stops for a second. Ah, finally I can relax. Oops, nope, I had requested continuous music, so it starts up again. Well, next time, I will ask for the quiet option! Next time I will be bolder and also ask that the calming violet light be turned off too.
Complete darkness might be better.
During the few moments where I could just ‘be’ and float away, I did reflect on how good it felt not to be tied down to a sedentary office job (for a few days vacation).
Freedom. How fitting to have this sense of freedom on Independence Day!
My maiden voyage in the flotation pod was relaxing, but did not have as much of a pure zen effect as the time I had a post-partum aromatherapy massage.
Flotation Tank Take-Aways
I realized how much more work I need to devote to unwinding and relaxing. Fortunately I was relaxed enough not to be disappointed in not emerging from my experience completely relaxed.
My session ended when a calm, pre-recorded robotic voice informed me that my session was over. I left the pod and took another shower, this time to clean off the salts.
Back in Happy Valley, I promised myself to dedicate more time to calming my (over)active mind.
Are you still a flotation tank virgin? If so, what’s holding you back?