How does it work?
Just like the Dead Sea, the Epsom salt solution used in floatation therapy is around 3% denser than fresh or chlorinated water. This extra density allows it to support more weight at lower volumes, meaning that the typical ten inches of water used in floatation rooms, tanks or pods can easily support your bodyweight. That means no effort needed on your part – bliss!
Whether you’re in a specially designed room or a pod will depend on the centre, but floatation involves a degree of isolation to remove you from distractions and stress triggers. Pods often look a bit like over-sized shallow baths, and have a lid that can be left open if you’re not a lover of confined spaces, or closed if isolation is desired. Floatation rooms are typically more accessible for less mobile visitors; you enter through a standard door and a section of sunken floor space is devoted to floatation.
You can customise your experience with adjustable lighting, and some centres offer to play soothing music during treatments. The water is kept close to skin temperature, so it gradually becomes hard to tell which areas of the body are in contact with the water. The experience has even been described by some as feeling like you’re suspended in mid air.
A typical session lasts about an hour and you will usually shower beforehand to remove any products and oil on your hair and skin. Showering afterwards is a must, as although Epsom salts are gentle on the skin, the highly concentrated minerals are likely to leave a residue and may mark clothing. Be careful about covering any cuts and grazes too, as salty water stings upon contact with broken skin – ouch! You may want to avoid shaving on float days to help prevent this, and some centres provide sachets of petroleum jelly for you to slather on, creating a barrier between the water and any sensitive areas.
If the centre has several pods in one room, you’ll be required to sport swimwear. In others, due to the private nature of the floatation experience, you can choose to go au naturel. The sterile salt water is filtered and treated with mild chemicals in between each float, so everything is very hygienic. There’s no danger of looking like a prune after your treatment either, as the wrinkles caused by soaking in a bubble bath are a result of the skin’s surface being robbed of salt – and there’ll be plenty of that around.
Is it for me?
Many people worry that if they are claustrophobic, they won’t enjoy floatation. In fact, pods and treatments rooms are spacious and the environment is so controllable that you are unlikely to feel trapped. However, a call button is installed in all rooms and tanks just in case it becomes a bit too much.
You don’t need to be able to swim, as anyone will float regardless of size and as it’s virtually impossible to touch the bottom whilst lying back, there is no danger of drowning. In fact, some visitors find they become so relaxed that they fall asleep during their float. There’s no age limit and floatation is safe for pregnant women who want to take the weight off their feet, although it’s recommended that floating be avoided during the first trimester.
Research has shown that floating reduces blood pressure, heart rate and can lower levels of stress chemicals in the body. In the last twenty years, floating has been adopted as a treatment for anxiety and jet lag, and supporters claim the temporary sensory deprivation improves concentration, creativity and learning ability.
Sportsmen and women also use floatation as part of their training or to help speed up recovery from injuries. The Australian Institute of Sports actually regards the use of floatation tanks as integral to their athletes’ training regime. Physiologically, floatation removes pressure from joints, which may enable the body to focus on healing and improve blood flow to areas with poor circulation.
Good to know
The floatation tank was developed in 1950 by American neurophysiologist Professor Dr John C. Lilly. Lilly developed the tank whilst investigating of the origins of conscious activity within the brain and began using it to test whether the brain needed outside stimuli (light, sound and other sensory experiences) to keep its conscious states active.