I wanted to try out floatation therapy for a long time but, I must confess, just the thought of floating in a small pod for an hour made me claustrophobic. After reading many pieces by health and wellness figures I respect raving about the benefits, however, I did some research and found that Chill Space in midtown Manhattan has spacious float tanks—6’ x 8’ cabins with 10” deep water. A small room I could do. The general consensus among the pieces I read and Chill Space’s staff’s recommendation is that you need to complete at least three sessions of floatation therapy to give your body a chance to adjust to it and to reap the benefits. I adhered to this suggestion and I’m glad I did, because, as I detail below, I had a really rough start the first time just getting used to lying in the tank. By the third session, however, I worked out the kinks in my approach and experienced the calm and centeredness everyone talks about. I emerged from that session, and even the second one, like the Energizer bunny—all the usual things that phase me didn’t, and I was hyper focused and significantly more productive, plowing through my task list.
Inside the float tank.
The entrance to the float tank.
What is floatation therapy aka “floating”?
The goal of floatation therapy is to enter a deeper consciousness by lying in warm water made highly buoyant by the addition of healing Epsom salts (e.g. the water in a Chill Space tank contain 1,250 pounds of salt) in a quiet, dark environment. The idea is that all these factors combined—the darkness, warmth, quiet, and buoyancy—will cause you to completely relax, and the benefits of that rest will remain with you for a while after.
What is a float tank like?
Chill Space’s float tanks (it has two) are each in soundproof rooms with motion detector-activated lights which turn off after you’ve been in the tank for a few minutes. The tank itself has three buttons which (1) turn on an underwater light you can leave on for the entirety of the session; (2) turn on light music, which the staff recommends you leave off for the duration of the session; and (3) can be used to call for assistance respectively. Before entering the tank, you have to put in ear plugs and take a shower to wash your body before stepping into the tank. The facility provides an inflated head and neck rest pillow to use while floating, which I definitely needed. A small towel and spritzing water bottle are also supplied to use in case you accidentally touch your face and get salt in your eyes. When your one-hour floatation therapy session is complete, the music in the tank comes on. You then take another shower to wash off all the salt from your hair and body.
Session 1—Just Trying to Figure it Out
The first floatation therapy session, which I scheduled for earlier in the day, was challenging. Chill Space’s staff advised me beforehand that most people require around 3 floatation therapy sessions to adjust to the environment, and I quickly realized that that would be the case for me. For a girl who grew up in New York City, lying completely naked in water in a quiet, dark room was not an easy thing to do. I left the underwater light on, which made me more awake and unable to zone out. I also became frustrated because I could not settle on a comfortable position—my body was tensing up with my back overarching, and I could not figure out how to rest my head on the pillow without overextending my neck. It also did not help that I downed a whey protein bar about an hour earlier which made me feel nauseous when I was floating, so I kept taking breaks to sit Indian-style in the water. In the middle of all my fidgeting, I, of course, accidentally touched my face and had to spritz the heck out of it. I ended up exiting the tank about 10 minutes early because I was driving myself crazy with all my fidgeting. Needless to say, I did not manage to enter the desired relaxed state, though I did feel calmer having been alone for an hour without my phone or anything else to distract me.
Session 2—Finding My Groove
The second time around I repeated some of the same mistakes, but I did a better job of finding a comfortable position and left the underwater lights off this time, which made a huge difference. I again scheduled the session for earlier in the day, which left me pretty awake, plus I ate a light breakfast a little under two hours earlier which I still felt when I floated. Still, my body was better able to feel out its ideal float position this time around and I found just the right way to rest my head on the pillow. Though I did not drift off into the desired sleep-like state, I did zone out and just let the water support me, resting my back and letting my arms lie out. Unfortunately, I again emerged from the tank 10 minutes early because I felt nauseous. However, the float still managed to have a huge positive impact on the rest of my day. I was the most calm and focused I’d been in a long time, hammering out projects and not sweating the small stuff on a whole other level. The rest of the day flew by and left me genuinely excited to give floating a third try now that I figured out how to make it work for me.
Session 3—Third Time’s a Charm
This time I finally got it right and enjoyed the full one-hour float experience. I scheduled the session for 8pm after a metcon workout, when I knew my body and mind would be craving the rest. I made sure to not eat anything in the two hours beforehand. As a result, when I entered the tank this time, my muscle memory kicked in and I immediately just let the warm water embrace me as I closed my eyes and rested, entering into a light sleep state at times. When I woke up an hour later to the sound of music, I felt refreshed, with tension released from my body and mind. I did not realize how much of my daily life stress was stored in my muscles and joints until then. I went home, ate dinner, and had an incredibly deep, restful sleep.
Takeaway and Tips
I definitely want to float on a periodic basis because the combination of the floating plus the isolation is healing and just plain necessary for people leading very busy, social media-heavy lives. Especially for people who work out a lot, our bodies and minds are a bit too accustomed to absorbing pressure and stress and never releasing it. Floating helped me let go of deep-seeded tension I did not even realize I was clinging to.
I’m sure the floating experience and benefits obtained differ from person to person, but, that said, here are my lessons learned for approaching floating so that you will get the most out of it:
- If you are serious about figuring out whether floating works for you, plan to complete at least 3 sessions: As I mentioned earlier, Chill Space’s staff noted that most people require 3 sessions to adjust to floating and to give it a chance to work for them and, in my case, that was true. The muscle memory that enabled my body to relax and just be supported by the water did not develop until the third session. Even if I had not eaten beforehand or left the underwater lights on, I know I still would have squirmed around during the first session because just lying like that was foreign to my mind and body. During the second session, I knew what to expect so I was able to work out the kinks in my positioning without getting aggravated, so that by the third session I could just step into the tank and relax.
- Schedule your session for later in the day if at all possible: For me at least, being able to meditate did not help as much as being tired to the point that my mind and body were ready to relax. I thought my meditation skills (newly developed though they may be) would compensate for the fact that I was not at all tired. They did not. So to help the process along, I strongly recommend that you schedule your session, especially your first one, in the evening.
- Do not eat during the two hours preceding the session: Do not do as I did twice for some reason. Granted, I just may have a super sensitive stomach, but why risk it?
- Try to float in complete darkness: For my fellow 1 minute savasana peeps, I get it. The idea of lying naked in complete darkness and quiet for an hour is unfathomable. But, if at all possible, try to go without the light for your first session, even if just for a few minutes to test it out. I did not realize how much my mind is awakened by artificial light until I compared my experience during my first session against my second one.
If you decide to give floating a try or are already a fan, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section, including any tips you may have for others! To learn more about floatation therapy and the float tank experience at Chill Space, click here.