We couldn’t agree more that the benefits of meditating are boundless for the mind and spirit. But, the level of practice and discipline that meditation requires to quiet that ‘monkey mind’ can be daunting. It’s not like we haven’t tried. As kids we were naturally drawn to it – albeit unknowingly – and created made up guided visualizations that we would solemnly lead each other through before bedtime at overnight camp (remember listening to your cabin-mate as they led the rest of the kids through relaxing each body part from toes to head? Surprise, that was guided meditation).
As an adult there was the meditation seminar with at the Buddhist monastery in Japan, the meditation sessions during that Tantric philosophy course, and various other takes: seated, walking, kundalini, mantra, and mala meditation.
They were useful in varying degrees but we never nailed down a daily practice because frankly, taking time to be ‘still’ is frustrating and we don’t like being frustrated. But, like a child who desperately needs a nap yet continues to refuse it, the frustration only leads to stubbornness to focus the mind more, and this stubbornness leads to the mind losing the desired focus and becoming rather exhausted and overworked instead.
There was one modality we hadn’t yet tried, but had heard whispers about. Only a handful of our most coolest, wellness-oriented friends had experienced it and their reviews were almost cult-like in their zeal. We had to try it for ourselves.
Sensory deprivation tanks or float tanks aren’t actually that new. Floatation therapy or ‘REST’ aka Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique has been around since the mid-1950s. The idea is that floating and sensory deprivation can help people to reduce stress, relieve pain, and generally feel more positive and optimistic. There are even claims that floating can help you achieve the same deep, dream-like ‘Theta’ state of meditation that seasoned meditation practitioners (meditators?) need years of practice to achieve.
We called up Float Toronto to see if they would usher us on our journey and were thrilled that they were happy to help!
How’d we do?
Our first float was scheduled for early afternoon on a weekday – between a morning meeting and a late afternoon conference call. We were greeted by a friendly front desk assistant who kindly showed us to the private float rooms and explained the essentials: pre-float and post-float showering, the use of ear plugs (they provide two disposable varieties from which to choose), and the use of natural un-petroleum jelly to protect any nicks or cuts. Lastly, the very important reminder that due to the highly concentrated amount of salt in the float tanks we would definitely want to avoid getting the water in our eyes, noses, or mouths because it would burn. They even provide a fresh water spray bottle and dry hand cloth on a bar inside each tank just in case.
Left alone, we took a good look around our private salt water oasis. The pod was not the ‘tanning bed’ shaped cocoon we had expected feared. Instead it was more like a six and a half foot long, four foot glossy white wide storage locker with soft glowing purple light and restful instrumental music playing inside.
We showered in the private shower, dried off, applied the un-petroleum jelly to that shaving nick we nearly forgot we had, and played with the different ear plugs. A few minutes later and we were ready.
We stepped into the tank and closed the door. We looked around, got accustomed to our home for the next hour, laid down in the 10 inches of body-temperature epsom salted water and turned off the light and sound. Like a cork in water – we were floating!
This was the exact moment that we discovered a few things that no-one – not even the nice receptionist – informed us of:
- You bob around for a bit until you even out. For the first few moments we felt like a slow needle on a compass.
- Even though we were definitely floating – the salt water in a float tank is more dense than the Dead Sea – the brain doesn’t trust the outside world until the world proves itself, so it forces your neck to strain for no good reason until you can calm your brain down.
- But, the most important thing we learned immediately as we lay down in the tank: SALT WATER DOESN’T JUST STING YOUR EYES.
Let’s pause just for a moment here, shall we? The nice lady at the front desk did mention that sometimes she forgets things in her shpiel, but for the love of all that’s chocolate: how do you forget this!?
Sensitive skin and salt water do not mix. We repeat: they do NOT mix. We thought we were soooo smart putting some of the un-petroleum jelly on our lips to keep them from coming into contact with the salt water, but there was another area that could have used that extra attention too.
