I thought I was too late for the float therapy party
I wasn’t planning on posting about my first-time float therapy experience last week. A little late to the party, I thought. My little post on Facebook to my friends saying that while I was late to said party, floating is amazing, got enough of a response that I’ve realized that perhaps not everyone has tried it already. This post is for you if you’ve yet to float.
Floating is the cure for what ails you
In case you can’t tell, I’m a fan. Floating, my friends, is bliss, and you absolutely must try it. I came out of my session more refreshed than I do after a massage. What’s more, floating opens up your mind and encourages creative thought. It was in the float therapy room that I found the stillness I’ve been searching for.
This post shares about my first float and offers some tips to help make the most of your float experience. I’m writing with the zeal of the newly converted, and I am looking to book my next appointment as I type.
Floating on the Bay of Kotor
I’d spent the whole September afternoon swimming and sunning on the little pont at my guesthouse on the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. As the sun began to set, transforming the mountains behind the house from gray to desert red, I swam out a short distance from the pont and floated on my back, looking up at the unearthly landscape.
All the tension from the many monumental decisions I’d made in the preceding months—absolutely the right decisions, for they led me to that moment, but BIG DECISIONS all the same—melted away in the calm waters of the bay. I was right there, in that moment, exactly where I needed to be.
That moment came to me as I floated in Meredith Whole Living Center’s float room, free, without a thing to do but just float.
Most of us can’t always float in the Adriatic
Most of us can’t always float in a calm bay in the Adriatic, but, if we’re lucky enough, we don’t live that far away from a spa that offers float therapy. In the dark days of January, I searched for a spa that had a sauna, which was how I came upon Meredith Whole Living Center. In looking at the infrared sauna details, I noticed that they also offered float therapy.
How I first heard about floating
Years ago in one of those business trainings that’s part practical (use your calendar more effectively to make the most of your time!) and part weird new-agey (spirulina tablets that make your pee smell funny!), the instructor talked about floating. I’d never heard of it, but his glowing description left me curious, long after I discarded the rest of the sample of spirulina tablets (the calendar advice was really solid, and I still use it). Boston did not have any float options at the time, so I kind of forgot about it.
Isn’t this like that tank in Fringe?
Besides, while the relaxation and creative thinking that came from float therapy intrigued me to no end, I did keep thinking of my favorite science fiction TV show, Fringe and Walter Bishop’s rusty old sensory deprivation tank that sent floaters to other universes. I had heard that unusual things could crop up during float sessions, and I wasn’t sure that I’d like what I found in a tank all by myself in the dark. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t curious.
The idea stuck with me
The idea of floating stuck with me, though. I always meant to try it. Float Boston opened up near where I lived a couple of years ago, and I’d always meant to go, but we had Covid in the winters, and, in the summer, the thought of floating in warm water did not appeal to me, so I unfortunately never tried it (I have heard good things).
So it wasn’t until I was searching for saunas (memories of Helsinki) near me that I discovered that the spa also had floating. Sometimes you just know that it’s time to try something, and it was time for me to try float therapy. I booked an appointment for a session in a float room at Meredith Whole Living Center.
What is float therapy?
Float therapy is essentially sensory deprivation and a form of REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy). You are in a pod or small room, with a tub filled with about a foot of water. That water contains about a thousand pounds of Epsom salt (that’s more salt per liter than the Dead Sea!) and is the same temperature as your skin. You get into the water, lie back, and the salt causes you to float.
Traditionally, the pods or room (think enclosed tub), are completely dark and silent. Today float pods and rooms usually have ambient music available and soft colored lighting. The music and light can help with feelings of fear that can come up.
What are the benefits of float therapy?
Float therapy relieves stress in the body (it feels amazing), and also calms the mind. Many people fall asleep while floating, and others meditate. You can also just let whatever thoughts and feelings come and go. Many people who practice floating say that it opens up creative doors. I personally found this to be true.
While there are likely benefits ascribed to floating that are not proven, float therapy has been scientifically studied. Researchers found that floating can help with anxiety, stress, and depression, and it can also contribute to better sleep, at least the night after you float. It definitely helps with relieving muscle tension and encouraging relaxation, though these benefits are temporary. I was not seeking medical benefits from my float therapy session and am not a researcher, so I can’t personally speak to these.
My float therapy session
I arrived at the spa a few minutes early for my appointment. I’d checked in online, but I wasn’t sure if there was anything I needed to be aware of as a first-time floater. The staff people at Meredith Whole Living Center are lovely people, and I was checked in and shown to the lounge area (they have a porch for warmer days). The room is calm and comfortable and looks out onto Meredith’s cute Main Street.
After a couple of minutes, a woman motioned for me to follow her. She was excited for me that this is my first float. “It’s incredible.”
We entered a spotlessly clean room with a shower, a small bench, hooks for clothes, and a door in the wall. Before she opened the float therapy room door, she gave me a little run through on what to do and what to expect. On a little tray, there were moldable ear plugs to keep the water out of my ears, as well as a small packet of Vaseline. This is for any cuts or nicks on your hands or other areas—it can sting if salt gets into little cuts.
