As the end of 2016 approached, I talked with several different people about wanting to do something to start off 2017 with a clean slate, something that would act as kind of a new year cleanse if you will.
I had heard about “floating” a few times, mostly from a Facebook friend who has made it an annual ritual for herself, usually at the beginning of a new year. I decided to look deeper into the concept and my brother and I actually discussed both going to do a “float” at the same time sometime in January. Although he wavered on his decision to go do one, I remained committed to trying anything and everything to get my 2017 on track, and finally took part in my very first 90-minute “float” on Wednesday night at a place in Portland called Float On.
People have since asked me how the experience was, and I’ve honestly had a difficult time describing it to them, but I am going to attempt to do so here as I walk you through my time at Float On.
Video and photos by Joanna Yorke
I arrived at the bright blue Float On building on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland just a few minutes before my scheduled float time. Right as I walked through the door, I was immediately hit with an inviting atmosphere that included warm yellow and blue walls, several couches and chairs of the same colors, aromatherapy-type products, books and complimentary tea and water. There was also a large black book on the table with a simple instruction on the cover: “Drawing Book: Sit down and draw a picture inside me.”
I sat on one of the couches for a few minutes until one of the employees took me back to my float room. As we walked back, he asked me if this was going to be my first float, to which I excitedly replied, “Yes it is!”
There are four different styles of tanks at Float On, and a total of six different rooms. I chose to do my float in one of the Ocean Float tanks, which are described as being taller than a typical float tank, allowing you to stand upright as you enter and exit the tank.
The employee who walked me back to my float room took a few minutes to explain everything about the tank and the room to me. I was instructed to take a shower before and after my float, he suggested I make my before shower slightly cooler as the water in the tanks is kept at the average skin temperature of 93.5 degrees and might feel a bit cold if you get in after a hot shower. He then showed me a small basket full of some small essentials that I could use if I wanted — earplugs, ear drops (to help with water and salt in your ears), some makeup remover and other small items. I was also provided with a towel and a robe.
From there, I was shown a button inside the tank that would turn the light off and on. The employee told me that when my 90-minute float time was up, music would gradually start playing that I would also be able to feel because there are speakers on the bottom of the tank. He then asked if I had any questions and told me to have a good float.
I didn’t waste any time because I was excited to get started. I quickly showered, stepped into the tank, shut the door, thought to myself, “OK, here goes” and turned out the light. I slowly laid back in the roughly 10 inches of water and let myself fully relax. I kept my arms at my sides for the moment and let my head and neck relax all the way back. Because the water is saturated with about 850 pounds of Epsom salt, I was buoyant and floating immediately.
It was completely pitch black inside the tank, so I couldn’t see anything. With the water completely covering my ears, I also couldn’t hear anything. The water didn’t feel cold at all and the air inside the tank and room was quite humid and warm, so I was very comfortable. I experimented with putting my arms in a few different positions — by my sides, back above my head, etc. I found I liked keeping them at my sides. For the first 15-20 minutes or so, I had to keep reminding myself to fully relax my body, as I kept catching myself tensing up my legs.
I kept my eyes closed for a while at first, but quickly realized it didn’t really matter if I kept them closed or not, either way I couldn’t see anything. I quickly forgot that I was even in water and felt that way throughout my float, essentially losing track of where my body ended and the water began. About 30 minutes in, I began experimenting with my movement while floating, twisting my body a bit from side to side, which provided a very interesting sensation while floating. I felt completely weightless.
While I don’t feel that I ever reached a fully “meditative’ state while floating (which isn’t surprising, my mind is constantly cluttered with busy thoughts), I did feel that floating provided a sensation of calmness. Numerous thoughts did pass through my mind while I was in the tank, but somehow the act of floating provided a collective clarity that allowed me to calmly look at and observe one thought and then move on slowly to the next. Every scenario or situation in my life that I’m currently struggling with passed through my mind, but during this time there were no feelings of anxiety, worry, stress or sadness attached to the thoughts — just the thoughts themselves.
