Having launched in Vauxhall with bookings being made up to 10pm, 7 days a week (including a waiting list for ‘overnight floats’), FloatWorks seems to be rapidly achieving its plight to foster a new trend on the wave of Mindfulness and Wellbeing.
What is floating? Floating consists of lying in a floatation pod filled with 1000lbs of Epsom Salts (double the density of the Red Sea) and indulging in a total sensory shut off, as you weightlessly relax your entire body whilst wearing earplugs in pitch black darkness. Imagine finding yourself in the Red Sea at midnight except that the water and air are heated to body temperature for maximum comfort.
A little history: Floating goes as far back as the 1980s, Dr John C Lilly was a neuroscientist, psychoanalyst, philosopher and inventor who used isolation or sensory deprivation tanks to further his research on the nature of consciousness.
Benefits? The benefits of flotation are purported to be akin to existing research on meditation and its effects on improving mood, lowering anxiety and stress, improving focus, alleviating some aches and pains and helping you sleep.
My Experience: Pre-float I was slightly anxious about what to expect and kept wondering if the outcome would be one of two – either fall into deep REM sleep for an hour or become immensely claustrophobic. My fears were quickly allayed by the infectiously happy and enthusiastic team at St George’s Wharf, a disposition that may be testimony to practicing what they preach, considering they were still working at 9pm on a Sunday.
I was given a drink and a set of instructions about how to use and prepare for the isolation pod: bags and shoes are stored in lockers outside and you are advised to use the bathroom before the session begins. You don’t need to bring anything but yourself as it’s all provided, including GhDs / hairdryers for afterwards. Slipping on a pair of their pink flip-flops and grabbing a clean towel, I was shown to my room – every client gets their own room complete with shower and flotation pod.
You are walked through how everything works by a member of staff before you begin. Bathing suits are optional so naturally I opted for my birthday suit. Everyone is advised to take a shower before entering and hygiene is maintained by the high saline content of the tank. The water is also automatically filtered by a 1 micron filter, 1/100th the diameter of a human hair, before every customer and contains a small amount of disinfectant and UV light.
Once showered you must dry your face and cover up any cuts with the vaseline provided. Drying your face is important as if you try and touch your eyes with the salty tank water you’ll find yourself anything-but sensory deprived – a squirty water bottle hangs inside the pod just in case (I’m ashamed to admit, I had to use this). If you’ve heard the phrase ‘rubbing salt in the wound’, then you’ll understand the need for vaseline. Put it on your fingers if you’re a nail bed biting stress-head and on any freshly shaved areas of your body. Mouldable ear plugs are also provided in a pleasing glowing orange.
Getting into the tank: I prioritised putting my forever racing mind slightly more at ease by making sure I felt like I knew how everything worked: control of the light – check, being able to open and shut the pod with ease – check… there’s not much else to it after that. Yet I still pre-occupied myself for a good while with thoughts of whether or not I was doing it all properly: when does the session start? Do the lights outside go off? Shall I try and sleep or shall I try and meditate? Don’t touch your face again. Am I lying the right way, shall I move around? I wonder how I’ll feel after this? What was that sound?!.. If you’re stomach rumbles in one of these things, it sounds like the apocalypse.
When I first read the FloatWorks website, I scoffed at the idea that ‘it takes practice to become good at floating’ – how can it take practice to learn to chillax in salt water? Yet I now understand that it’s not merely the physical aspect of floating that is hard, but the mental one. It is the same with most forms of mindfulness and meditation, although it sounds easy, training your brain to truly calm down is hard work! You can learn everything about mindfulness and talk about how to meditate all you like, but knowing the theory does not change the fact that the only way it will make a difference to you is via practical application and consistent practice. It would be like learning driving theory without ever actually getting behind the wheel of a car.
Lying down comfortably can take some time as I kept feeling the tension building up in my shoulders, this apparently eases the more you float and your muscles get used to being able to relax in this way. My breathing, my heart beat and my stomach have never sounded so loud. My skin was also left incredibly soft by all the salts and magnesium.
Contrary to what you might expect, you may at first feel bored or even frustrated after a while, testimony to the fact that we become accustomed to finding it increasingly hard to truly shut off with so much stimulus in our day to day environment. I did’t fall asleep but my hour-long session felt as though it had ended all too soon, the lights returned and music began to play as jets gently propelled the water around the pod to be filtered. I rinsed off, ensuring not to let salt water drip into my eyes and headed upstairs to explore the tea room.
Post-float: The ‘chill out room’ is stocked with a variety of herbal teas, magazines, bean bags and dim lighting. Reflecting on my rebirth after the womb-like experience, I can understand the appeal of the overnight float waiting list, especially for those who struggle to sleep. It is almost impossible to drown as the high density salt water prevents you from being submerged. Despite being back on my normal mattress later that night, I slept better and deeper than I have done all month, the only issue being that I was virtually un-rousable the next morning.
It costs around 55 pounds for a single float, however there are plenty of offers and monthly membership options available to those that find themselves addicted and reaping the cumulative rewards. This is also about the same amount you would expect to spend on other ways to relax such as a massage or spa session in London.
The trend has really taken off in Northern America and the Netherlands, with endorsements from many successful athletes who maintain that it contributes to improving performance and visualising success.
We are happy to go to the gym and train our bodies, yet so few of us take the time out to train our minds, despite our mental and physical health being so closely linked. Further information about booking and FAQs can be found on the FloatWorks website here.