Few small-business trends were as ubiquitous last year as floatation centres. About half a dozen opened their doors in the past 12 months just in my neighbourhood and the surrounding area. The reality is that float therapy has been around since the 1970s; we can thank celebrity adherents like Kirsten Wiig, Susan Saradon, Neil Young and Joe Rogan for the treatment’s recent surge in popularity.
I’m not typically one to follow celebrity health trends. When Gwyneth Paltrow started proselytizing about juicing, all my friends bought expensive Vitamix juicers—that are now stashed at the back of their kitchen cupboards. These days my pals are talking about floating. And in this case, the more I learned about the watery treatment, the more curious I became.
Float therapy involves immersing yourself in a sensory deprivation tank filled with water that’s saturated with about 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. The water is so dense that you really do end up bobbing on top of it. That’s an interesting experience in and of itself, but the magnesium-rich water also has many therapeutic benefits, such as soothing muscle pain and reducing stress.
It was these supposed health benefits that piqued my interest. My nine-to-five grind consists of deadlines, meetings, more deadlines and me slumped over a keyboard. I am willing to try anything that offers relief of my lingering neck and shoulder pain.
I arrive 30 minutes early for my float session at Sherwood Park’s Float Wellness to chat with owner Laara Delain. A copy of The Book of Floating by Michael Hutchinson is laying on the coffee table. I pick up the bestseller and flip to a random page: “The float tank provides the perfect excuse for daydreaming. There’s nothing else to do there.” That’s when it hits me. I’m about to do nothing for the next 90 minutes. I can’t recall the last time that I’ve done absolutely nothing, nadda, zilch, for any length of time. All I can think about is sleeping.
As it turns out, most people do fall asleep when inside the float pod, Laara tells me. It’s not just any sleep though, it’s a stage of sleep characterized by Theta brain waves. Laara schools me on the stages of sleep and their associated brain activity—including Theta brain waves, which occur during sleep and are said to be connected to the subconscious: our emotions, creativity and intuition. “You go into that deep place of relaxation and that’s also where your body heals and it’s also the stage where lucid dreaming takes place,” Laara says. “Some people do experience this.” I’m listening but all I can think about is sleeping for 90 minutes.
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While we’re chatting, a man enters the reception area. He’s just finished a float session. I’m surprised to see that this appeals to men. Laara tells me he’s a regular; he works in the oil industry doing physical work. “A large majority of our clients are men and they were introduced to floating by Joe Rogan.” Host of the reality TV show Fear Factor, Rogan also has a popular men’s health podcast on which he talks quite a bit about floating. I later learn that professional athletes have been using floating for years—to aid in mental preparation and visualization.
Everyone seems to have a different experience in the tanks, so it’s recommended that you try it a few times to get comfortable. A lot of first-timers have a great experience, but some get anxious or scared. I suspect the latter is more likely if you go in not knowing what to expect.
I enter one of three private rooms where I’ll spend the next 90 minutes. The tiny room is dimly lit but I can clearly see the float tank in the middle. It’s a slick, white fibreglass pod that looks like it belongs in the living room of The Jetsons. “There’s no backing out now,” I say to myself. I disrobe and take a quick shower to remove any perfumes, body oils and the like. (The tanks also have a filtration system that cleans the water between each client’s session.)
I step into the tank and I am surprised at how pleasantly warm the water is. There’s no cold-water shock like when you first jump into a swimming pool. The silk-like water is skin temperature (34 C), which means you hardly feel it against your skin. The water is also only about 25 centimeters deep.
I close the pod and get ready to enter sensory-deprivation mode. I’m floating. I’m floating. I’m really floating. My arms and legs fan out effortlessly. I pull my limbs back toward my body but they slowly float away again. I turn off the gently pulsating rainbow of LED lights and plunge into complete darkness.
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I hear nothing but my own breathing. I practice metered breathing, inhaling for the count of three followed by exhaling for the same time, as Laara instructed me. My mind races with a million thoughts. What if I don’t wake up? What am I going to have for supper? When was the last time I talked to my mom? Five minutes later, all my worries fade and my body gives in to the water. But I kid you not, I feel like I’m floating down a river. I’m not making this stuff up. I’m Ophelia in the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting by John Everett Millais, minus the floral wreath in my hair. Then I’m floating in a wide ocean.
That’s all I remember because I fall asleep for the next half-hour, only to be woken by my snoring. I try to fall asleep again but I have trouble settling my mind. I finish the session floating with the lights on, enjoying my brief escape from the stresses of life. I notice that I’m feeling a lot more relaxed than I had been all day. My shoulders are no longer so tense. That night I have the most restful sleep I’ve had in a long time.
HOW TO SAVE
AMA members save 10% on regular-price floats, float packages and memberships—as well as massage therapy services—at Float Wellness.