Have you ever wondered why someone would willingly choose to spend an hour in a flotation tank? I certainly have. So when Chris Plowman, co-founder of Floatworks invited me to try a session, I curiously accepted his gesture. The plan had been to arrive at the Vauxhall-based premises in a relatively relaxed state with half an hour to spare.
But this is me and things are never straightforward.
There were both tube and train delays. And I’d left my London A-Z (yes, you know the old-school style book) at home and was reliant on Google Maps to get me to St George’s Wharf. Of course I ended up walking in completely the wrong direction and, of course, it started to rain. Flabbergasted and soaked through I called Floatworks. Fortunately, the receptionist explained that she received calls like this all the time (the clue is to look out for the Pret when you come out of the station).
Flotation therapy, also known as isolation therapy or R.E.S.T (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy) is having a moment again as people look for alternative and fun ways to de-stress. It dates back to the 1950s and was developed in the US by doctors Jay Shurley and John Lilly at the National Institute of Mental Health. They were interested in understanding how the human brain would respond to an environment devoid of external sensory input.
Put simply, you lie in a pool of salty water for an hour. Most people do it in the dark (I didn’t, but more on that later). According to Chris, floating is popular with athletes who use it as an alternative sports recovery technique and city executives looking to relieve stress fast. Some women float during pregnancy to alleviate aches and pains, while wellbeing enthusiasts who understand the benefits of rest and deep relaxation are also drawn to these pods.
Each flotation tank contains half a tonne of Epsom salts, which not only aids buoyancy but provides a hit of magnesium via the skin, which is said to be great for relaxing muscles and easing stiffness.
Interestingly, a study published in science journal PLOS One earlier this year described floating as a ‘promising technique for acutely reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression’.
Chris, who is one of the most chilled people I have ever met, freely admits he became burnt out after spending eight years working as a banker. “I got into banking because I thought that money and power were the things that were going to make me happy and successful and then I quickly realised they wouldn’t,” he says. “I was trapped there for eight years because I didn’t know what else I wanted to do and burned the candle at both ends. My mental health was really bad because I was doing the things that I didn’t believe in and didn’t enjoy.”
He then discovered the benefits of floating after injuring his back at the gym. “I was trying to recover, it was difficult and my physio suggested I give it a try. I floated and it changed my life. I shut my eyes and a lot of my worries, stress and anxiety disappeared.”
Around the same time Chris had started meditating – something he had never before contemplated. “When you grow up you hear about those things and they seem fringe and hippy. I thought I won’t waste my time doing that but when you’ve felt shitty for so long, it’s like okay, maybe it’s time to try something different. After floating I had a good idea of what I needed to do. We [his best friend Ed is a co-founder] set up in April 2016. We want to have as many people floating as possible because we know the profound impact it can have on people’s lives, especially when stress, anxiety and depression are rising so rapidly. Floating is the perfect counterbalance.”
But would it work for me…someone with a butterfly brain who gets bored very easily? This is how I got on.
My Floatworks Flotation Tank Experience
I was led to a plush semi-lit private room complete with an enormous shower and pod. At 8ft 6in long by 5ft 6in inch wide, the white tank was far bigger in ‘real life’ than I had envisaged. I was advised to pop in the earplugs, given Vaseline to smooth over any cuts or scratches I may have (heavily concentrated salt water stings!) and told to shower before making my way into the flotation tank. I was then shown how to open the lid – it was reassuringly easy and swung up and down – which allayed my initial concerns around feeling claustrophobic. Also, if I had any issues I could press a button and someone would be with me in the blink of an eye.
To be on the safe side, I laid out my emergency meds including my epi-pens. As some of you know I have mast cell issues and hot water can be a trigger, however, at 35.5c the water was just below body temperature.*
I glided into the silky pool and giggled like a little girl when I popped up. Ambient music played in the background and I pulled down the lid. I could do this. Five minutes later the music stopped. It felt eerily quiet.
Thoughts consumed my mind and I could feel a slight twinge in my neck. I then realised I’d left the halo – a blue plastic support that goes beneath your head and neck – hanging on the wall.
I lifted up the hatch, stepped out to retrieve it but by my eyes were in agony from the salt water dripping down my face. In my haste, I’d forgotten that there was a bottle of water inside the pod to assist with such emergencies. After five minutes or so they calmed down. Take two! As it was my first flotation experience I opted to leave the alternating rose and aquamarine lights switched on instead of lying in inky darkness.
My chattering mind was in overdrive trying to work out why I couldn’t really feel anything – the water is the same temperature as the air so everything seems to blend into one and it almost feels as though you’re suspended in nothingness. I focussed on deep breathing instead. The sensation that eventually followed was just wonderful. Cocooned within a wall of brilliant white light, I felt calm and at peace.
Now, I’ve written before about this peculiar altered state I seem to enter when I meditate – it can happen in just 45 seconds, and, truth be told, I sometimes stop when this occurs because I wonder where the heck it’s going to take me. I appreciate this sounds a little out there but it’s as though I’m disconnected from my body – stay with me – yet in a really deep state of relaxation.
And sure enough, it happened in the pod. Except I also had another profound experience – similar to when I tried tapping therapy, also known as EFT, for the first time. Imagine a candle flickering in your tummy or the excited feeling you’d have as a child the night Father Christmas was due to pay a visit. It was that.
When the music began playing to signal the end of the session I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe I’d spent almost an hour doing absolutely nothing but breathing and floating. I’d been in a dream-like, surreal state but not asleep. Afterwards, I headed upstairs to the Hollywood dressing room which had the works – hairdryers, hair straighteners, cotton buds – before retreating to the relaxation area complete with herbal tea and books.
My Floatworks Flotation Tank verdict
I know it sounds rather new-agey but I had such a profound experience in that pod. Every cell in my body seemed to be singing with joy and for the first time in the three years since my health fell apart, I felt completely and utterly safe. Whole, even. I walked out in such a blissful state. It was as though everything was stripped back and a metamorphosis had taken place. Chris says people often need three sessions to see if it’s for them. I know after just one that I’ll be back. And next time I’ll turn the light off!
Single floats start from £50 while a 3x float package costs £105.
For more information visit Floatworks.
Relax Ya Self To Health was invited to try a flotation experience in exchange for a review. As always, this post is based on my honest opinion and I would never recommend anything I do not believe in. Please note I am not a medical expert. This review is based on my own personal experience. If you have a medical condition or health concerns always seek medical advice from your doctor or registered healthcare specialist before undergoing new treatments.
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