It’s a Sunday afternoon in January and I’m floating in a pitch black capsule of salty water.
As we sat down at a row of iPads to watch the video introduction at Auckland’s ‘Float Culture’, I won’t lie, I felt a little ridiculous. Yoga, hunting down the best artisan gelato in town, going for brunch in my active wear… ‘Is this who I’ve become?’ I wondered. Someone so removed from reality that I’m handing over a small fortune to sit in salty water for an hour? I live a ten minute walk from the sea!
If you’re new to the idea of ‘floating’, you may be lost at this point. Let me back up and explain. The sales pitch is this: ‘Experience profound peace, mindfulness and complete physical relaxation in 60 minutes.’ It’s an audacious claim, isn’t it? Profound peace in 60 minutes. A friend of ours had tried it and, after I told him about my anxiety, had said ‘Girl, you’ve got to try this.’ So I asked my Mum to treat us to the floatation experience as a Christmas present, and here I am, in a futuristic-looking soundproof and lightproof pool with a lid, also known as a sensory deprivation tank.
We’re told that you need at least two to three sessions within a fortnight to get real benefit, so we’ve booked ourselves in for the next three weekends. I’ll report back on how I feel in a few weeks, but for now, how was my first hour in the tank?
For the first ten minutes they play music, which I could hear fuzzily through my earplugs. The first 15 minutes or so was full of thoughts. What I’ll be doing at work this week. What’s for dinner. I’m already bored, how am I possibly going to manage this for a whole hour? We’d been told that people often fall asleep in the tank, so before long I started wondering if anyone has ever drowned in one.
One thought that came up was that never before have I been weightless for an hour. In the tank you are held up by the salt water, so your muscles can relax completely. There’s no effort to sit, to swim or even to stay up. It felt both strange and liberating.
Then things changed. It felt like that in-between stage when you’re in bed, almost asleep, but still conscious. Later on I read that floating relaxes the brain into the ‘theta state’, also known as lucid dreaming or the meditative state.
A few bad memories surfaced, ones that come up every so often in day to day life, only here there were a few in one hour. Again, after the session I read an information sheet saying that this is a common experience.
I came to three or four times during the hour, each time just for a moment feeling awake enough to realise that I’d experienced something dream-like, before being pulled back to it.
In these moments I imagined myself like an astronaut in space, slowly rolling forward and back and sideways without effort or resistance. I was no longer sure if I was just imagining it or if my body really had moved around the tank.
As the music started up again, signalling my final five minutes, I felt pulled out of a dream. Had I really fallen asleep? Or had I been in that in-between stage the whole time? I couldn’t tell.
One thing I did discover is that my body had been moving around. I reached up and to my left for the light switch. It wasn’t there. A momentary panic as I grabbed at the side of the pool. It had been there at the start of the session. Why couldn’t I find it?! It took a few moments to calm down, realise that my body must have rotated around, and reach for the lower right instead.
After my session I felt ‘spacey’ for an hour or two. My movements felt slower and my mind wasn’t on point. But I certainly feel rested and relaxed. Now I’m looking forward to finding out what my next two sessions will bring.