Imagine being weightless, warm and completely free from the outside world for an entire hour of your day. Sound like bliss? Then you should try ‘floating’ or floatation therapy.
Getting your float on
Floatation therapy or sensory deprivation takes place in a floatation tank filled with Epsom salt water solution – that’s what makes you float! These tanks are enclosed, spa-like pods, heated to body temperature. They are also light and sound-proof, removing all outside stimulation. This combination of weightlessness and sensory deprivation can result in a deep level of relaxation unlike anything else.
Floating is a ‘relaxation shortcut’ because it can be a more effective way to de-stress, slow down and focus than other alternative therapies. You can also boost your creativity and mental clarity from experiencing uninterrupted peace.
Anxious about floating?
If the idea of entering a closed dark pod makes you anxious, don’t worry. You can choose how much light is left on in the room and in the pod. You can also choose to have music played if you prefer that. Many first-timers choose to keep the pod open for their initial session but feel comfortable enough by the second or third session to close the pod and enjoy the deeper relaxation.
Do keep in mind that float tanks have been used as stress management strategies, with regular users reporting increased feelings of optimism.
Any float therapy session can be customized to suit your preferences. Most spas in Melbourne and other locations recommend at least an hour of floating because it may take about 20 minutes for you to fully relax and enjoy the experience, but some centres may offer shorter durations for customers who want to try it first. Talk to your local float centre before making a booking to understand which options are best for you.
The only aspect which may be out of your control is the temperature of the water. During float therapy, the temperature of the water is controlled to keep it at the same temperature as your body. This ensures that you don’t feel dizzy or dehydrated or suffer chills during your session. The idea is to provide a comfortable floating experience that doesn’t distract you with extreme temperatures.
Some centre offer float therapy in tanks or small pools instead of pods. You may like to start with that if closed spaces like pods sound challenging. Do note that a pod is usually large enough for a six-foot tall person to lie down, stretch out, or sit up. When you float inside a pod, there is enough space to lie flat in the water without touching the sides.
Floating is one of the best natural remedies for boosting wellbeing and enhancing a healthy lifestyle.
Floatation therapy: Floating depression and anxiety away
Aside from helping with stress, floatation therapy may also help in the treatment of mental health disorders such as anxiety. Floating works to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is what brings the body back to a state of balance when we experience something stressful. Paired with all the meditative elements of floating, this can help to reduce panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms.
Keeping your physical health afloat
Floatation therapy is also linked to a range of physiological benefits. Epsom salt is packed with minerals, including magnesium, which can help:
- relieve headaches
- reduce hypertension
- prevent the onset of diabetes
- promote bone growth
- heal tired muscles (making it a favourite with athletes!) and boosting muscular strength
Floating is great for pain relief and easing muscle tension. Research has also found that floatation therapy may lead to a better night’s sleep, which can improve overall wellbeing.
What is sensory deprivation and how does it help?
A floatation pod is surrounded by a sound-proof room with dimmed lights. When you enter the water, you will not hear or see any significant distractions. Supported by the salt in the water, your body feels light and buoyant and starts to remember how to relax. Some people believe it feels like being in the womb again.
Sensory deprivation and the body
Sensory deprivation allows your body to enter a state of deep relaxation. This calms anxiety and releases pent-up stress from the muscles. The salt content in the water reduces muscle inflammation and soreness, making it an effective treatment for chronic pain, and migraines.
Salt water is a common curative for tired feet or for someone feeling unwell. It is known to remove toxins and relax the body. Many athletes like to use float therapy or salt water baths after a gruelling training or sporting event. It may even be recommended as a complementary treatment for those undergoing physiotherapy.
In modern float therapy, the use of Epsom salts promotes muscle relaxation and lymph drainage, leaving you feeling physically rejuvenated and flushed of toxins. Epsom salts contain magnesium, which is very therapeutic for your skin and body. The water may feel silky or dense and soft and will soften your skin and relax stiff or sore muscles. As your skin absorbs the magnesium, your body is drained of toxins and harmful free radicals.
Sensory deprivation and the mind
As you enter a state of deep relaxation, your mind is free to process emotions and reduce the overload of information. In our lives, we are overstimulated from an excess of content and distractions. Even an hour of float therapy gives you a break from this and stimulates brainwaves that usually only occur during sleeping.
The music played during your float therapy session is curated music for mental health. People suffering from anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, sleep irregularities, or stress-related conditions may find that their symptoms are reduced with a few sessions of float therapy. You focus on your body and your Self, which is similar to the way an hour of meditation works on you.
In our lives, our brains work overtime to process the stimulus of people, sounds and sights, physical fatigue, the pressures of the workplace, multiple devices, and your own internal stresses and fears. Your flight-or-fright reflex is at high levels, which means your body is always primed for threat. It can be exhausting for your body and mind.
During float therapy, your brain receives a chance to reset itself. Your heart rate and blood pressure come down and you feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed. Those who have experienced sensory deprivation report feelings of euphoria, boosted wellbeing, deep peace, increased creativity, and a feeling of spiritual awakening.