One of my co-workers today asked me if I felt like I was in the womb again when I did my float. I had to laugh when she asked that because the thought of, “I wonder if this is what it feels like to be a baby in a mother’s womb” actually went through my mind several times while I was in the tank. It truly feels like you are floating in an infinite black hole of nothingness, or outer space.
A few times while I was floating, I would of course slowly drift over to one side and lightly bump the side of the tank. Each time that happened, it quickly brought me back to reality and reminded me that I was, in fact, not floating in outer space but was instead inside a tank.
Throughout the duration of my float, I continued to go back and forth between spending a few minutes effortlessly moving myself around in the water and then lying completely still and just feeling my breathing. I never felt the urge to fall asleep, but I imagine I could have pretty easily if I had wanted to. I played around in the water a bit, sometimes hitting it lightly with my hand just to make the small sound of a hand slapping water to help bring me back to the reality of sound. A few times I moved my hands slowly in front of my face, trying to determine if I could see them at all or make out their shapes. I could not.
And then, just like that, I began to feel the vibration of the music and lifted my head out of the water to see if I could hear it, which I did, signaling that my 90 minutes was up. Let me tell you, it did not feel like 90 minutes, it really felt like I had only been in there for about 30-45 minutes. I pushed the button to turn on the light and felt a little lightheaded as I stood up to exit the tank, but I definitely felt relaxed and refreshed.
As time passes and I have more time to reflect on my float experience, the more I truly think it was beneficial to me. Did I have some “aha!” enlightening moment? No. Did I reach a full meditative state? Nope. Did I experience any altered states of reality? Not necessarily. However, I truly believe that if I were to continue to regularly go do these floats that I would begin to experience some, if not all, of the things I just listed.
The benefits I think that I felt with my first float experience were mostly the benefits of deep relaxation. The fact that while I was floating my mind was able to calmly sort and process the anxious thoughts that I regularly have on a daily basis was a much-needed break from the chaotic way my mind tends to throw my thoughts at me every which way. Although floating isn’t something that I would necessarily do on an extreme regular basis, I can definitely see myself doing one or two floats a year, maybe more.
For those of you who have never heard of floating and haven’t researched it, here’s some of the pertinent information (all from Float On’s website).
A float tank (also called an isolation tank or sensory deprivation tank) is basically the “perfect bathtub.” Tanks vary in size, but the typical tank is eight feet long and four and a half feet wide. Air flows freely in and out of the tank, and the tank doesn’t lock or latch in any way. The tank holds about 10 inches of water that is saturated with 850 pounds of Epsom salt, which creates a solution more buoyant than the Dead Sea. You float on your back about half in and half out of the water.
Again, the water is kept at the average skin temperature of 93.5 degrees, which essentially allows you to lose track of your body. Since the tank is completely soundproof and completely dark when you turn off the light, there is no gravity, no touch, no sight and no sound.
According to the Float On website, there are numerous benefits that come with floating. Getting rid of all sensory input allows the constantly thinking and worrying part of your brain to chill out for a bit, which allows the creative and relaxed part of your brain to come through for a bit. Floating and relaxing also enables your body to lower its levels of cortisol, the main chemical component of stress. Your brain then also releases elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, which are neurotransmitters of happiness.
There are also many benefits to your body, as not having an gravity allows your muscles, joints and bones take a break. Taking a break from gravity allows your spine to lengthen, provides relief from chronic pain and allows your muscles to fully rest.
About 40 minutes into your float, your brain stops producing its normal Alpha waves and starts putting out Theta waves. Theta waves are responsible for the “between-waking-and-sleeping” state, and people make them every night before they go to sleep. The Theta state only lasts for a few moments in your bed, but a prolonged Theta state can be achieved in a float tank, a state of consciousness that is usually only seen in children and people who have spent years practicing meditation.
The magnesium-based Epsom salts used in the tanks also provided benefits, such as softening and replenishing the skin and helping to counteract the magnesium deficiency that many people have.
To find out even more about floating, learn about the history of floating and see a list of Frequently Asked Questions and answers about floating, visit http://floathq.com/.