I first heard about floating in December, when I was face down on a massage table. If you’ve ever seen a registered massage therapist (RMT), you know the experience isn’t all calm music and essential oils – they work out some serious stuff. I’ve been seeing my RMT at least once per month since my car accident, and she still touches spots that make me flinch, works out knots that have me almost in tears, and releases all kinds of tension from my back, neck and legs.
During this particular massage, we were talking about how painful my treatments still were, and I told her I always went home and had an epsom salt bath after. “If you like those, you should try floating!” she said. “You lay in a tub that’s filled with 900 pounds of epsom salt and just float.” Why the heck would I want to do that!? I wondered, then she explained that lots of athletes do it, as well as people who suffer from chronic pain. I always try to have an open mind about new experiences, so I decided to try it.
I went for my first float on January 2nd; it was my 7 o’clock date with myself on a Friday night. When I walked into Cloud 9 Float Spa, I quickly learned the etiquette of the space: take off your shoes and relax. There was a station with hot tea and cold water to drink on the left and two couches on the right. After I checked in, I sat down on one of the couches and waited until my room was ready. “Is this your first time?” a man on the couch next to me asked. I couldn’t help but notice how happy and relaxed he looked, then nodded yes. “Just focus on your breathing and nothing else. You’ll love it.”
When my room was ready, one of the staff walked in with me and explained what I was supposed to do. First, put earplugs in. Second, shower to remove any deodorant, lotion, makeup, etc. from your skin. Third, get into the pod (or tank) and float for 90 minutes. When you hear music come on, it’s time to get out. After, shower again – and you’re done. Then she dimmed the light and left the room.
Up until this point, I had done almost zero research on floating. I still didn’t even really know what the point of it was. Coincidentally, the same day my RMT told me to try it, David tweeted that he had just booked his first float. We agreed to exchange stories after I went, as he didn’t want to risk altering my experience by telling me about his (you can now read about it here). So the only thing I knew about it, when I stepped into the pod, was that David had gone once, and I was about to spend the next 90 minutes of my life alone in a space smaller than the interior of my car.
The minute I closed the lid, I thought, this is going to be an experience. The water was warm (it’s supposed to be heated to body temperature, so 98°F) and the space inside was bigger than I’d imagined. The blue light was still on (there was a button inside to turn it on and off with) and I looked down at my legs and feet and realized I was actually floating on water – not floating the way you do in the pool, but really floating, so more than half of my body was above water. I started to focus on my breathing like the man in the waiting room had told me to, and eventually reached over and turned off the light.
As soon as the pod went pitch black, I felt like I was floating in circles; this is physically impossible, of course, as the width of the pod is shorter than my arm span, but it truly felt like I was moving around in full circles. I reached my hands out to the sides, to make sure I wasn’t about to knock into anything, and turned the light back on to see that I hadn’t, in fact, moved a single inch. Fascinating. After a few minutes of focusing on my breathing again, I began to notice how heavy my limbs felt – almost paralyzed, when I tried to move them. I turned the light back off and tried again.
I began to feel the circling motion, so I moved my arms around until I was in a comfortable position (elbows out to the side and hands just above my head); the minute I found it, the circling stopped. In its place, however, I noticed how much tension there was in my neck. The woman had warned me that most people’s necks hurt the first time you float because you feel like you need to hold it above water. (You don’t have to – it floats, too!) Since I already carried so much tension in mine, the pain felt worse. So I started moving my head side-to-side and ear-to-shoulder to loosen up.
The one thing I did know about floating is the more official term for the pods/tanks was sensory deprivation tanks – and the reason for that made sense, as my time in the pod continued on. I had earplugs in so I couldn’t hear anything, I was in the dark so I couldn’t see anything and I was in water close to body temperature so I couldn’t feel anything. And the one thing my RMT had told me was that, because no inch of you is pressed against a surface (unlike when we sit or stand or sleep), floating is the one time where your blood can flow freely throughout your entire body.
Once the pain in my neck had subsided, I noticed how heavy my limbs were again, to the point that my hands and feet almost felt like they were tingling. I was so intrigued by this that I started trying to turn my wrists and ankles in circles, and couldn’t believe how impossible it felt. I realized how deeply relaxed my body was and went back to just focusing on my breathing. It was at this moment when I finally realized I had no idea how much time had passed. The only thing I knew was that my breaths were deeper and longer than they’d even been, and it felt as though I was only taking a few per minute.
I didn’t visualize much, during my first float, which is something most people report. Other than the circling motion I’d felt at the beginning, I was just sort of experiencing the whole thing at the physical level – noticing my surroundings and how my body was reacting to it. I was, however, deeply relaxed and being mindful of my breathing. Towards the end, I even noticed that I was experiencing a few muscle spasms, which are common when meditating and releasing stress. It seemed as though, as soon as I got comfortable with the whole thing, the music came on… and it was time to get out.