Do note that float therapy is not a cure for any existing conditions. It cannot cure insomnia, depression, chronic pain, and similar specific conditions. It can provide relief from symptoms related to muscle pain or stress, and is helpful for improving general wellbeing and relaxation, which may have an effect on other health complaints.
What to expect during your first float therapy session
When you arrive for your float therapy appointment, you will be asked to fill in some paperwork. Do make sure you get to the float centre at least 15 minutes before your appointment so that you have time to prepare in a calm, unhurried manner.
You will be provided with towels, shower essentials like shampoo and bodywash, ear plugs, and a private changing room and shower. You may bring your own toiletries, robe or towel, and hair brush. Carry a small face towel that you can take into the pod with you, to wipe your face and prevent salt water from dripping into your eyes. Choose loose clothing to wear after your float therapy session, and don’t forget to bring a waterproof bag to carry your wet swimsuit home.
After that, you’ll be ushered to a room with the float tank or pod inside. Most float therapy centres offer private rooms with your own float tank so you can enjoy solitude, but you can choose to float as a couple.
You may be given a short briefing by the float professional before you begin. Then you’ll shower, change into your swimsuit and step into the pod. Float centres recommend that you float in the nude for a back-to-nature experience, but you are free to keep your swimsuit on if you wish. (The pods are thoroughly drained and disinfected between clients, and the water is changed, so you don’t have to worry about hygiene.)
You will be in charge of adjusting the settings in the room to your own comfort level. Some people may prefer to dim the lights, float in darkness, or change the colour of the lights to a soothing blue or meditative green.
You may decide to have listening music played or to float in silence. Most sessions last for an hour and some centres offer music for just the first 10 minutes to help you relax and enter deep relaxation. The music plays 5 minutes before the end of your session to bring you out of your calm meditative state.
The water in your float therapy session is heated to match the temperature of your body, so you won’t be able to change that. You don’t have to worry about drowning or knowing how to swim – the water is filled with therapeutic Epsom salt so you will float naturally. There is a head support or neck pillow in the pod to keep your neck relaxed.
Many centres have pods that can be closed so that you can enjoy the deep relaxation. The handles are located inside the pod so you can open them at any time. You can also choose to keep the pod open if you prefer it this way.
After your session is over, you can shower and change. You’ll feel relaxed and calm, limber and refreshed, as if you have just completed a healing meditation session. It is recommended that you try floatation therapy at least three times to experience the full benefits.
Before, during, and after your float therapy session
There are some things to note before your float therapy session:
- Don’t use box hair dye or highlights 2 weeks before your float session
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol or other stimulants for 12 hours before your float session
- Don’t shave or wax 12 hours before the float therapy because the salt water can sting
- Avoid getting a spray tan in the week before float therapy
- Avoid wearing jewellery to your session
- Eat something light an hour before your session so you are not distracted by hunger during the floating
- Take a shower before your session so you are refreshed and can enjoy your float
- Avoid touching your face during the session because you may get salt water into your eyes
Before your appointment, you might like to call and enquire about any special requests or about what to bring. Most float therapy centres offer basic toiletries but you might prefer to use your own.
Make sure your devices are turned off or muted and left in the changing room so that you are not disturbed during your session.
During your float therapy session, relax and enjoy the new experience. A float tank is a safe place so you need not worry about drowning. The salt in the water makes it feel viscous and heavy, but it will keep you afloat.
Use the bars on the side of the tank to get in and out because your feet may be slippery. Avoid making any sudden movements so you don’t splash salty water on your face.
You are not required to move in the water. Find a comfortable floating position, relax your neck and back, and allow the water to support you. You may like to put your hands behind your head or move your arms upwards or alongside your body to find which position is best for you.
Breathe slowly and deeply and allow your mind to wander. You don’t need to know how to meditate to experience the calming nature of float therapy.
If you drift during your float therapy and feel the sides of the pod against your arms or legs, avoid pushing off too enthusiastically. Make gentle movements to prevent splashing and adjust your position carefully.
After your float session, you can shower and change. You may feel emotional or overjoyed, relaxed, alert, or sleepy, so avoid planning anything important for the rest of your day. Some people feel slightly disoriented after their deep relaxation, so give yourself time to “come back to yourself”.
Drink a lot of water to rehydrate and so that any toxins can be eliminated. Eat light nourishing meals and avoid caffeine or alcohol for the day.
- If you are menstruating, you should avoid float therapy.
- If you are pregnant, check with your doctor about float therapy. It can be very relaxing but may not be suitable for your trimester.
- If you have epilepsy, open wounds, recent surgery, or kidney trouble, float therapy is not recommended.
- If you are claustrophobic or if it’s your first time, you can keep the lid of your pod open.
- If you have infectious conditions, avoid float therapy.
If the idea of floating appeals to you, Avaana can connect you with a licensed float centre. At the beginning of your appointment, a professional will talk you through the process, ensuring you’re able to get the most out of the floatation experience. Get ready to float all your troubles away!