The thing that happens when you browse Groupon is that you end up discovering a bunch of services you had no idea existed, but that you’re now pretty sure that you need in your life. (Salt room treatments exist? I don’t even know what that does, but gimmie!) One thing I discovered that was particularly intriguing was sensory deprivation float tanks. Have you heard of these?
After reading up on float tanks and deciding that I totally had to try it out, I contacted the closest float spa to me, Theta Float in Springfield, MO. They were down to trade me a float session for a post sharing my experience, so I was psyched to try it out ASAP!
I should probably begin by explaining just what floating is. Float tanks come in all different shapes and sizes with various kinds of technology, but the kind I used (known as an Oasis Tank) is shown above. The tank is around 9 feet long and just wide enough that if I stretched out my (admittedly really long) arms, I could just touch the sides.
Inside, you’ll find around 10 inches of super salty water. The salt makes the water dense, so much like the Dead Sea, you float like a cork. It has an added benefit – they use Epsom salt, which is all kinds of good for your body. There’s a good chance you’ve taken an Epsom salt bath before either to detox or soothe sore muscles. When you do an Epsom soak at home, you’re probably dumping around half a pound of salt in your tub. This is a little like that, but instead of a couple of cups, they’re loading their tank with a thousand pounds of Epsom salts!
So much Epsom salt.
The basic idea is this: You kick back in a float tank for around an hour, and enjoy the break from the sensory overload that most of us live in all day long. The tanks are soundproof and totally dark, and the water inside is heated to be 93.5 degrees – about the same temp as your skin. So it’s dark and quiet and warm and the usual pressures of gravity are gone. All that’s left to do is hang out and relax and try not to spend the whole hour with Hamilton lyrics running through your head.
Theta Float Spa has three float rooms, and all three were booked for the time slot I was in. When the time came and everyone was there, one of the staff members took us into a room and gave us a thorough explanation of what to do, including safety info, how to stay the most comfortable, and tips for staying towards the center of the tank.
Documenting my experience is a little tough because a) it’s weird, and b) I’m sure that everyone is going to have a totally different experience based on all kinds of factors like how anxious they are, what kind of tank they’re in, etc etc. I’ll do my best, though, and I’m happy to answer any questions you have!
The process goes like this: You start by taking a 5 minute shower to make sure you’re not bringing any makeup, body oils, or other general funkiness into the tank. You then carefully get into the float tank (it can get slippery!), close the lid, and find a comfy floating position.
You can wear a swimsuit if it makes you more comfortable, but most float spas suggest going without so that you can get that total sensation of your body just dissolving, which can be tough if you have straps or bands putting pressure on your skin. Each room at the float spa is private – it has its own shower and the room’s door locks, so I felt totally comfortable going sans swimsuit.
Confession: Even though I’m not at all claustrophobic I wasn’t quite ready to float in the dark at first, so I used the provided washcloth to prop the door open just a crack so that it didn’t entirely seal out the light. After I got used to the general sensation of floating and felt comfortable (probably 15-ish minutes?) I was ready to switch to total darkness and try out the whole sensory deprivation thing. If you’re a little nervous about being enclosed in the dark, I’d definitely suggest easing yourself into it like this, or even starting out with the door totally open. The whole idea is to relax, so do what makes you feel most at ease! Having the little crack of light gave me the touchstone of “okay, there’s the lid” while I got comfy, but it was cool to lose all sense of space once that was gone.
The room I was in had lights that could be set to different colors (blue, green, purple, etc) and dimmed so that you didn’t emerge from the darkness of the tank to blinding bright lights.
Flash photo of the inside of the float tank. I’m just under 5’11”, and if I stretched out my fingers and toes I could just touch both ends. In normal floating position, I had around a foot worth of space to drift in any direction.
The thing nobody tells you is that you’d probably have to have monk-like zen to get in there and just float, especially your first time. Playing is impossible to resist. Even though I knew the salt makes it almost impossible to sink, I was still surprised to find that crossing my arms on my chest mummy-style didn’t affect my buoyancy at all, so of course then I had to experiment with all kinds of floating positions. I also discovered that you can get a really great side stretch when there’s no pressure from gravity messing things up!
The float spa I was at uses soft, sort of dreamy music piped into the (otherwise soundproof) float tank to let you know that the end of your float session is about 5 minutes away. I later learned that you can request music to play throughout your entire time in the tank, but they strongly suggest going the silent route for your first float. I was encouraged to take my time after the music came on – there’s no reason to ruin your chilled out vibe by rushing to get out of the tank and get dressed. Hang out for a few minutes to float with the music, then slowly emerge back into the world with it’s crazy stuff like light and gravity.
Being in a dark, silent environment where you can’t do anything but just lie there isn’t an experience that we have that often. Usually, if we have to wait in a two minute line at a coffee shop, we have our phone out checking Twitter. We almost never just *exist*, alone with our thoughts. Float tanks can be great for creativity and meditation, but just being left alone with your thoughts for an hour or so can be quite the experience. My brain tends to run a million mils an hour with like 50 tabs open every waking minute, so trying to shut it off in the tank was something I only accomplished for a few minutes at a time, but even those few minutes were probably really good for it.
Post-float, you definitely want to shower again to get the weirdly slimy salt off your skin and hair. (At one point while I was floating I went to rest my hands on my stomach and was surprised to find that the water IS slippery – it made my skin feel slimy, for lack of a better word. Salt is weird.) The hot water felt REALLY good after an hour in the 93.5 degree tank!
Answers to a few common questions about floating: No, you won’t drown if you fall asleep in there. If you somehow managed to flip over onto your stomach (which would be a hardcore acrobatic feat given how differently your body moves in this water), the crazy salt levels hitting your eyes and nose would wake you up immediately. Yes, the water is super duper filtered between tank users, so it’s about a billion times more sanitary than any other body of water you might go in after a stranger, like a pool or hot tub. And don’t worry: the crazy physics of floating in this kind of tank make it so that your eyes and nose naturally stay out of the water. If you do manage to get stinging salt water in your eyes (pro tip: avoid all urges to touch your face in there), there’s a towel and fresh water just outside the tank.
TL:DR for that last paragraph? There’s very little chance you’re gonna hurt yourself in the floaty box. It’s cool, you can relax.
While I didn’t have the totally euphoric experience that some people get with their first float, it was definitely fun and relaxing and a really cool experience to try. I’d definitely go again, especially since I’d have a better chance of totally relaxing since I know what to expect and am comfortable with the whole idea of shutting myself in a small dark tank now. (We do such weird things for fun, you guys!) I’d also love the opportunity to try out some different types of tanks to see how the experience differs!
A few interesting resources on floating if you’d like to learn more: This one at Men’s Journal (pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve linked to that site in my life), this post at Healthy Crush – I just discovered her site and really like it!, and this BuzzFeed video of people trying sensory deprivation tanks for the first time. There’s even a really in-depth book on Amazon!
If you live in or will be visiting the Springfield / Branson area, be sure to check out Theta Float Spa on Facebook, Twitter, and their website! They have all kinds of great specials and packages available so you can get a great deal on your float experience. If you’re not near my little corner of Missouri, either hit up the ol’ Googles or try a site like Groupon or Living Social to find a place to float near you! I’d love to hear how your experience goes!
Have you ever tried a float tank? Would you? What other kind of crazy health/spa services should I check out next? Let me know!