Getting started with float therapy
The idea is to insert the ear plugs, use any Vaseline that you need to, and then to rinse off in the shower. Then, she opened up the door to the float room. Inside was a large tub. The room was white fiberglass, and it was lit with a soft blue light.
“Here’s a float halo for your head,” she said, showing me a blue ring, with a section for my neck. “Your head will float, but this helps with things being more ergonomic. I always tell people to try it. If you don’t like it, you can just cast it aside.”
How to control your float
She then proceeded to show me the buttons for the lights and the music in the float room and how to press them (give it a good deliberate press). There’s a couple of settings for the lights and the music has a couple of volume adjustments and then off.
“I always encourage people to try it for a couple of minutes with the lights and sound off, but that can be a bit much sometimes.” She also explained that everyone’s float experience is different, and that it was possible that I might not love it the first time I tried it. If that’s the case, it’s OK, and don’t feel badly about it.
After telling me to wait for the automated voice telling me that the float therapy session would begin, she left me to it.
Getting in the room was a teeny bit awkward (it can be a bit slippery), but once in there, I was able to get my little float halo adjusted behind my head. The program started with the music and the lights on, which I found comforting.
A bit strange at first, but then bliss
It’s a strange feeling, at first, just floating in that little room. It can take a little bit to get into a comfortable position (they suggest moving your arms around every now and again). My nose itched a bit, and, with all that salt, I really couldn’t scratch it. But then, friends. Wow. I have not felt that relaxed, maybe ever.
I kept the lights on at first, but I closed my eyes and just focused on my breathing. Then I stopped focusing at all and just let my thoughts come and go. Time, it really is a lie. We’re all just floating down the river.
Experimenting with movement and darkness
I experimented with a few different movements, bending this way and that. I reached over and turned off the lights for a few minutes.
It was so dark. It felt like life was dancing overhead. I wasn’t anyplace, and this wasn’t any time. Sounds weird, right? It felt incredible. Everything got very, very still. My busy mind finally quieted down.
After a few minutes (or maybe it was a week, I didn’t know at that point), I turned the soft blue light back on. Eventually, the music stopped and the voice came on again. “Welcome back,” and instructed me to take my time getting up and leaving.
Getting out of the float room was again a little bit awkward, as all that salt leaves your skin a bit slippery. But, there’s hand holds, and I managed. Once out, I took a shower, washing my hair and getting all the salt out. I got mostly dressed, save for my boots. I brought a pair of flip flops for the lounge, and I padded out in those, in a bit of a daze.
Floating back down to earth
I poured myself a glass of water, and I sat in one of the comfortable chairs. I got out my notebook and jotted down a few things that had come to me while floating while they were still fresh in my mind. A staff member asked me how I enjoyed it, and I was effusive.
“Oh my god. That was amazing!” I did remember, at least, to keep my voice down.
“I’m so glad!” she said. “I love it when people love their floats. You are glowing.”
Indeed, I was.
Tips to make the most of your float therapy experience
Finding a spa that offers float therapy
- To find a float therapy spa near you, I would simply suggest Googling. There are some directories, but all of them had strange ads and pop-ups, and so I have not linked to them here. While not everywhere, float therapy is popular.
- Read the reviews, especially looking for notes about cleanliness.
Is floating right for you?
- Floating is not for everyone, especially those with certain health conditions. A reputable spa will ask you several questions for your first appointment.
- If accessibility is a concern, call the spa to find out what their accommodations are.
Your first float
- Ask questions.
- Your first float might not leave you feeling as rapturous as I did. My understanding from spa staff was that it can take a couple of tries to appreciate the effects.
- If you think that you might feel claustrophobic, the “float room” option may be better for you than the “float pod.” I chose the room by accident, but I’m glad that I did. Not every spa will have this, but it’s worth asking.
- You’re floating in really salty If you have little nicks, they are going to sting. To help mitigate this, use petroleum jelly on your hands or other little areas. Avoid shaving for a couple of days beforehand to minimize skin irritation.
- Speaking of the salt water, don’t touch your face.
- Take a pair of flip-flops or something similar with you for your wind down (especially in winter).
- Wear something comfortable and loose for after your session.
- Moving your arms around can help keep your comfortable (it’s also interesting to experiment with some little movements).
- If you can, try it without the lights for a few minutes. I didn’t feel comfortable turning off the music just yet, but I found the darkness to be helpful.
Floating back down to earth
- Give yourself a few minutes to float back down to earth afterward. The spa I went to had tea and water available in a little lounge area.
- Bring a little notebook to write down your thoughts you had while floating. Those ideas can feel like a dream, and, like dreams, they fade.
What’s your experience with floating?
Have you ever tried floatation therapy? I’d love to hear about your experience. If you tried floating after reading this, I’d also love to hear from you. Please share in the comments below.