After experiencing a floatation tank for the first time, Christopher Bryant decided to find out more about this incredible form of relaxation and talked to Peter Bell from Floatworks.
The first time I used a floatation tank I had little idea what to expect. I went as part of a planned day off with Damon, my partner. When you live in London it’s easy to let the city pass by, and not take advantage of what it has to offer, especially if you work long hours. We decided to make the day by using the 2 for 1 tickets that you can get when you buy a rail ticket to (and from) London. As soon as I saw that Floatworks was on the list I knew I wanted to try it out. And so after a trip to outer space via the 3D Imax at the Science Museum, we went on a trip to inner space.
There are so many myths, so many preconceptions, about floatation tanks, and I was carrying some of them in my head. There is the New Age side, in all its tie-dye wooliness, and there is the comedy side, the Ab Fab ‘Eddie follows another fad, has a claustrophobic dream, and hilarity ensues’ side. What I found was that it was neither.
When we arrived we were shown into separate, lockable rooms, in which there was a shower and floatation pod. The lid to the pod can be left open or closed, the light can be turned on or off, and you can get out at any time. And so I showered, put my earplugs in, lay back in the water and relaxed.
For the first ten minutes there is relaxing music, and yes it is on the New Age side, but when you are floating it starts to make sense. The sensation of floating, of weightlessness, is surprising and intensely pleasurable. I relaxed immediately, and the music washed over me. At first my mind was thinking, and then it started to switch off, which is something of a rarity. At times I fidgeted in the water but for the most part I just lay there.
The real surprise came afterwards. Damon and I travelled home from London Bridge in the Friday evening rush hour and thought nothing of it – it was as if we were still floating. When the train pulled into the station I was surprised. The 20 minute journey had gone by so fast. And that night we both slept as if we were away on holiday.
The next day I wanted to know more, to learn more, about the experience. And I wanted to share that, too. And so I decided I would make use of Polari, this “bully pulpit” as Theodore Roosevelt called public office (in a time when you could use the word bully to mean magnificent). I sent an email to Floatworks and arranged an interview with their marketing manager (and float guru) Peter Bell.
There is on the website, and in the centre, a list of benefits that can be derived from using a floatation tank, and this ranges from alleviating stress to handling depression. I started by asking Peter how floatation can affect the body in such dramatic ways.
“The first thing I’d say is that with a list of so many potential benefits people might think it’s like snake oil. There have been numerous scientific studies done on the different aspects of flotation therapy. They’ve shown significant results in terms of stress relief, reduction of cortisol, general well being, quality of sleep. There is a lot research to support it, and tens of thousands of anecdotal reports.”
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It increases blood sugar and suppresses the immune system. That certainly starts to make sense of the physical effects that floatation induces. “There’s a chain reaction in the body, and there are many steps in the chain toward health. If stress is the chink in your armour, then you’re more able to make healthy decisions that aren’t based on adrenalin and the stress in your body, and you’re not forcing chocolate bars and alcohol down to deal with it. It’s helping you develop a mind-set that leans toward a healthier way of living.”
And so how should someone who is stressed best use the floatation tank?
“If it’s quite drawn out stress it could take quite a few floats to get into it. If you’re so stressed you can’t switch off, your first float is not going to be as relaxing as it could be. And that’s normal. By your second or third you can get to a level where it’s relaxing you so deeply that the calm travels around with you, so then you can top yourself up, like maintenance.”
It is also about learning how to relax, almost like developing a technique. “The environment and the lack of stimuli takes over. There’s nothing else going on in there. After a while your brain starts to turn off.”
There are a lot of preconceptions about floatation. When I talked about it, quite a few people told me they were afraid of being shut in. “We reinforce that people are safe, that they can get in and out at any time. You are in control, you can stop the ride at any moment. When people realise that they can relax. The tanks are roomy and airy and there’s no sense of being trapped.”
Is the reason that the float starts off with music to reinforce that sense of being safe and comfortable? “Some people have silence, especially if they’ve been coming to use for a while, but for people just trying it you need to give their minds something to focus on, to slow their mental tempo down. Then when the silence comes it’s easier for them to slip into that.”
I want to know why the tanks, or pods, are shaped like they are, and why the water is the depth it is. “It should be wide enough for you to fit in comfortably with room to move and for about 10 inches of Epsom salt water. We’ve designed a tank, an i-sopod, that’s wider but not too wide that you lose the warmth and intimacy. If it’s wide enough that you don’t touch the sides then there’s an amazing sensory trick that happens. Your brain is always making a map of the universe through touch and sight. As soon as you stop moving, and you float – you’re not hot you’re not cold, you don’t see, you don’t touch – your mind and body aren’t necessarily talking. Then you can go to a much deeper level of relaxation, as there isn’t the constant reminder of the body.”
How should someone best prepare to get the most out of their float? “Any nicks or cuts are going to sting, so don’t shave on the day. If you do have any cuts or abrasions we provide Vaseline to smear on them. We also provide earplugs. Don’t be hungry or too full. Alcohol is a no no. Don’t drink caffeine. Just come in as natural and balanced as possible. And don’t be late because if you’re rushing you’ll spoil the experience.”
After talking to Peter I spent an hour in the tank that Floatworks designed and built, the i-sopod. It was sheer bliss. I definitely want to take out a membership, and to have this experience regularly.
Polari Magazine is running a competition in conjunction with Floatworks. Click here to enter and win a free float at the London Bridge centre.