While I was showering, I was trying to make sense of the entire experience and figure out what the benefits could be for me. After I dried myself off, I stood up and realized that it felt as though I’d grown an inch. My neck didn’t hurt and I was holding my head up high with my shoulders back. Could floating have done that!? I wondered. I held that posture for a few days after and knew I’d have to try it again.
Floats #2 and #3
My second and third floats were amazing. On top of being prepared for the physical sensations I knew I was going to feel, I was in the perfect state of mind – feeling good about life and just ready to unwind. I went for my second float just days before my last trip to New York City and my third shortly after I got back. I practically jumped into the pod on both nights, as I couldn’t wait to disappear from the real world for 90 minutes and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose. And my positive energy made for two excellent floating experiences.
As soon as I turned the light off, I started visualizing all kinds of things – mostly people, but also a few places I’d been and ones I’d dreamt of travelling to. One night, I even visualized colours (blue and purple) and scents (the ocean and vanilla). I noticed my body was reacting to whatever I was visualizing, bringing my legs up into a formal sitting meditation pose (so I was cross-legged while floating) or twisting around and moving my head more. By the third float, I noticed I could hear a click, click, clicking in my neck when I did this, which signalled that everything was decompressing.
I stepped out of both of those floats feeling taller and with better posture than I can remember having in years. I also slept for 8-10 hours both nights and woke up feeling refreshed and with almost no pain left in my neck. Because of this, I decided to join the float spa. At $40/month for 1 float, it’s cheaper to be a member than to drop in. I now space it out so every 2-3 weeks I go for either a float or a massage (swap off), and I’m already looking forward to my next one.
Why I Pay to Float in Warm Salt Water
It sounds kind of silly, right? Or at least I’m sure it does if you haven’t tried it. Now that I’ve gone a few times and have done a little more research on the science of floating, I’ll tell you why I go personally:
- Pain relief – I feel no pain when I’m in the tank and less than usual for a few days after. I never thought I’d suffer from chronic pain at age 29, but it is so mentally taxing… the break and alleviation afterward are welcomed. (And apparently the endorphins that are released while floating are to thank for that!)
- Stress relief – I’m no more stressed than anyone else, but a 90-minute break from real life is still nice. (And the high level of salt/magnesium are what help to lower your blood pressure.) Couple this with the fact that I usually sleep for 8-10 hours after and I could say it temporarily cures my insomnia, too.
- Mental reset – I’ve only gone on Friday nights and I’m going to continue to do so because it’s a great way to end a busy week. It usually takes 10-15 minutes (I’m guessing, as there’s no clock) for me to decompress, but then I let the stress of the week go and just focus on whatever that floating experience brings me. I always walk out feeling like a new person.
And then, of course, I meditate. If you’ve never meditated before and/or are unsure of how to do it, my definition of it is to simply practice awareness – focus on one thing without any distractions. So I’ve mentioned many times that I focus on my breathing while floating. At first, I did it because that’s what the man in the waiting room told me to do. But as I was doing it, I realized that something I’ve struggled with since the accident is unconsciously holding my breath – especially while driving.
By focusing on my breathing while floating, I pay attention to how good it feels to breath in and out, to fill my lungs and empty them. It literally brings me life. Then if I’m ever driving and notice I’m holding my breath, I remember how good it felt to breathe deeply while floating, and I start to do it in the car. So my meditation brought clarity about a problem I’d been ignoring, sparked change and now reduces unnecessary stress. It’s a neat little win-win.
Why I’m Telling You This
Why did I just share my love of floating and meditating with you? For starters, because many of my friends and a few people on Twitter have asked about it, and I think it’s important to share your experiences with people who are curious but who may let hesitations or uncertainty stop them from trying something new. I will say, I don’t think floating is for everyone. If you’re claustrophobic, you probably won’t enjoy floating (but research your local spas first, because some have tubs in small rooms vs. tanks, so you’re not enclosed in a small space). But don’t dismiss the idea because it sounds weird or super hippie-dippy. I was born and raised on an island, but I am not a hippie – and I love it!
The other reason I’m telling you about all of this, though, is to serve as a reminder that we all spend money on different things. You might not want to spend $40 to float in warm salt water, but maybe you spend a similar amount on something else that I wouldn’t want to do either – and that’s ok! It’s way too easy for us to judge one another on the purchases we make or the ways we spend/save our money, when we should really be asking if the way we manage our money adds value to our lives and aligns with our goals. I know I’m grateful for the benefits I get from spending $40/month to float, which makes it easy to hand that money over.
And this all goes back to what I said in my guest post on Joshua Becker’s blog last month: When you spend money on things you appreciate, it will always pay dividends in the form of gratitude.
What’s something you spend money on each month that you truly value?