Updated: Jun 9
Over the past couple of years, I've gotten into trying out different therapeutic stress relief techniques. From yoga to acupuncture to essential oils, I've pretty much tried it all.
What exactly is float therapy?
You may have heard about something called float therapy, or sensory deprivation tank therapy, one of the latest wellness crazes. The basic idea is that by floating in an isolated, sound-proof tank filled with up to a foot of salt water for about an hour, you experience a state of restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST). The water is heated to room temperature and filled with Epsom salt, comprised of magnesium sulfate. If you've ever been to Israel and floated in the Dead Sea, it's the same idea. Luckily for me, I was able to experience it firsthand while on a Birthright trip to Israel in 2007. However, you can also experience it at a float spa.
It's all about being left alone with no distractions from the outside world. According to research cited by Healthline, the benefits of the experience can include reduction in stress and anxiety, muscle relaxation, improved sleep, and decreased pain. The deeply relaxed state that your brain enters is said to reportedly lead to "enhanced creativity" and, possibly, even hallucinations. Other possible reported benefits include increased focus and concentration and better athletic performance.
What was my first floating experience like?
The images you may come across online (like the one above) look super cool, but it's one thing to read about it and another to actually do it. I recently had the opportunity to try it out for myself at LMA Mineral Float, a float spa located in Southampton, Pennsylvania, on a random Thursday afternoon. Oh, and just what does LMA stand for? "Leave Me Alone." Gotta love it!
In preparation for the experience, I was told to eat something light beforehand to avoid being hungry and to avoid shaving for at least 24 hours prior to the session.
This particular float spa also has a sauna, so I started off by spending some time in there. The timer was set for 35 minutes, but I have to admit that because of my low blood pressure and ability to get dehydrated pretty easily, I got out after only 20 or 25 minutes. I was really enjoying it, though; there was just that underlying sense of worry that crept up on me.
And that underlying worry is actually what can hamper a newbie's floating experience. The whole point is to get out of your head.
Bathing suits are optional
Every spa is different, and, at this particular one, bathing suits are optional. I planned to bring a suit, but, like me, I forgot it. I can't remember the last time I've been naked anywhere outside my bedroom, so that was a little weird. After the sauna, I put on my robe and headed over to the float tank room for the main event, my hairy legs in tow.
Showering is required both before and after floating, and, if you know me well, you know that I try to avoid showering when I can. Okay, that sounds terrible, so let me explain. It's not that I don't enjoy taking showers; sometimes I even find them relaxing, but, for me -- between shaving, washing my hair, and blow drying it afterward -- the process takes about an hour out of my already busy day. Luckily, this was a quick shower -- no shaving obviously. I was told to wash my hair with shampoo prior to getting in the tank but to avoid using conditioner. After getting out of the tank, however, it was totally fine to use conditioner.
I closed my eyes throughout most of the experience and do admit that my mind wasn't wandering like crazy -- at least, not consciously. But subconsciously, it may have been. Though I didn't feel worried at the time, I feel as though something prevented me from fully letting go. I do love the feeling of floating -- the last time I really enjoyed floating in a pool of water was in Florida in 2019; floating in the pool with the warm sun on me felt amazing. So I know I can get there.
While floating in the tank, I remember being unsure of one thing: How would I know when I was done? Would a timer go off, or would I hear a knock on the door? Hmmm, I forgot to ask.
After floating awhile, with my eyes closed on and off, the room started to feel stuffy, so I opened the lid and let the fresh air envelope me -- which felt really good.
At one point, I decided to get out, since I had no idea how long I was in there, and I needed to shower. And I am not known for my speedy showers, so, yeah, maybe I was trying too hard to stick to the time. Besides the fact that I had to get back home in time for dinner before a 6pm appointment.
After exiting the tank, showering, and getting dressed, I learned that I actually exited the tank after only 30 minutes! Oy.
Of course, this was the first time I did something new. And we all know that the first time we do anything, it's never the best, right?
Reflecting on the experience
Mindset is huge here. You really need to engage in this experience on a day that you have time and can relax. If you go into the experience thinking about your mile-long to-do list, there's a good chance you won't reach the state of relaxation that it's designed for. And I think that my questioning when I'd be done and thinking about the time possibly prevented me from reaching that desired restful state. It's the same reason I don't always enjoy reading books, actually. I have those moments when I'm deeply "in it," but, more often than not, I'll start looking ahead to find out how many pages are left in the chapter. Ugh. So not what the experience should be about, but I can't be the only one guilty of it, right?
This restful state of inspired creativity is something I have reached before. I've been doing acupuncture about weekly for over a year now, and I have had those times where I feel super inspired and creative during it. But then I also have those times when I don't. And the first time I definitely didn't.
Of course, right afterward, when I was asked what I thought, all I could muster was, "It was really relaxing." My brain seriously felt like mush.
I did sleep well that night, I do have to say. I was so tired, in fact (likely from the magnesium), that I had to take a nap after dinner. As for that 6pm appointment I had? That never happened. I rescheduled it since there was no way I was getting off the couch and engaging in a coherent conversation.
So, what would I say I learned from my first time floating?
Go later in the day -- not before you have anything planned. Though some experienced floaters enjoy going in the morning to prepare for the day ahead, for those less experienced, it's likely you'll be tired afterward.
Expect to be there for about an hour and a half to two hours.
Make sure you're in the right mindset beforehand. If you're having a stressful day, it's likely the floating won't magically make it all disappear. A good practice is to avoid looking at your phone for about 30 minutes to an hour before.
Ask all the questions you need to beforehand (like, How will you know when you're done?).
Be open to the experience, and don't expect miracles the first time. We're so used to the quick fix of Western medicine that it's easy to dismiss something right away because you didn't experience the results you were looking for.
While I thought the experience was nice and relaxing, I recognized that it could have been better. I'm open to trying again because I know that we -- our heads, our minds -- are often our own worst enemies. It's all about mindset.
How will next time go? Stay tuned!
Have you ever tried float therapy? If so, what did you think? I'd love to hear from you and share experiences!