Surrounded by candles and cradled by memory foam at night, I’m essentially a broadly drawn parody of a millennial by this point, willing to try anything to battle the low-level anxiety and cyclical thought brought on by a frenetic life in the city that makes achieving sleep a nightly battle with that warm abyss.
I’d been meaning to check out flotation tanks for a while, which claim to offer unparalleled levels of relaxation, so I headed down to Floatworks in London’s Vauxhall this week to see how an hour of nothingness would affect me.
After disrobing and rinsing down in the shower, I climbed into the tank pod, which glows purple and is filled with 25cm deep water containing 525kg of Epsom salts. It’s this high concentration of salt that causes you to float, Dead Sea-like, and it's a surreal feeling, lying supine and finding your entire body completely supported - not so much so that you feel ejected from the water - it's more like you’re a handful of sand resting in a palm.
Closing the pod door behind me (which, claustrophobes be reassured, can be easily pushed open at any point) I was fully ensconced and ready to Zen the f*ck out. In order to ease you into the experience, you can turn the ethereal lights off when you’re ready and ambient music plays for the first 10 minutes, immersing you in a sound bath so pleasant I happily could have spent hours in there just listening to experimental jazz.
Exquisite ‘nothing’ was what I was after though, and indeed it is when there is no sound or light that the experience becomes truly transcendental.
A thing I didn’t expect: the pod regulates the water and air to be the same temperature (35.5 degrees), so you don’t really feel like parts of your skin are in the water and out, as is the case with a bath, which massively adds to the feeling of weightlessness. Like one of those ‘is it a rabbit or a hat’ optical illusions, there are times when it feels like you are entirely in water - as if caught in an enormous droplet and yet able to breathe - and others when it’s like being exclusively in air. Couple this with the fact that no surfaces or forces are impinging on you, and for all intents and purpose it feels like drifting in zero G in space, specifically deep space as the pitch black environment is wonderfully disorientating. At one point I realised through touching the sides that I had completely done a 180-degree turn in the tank without realising it.
For some, of course, this may be a little unsettling, and if you’ve never dabbled in dissociative drugs the loss of a sense of control might be a little intense at first. But that’s not to say that there’s really any reason to be hesitant about trying it, and as I mentioned, exiting the tank is very easy, as is calling an assistant via an in-pod button.
Drifting and, yes, occasionally imagining I was fixing something on the exterior of the ISS, I found that lying back with my arms above my head was most comfortable - vulnerable, in a way, and disarmed. The salt by the way, though you don’t want to get it in your eyes (stings a little), is actually very pleasant and makes your skin feel silky while you’re in the tank.
So what did I actually think about during the hour? Unfortunately not nothing, I’m not that skilled at meditation, but thoughts did come and go at a much more leisurely pace than they do on, say, the Tube. I would 100% get bored lying in a hammock or on a bed for an hour, but something about floating made me much more content to be completely inactive, physically and mentally. I was also surprised by how the positive effects continued after the experience. I’ve always been a believer that massages feel amazing while you’re getting them, but the second you’re out the door it’s - at least mentally - like it never happened. With floating however, I went there in a miserable, listening to Kid A mood, but headed home feeling much more serene.
In terms of it being a voyage of cerebral discovery, a second float might be required where I’m less focused on the novelty of it. For anyone interested in rolling down the speedometer on their brain I’d definitely recommend giving floating a try.
A single, hour-long float costs £50, with longer treatments and memberships available.
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