Hoo-HAW!! That just cracked the fine china. We nearly broke the flower pot! Let’s stop beating around the bush: floating is some mean yeowzers for the va-jay-jay.
We tried to ignore it but WHAT-THE-ACTUAL-F?!
So we did what any refined woman would do: jumped out of the water, slapped on the light, and sprayed the holy be-jeezus out of our lady bits with that spray bottle and were attacked by our own profanities as they reverberated against the tank walls.
Then we figured well, maybe we ought to try some of that jelly before getting back in? So out the door we went, soaking wet into the air in our private room, popped the top and slathered up before returning, somewhat less burn-y, to the tank to….relax? Yeah. That’ll happen.
Shockingly, we did get back into the he-hem ‘groove’, and had a mostly restful session. In fact, après float we felt as relaxed as we would after a full body massage plus meditation only even more, well, floaty. After taking our next conference call we were so wiped that all we could do was nap for the next three hours. Even so, we went to bed at a relatively regular time with none of the usual insomnia that follows a long midday nap.
Turns out that you really can’t just float once and get a good idea of it. The first float is really just an introduction. It actually is a practice that gets better – or different – the more you do it.
So, before round two, we did a little more research.
Science lesson: You might know that the vagina is, naturally, a pretty acidic place. The epsom salt water in a floatation tank, on the other hand, is a pH balanced solution. That means, with its neutral pH of 7.0, the float tank is more alkaline than the vagina, which has a pH of around 3.8 – 4.5. And that, my friends, is what can cause burning or stinging in people with sensitive hoo-haws.
We used our experience to equip us better for an even more restful float:
- We booked our float for the end of the day when we knew we could go straight home and crawl into bed.
- We lubed up effectively before entering the tank
- We used the neck floaty ring-thing that we didn’t notice was available until after our first float had ended so our brains could relax faster.
The hour passed by as if it were mere moments.
We noticed some patterns just from our two sessions:
- The tank wasn’t at all claustrophobic. It was exactly large enough to feel space but not lonely vastness. It was surprising how quickly we adapted to it.
- The heartbeat is loud – and we don’t often really pay attention to it. We could mentally note the exact moment at which, during each float, our senses moved from perceiving remnants of stimulation from the outside world to perceiving only the sound and feeling of our heart beats – and wondering for a moment what it was.
- We really did meditate – we think. As quickly as we realized the sensation of our heartbeats in each float, they seemed to disappear and we entered some other deep state where indeed, we witnessed our thoughts almost like they were floating past us. We raised questions to them but didn’t think or dwell the way we would in regular conscious life. It felt like…relief.
- Limbs are weird. Where do arms ‘go’ in the grand scheme? There was no natural place for them. In the end it doesn’t matter, really, since the temperature of the water made us lose track of having limbs completely. That is, until we did one of those sleep-time leg jerks that made us very aware of them after all. C’est la vie.
- Every float feels different. While our first float was equal parts slapstick and serene, floating in general was so relaxing that the chanting music that signifies the end of a session did bring us gently awaken us back to consciousness. Whatever thought we were witnessing at the end of our second float jarred us so much we gasped ourselves awake and, totally disoriented, hit the light button mere seconds before the ending music began. The thing is, the state was so deep that we still don’t know what we were thinking about when that happened.
- We benefited from the same sensation of “walking in a bubble” each time. That gentle separation created a softening buffer between us and the harshness of city life – at least until we got home and could fall into the most restful and reviving sleep we had in ages.
Will we stick to it after this week?
We suspect the effects of floating, like those of meditation, are cumulative. In our heart of hearts, we find it more accessible and effective to take a quiet hatha yoga class more frequently for a similar meditative effects and the bonus of a gentle physical workout at the same time. That said, a membership for a once-a-month float is only $39 at most float centres. Exceptionally reasonable by most standards.
Would we see significant benefit by floating only once a month? We’re not sure, but it felt so deeply relaxing and is so much more affordable than frequent massages plus classic meditation, that we’d definitely consider seeking it out as a regular, deep reset and self-care treat.