Is Flotation Therapy The New Meditation?
Flotation Therapy isn’t exactly like Minority Report, where Tom Cruise finds Samantha Morton floating in a temperature controlled pool, meditative to the point where she can see the future, but that’s the basic idea: except you’re not captive, and Tom Cruise is probably farther uptown. And you might not see the future.
The practice of flotation, or Flotation Therapy—which many see as akin to meditation, or an elevated yoga experience—has been around for over forty years. It’s even been mentioned in episodes of The Simpsons and Frasier (serious credibility).
It’s a kind of R.E.S.T., or Restricted Environmental Simulation Technique; essentially, you’re floating in body-temperature salt water for an hour, and it’s dark, and the only sensations you can feel are your heart beating and your breath flowing. Many say it’s more effective than meditation because the water helps to disconnect your brain from your body. It’s safe and easy for pregnant women, unlike some yoga, and very, very low impact if you’re healing from any injuries.
We connected with Travel Beauty‘s content officer and Charlotte’s Book expert contributor, Claire McCormack, who not only tried floatation therapy but spoke with Lift / Next Level Floats owner, Gina Antioco. Gina described the experience “as waves, beginning at your center and emanating outwards; the moments when you let go, and feel your breath make its way through your system, while at the same time your body drifts away. It’s trance-like and feels as if you’re peeling off layers, breaking things down to a manageable level, forgetting your worries, transforming as you go. Suddenly everything that was stressing you out is now, somehow okay. It’s quite remarkable and when you think about how simple it is, you wonder why you haven’t been doing this your entire life.”
While somewhat similar to meditation or yoga, the effects of floating are distinctly different. “For many, beginning a practice in meditation can be frustrating. A person is asked to do nothing and suddenly his or her brain is doing everything. Floating is different because without any sensory input the brain chatter naturally slows down. The body is so relaxed that it just happens, almost effortlessly. While on the west coast I was able to observe the effects of floatation therapy. Our clients were often candid and shared the benefits they were experiencing, such as eliminating anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and painkillers from their daily routines. Others used it to deepen their meditation practice, lower stress and beat insomnia. I dealt with people working through traumas, PTSD and others recovering from surgeries. It was extremely rewarding, ” explains Gina.
Penny Brewer, the director of Point Zero Floatation Center in Abu Dhabi, told The National that brain rejuvenation is a key benefit. When you are relaxed, your brain activity slows into the more gentle waves of an alpha state. Being weightless in the water triggers this change and your awareness expands. Fears vanish, creative energy begins to flow and you experience a liberating sense of peace and well-being. For example, spending 60 to 90 minutes in the tank can feel like you’ve had six to eight hours of shut-eye.
Another benefit of floating is that it takes almost all of the pressure and weight off the joints and muscles, thus allowing you to relax and heal. It is shown to loosen the muscles, accelerate the recovery process and release endorphins. Meanwhile, the magnesium sulphate in the epsom salt bath is absorbed through your skin which can help to reduce inflammation, prevent cardiovascular disease, flush out toxins and help to ease migraines and headaches.
Claire McCormack visited Lift / Next Level Floats and describes her experience here:
My life is incessantly stressful, busy and loud; I love meditation when I do it but never take the time. I’m an introvert who craves solitude but never gets any. In other words, I was the perfect candidate to try Floatation Therapy.
Related Read: Digital De-stress: 5 Soothing Meditation Apps
I headed to Lift / Next Level Floats, a pristine floatation therapy center in Brooklyn—the largest on the East Coast. I’m not sure what I was expecting, certainly not something so spacious, but Lift / Next Level Floats exceeded my every expectation. It was immaculate. This was much appreciated in a place where I’d be taking an hour-long bath. Usually, the lounge area of a spa is where you wait before your appointment. Here, the lounge, complete with green tea, lots of natural light and a copy of Buddha and His Teachings, is where you hang post-treatment, as a kind of buffer between post-float you and the hectic city. So after a few quick instructions, Gina Antioco, founder, led me to one of the center’s five floating suites.
Choose a Floating Suite, Any Suite
You have a choice of floating suite: You can choose from their three Evolution Float Pods, which resemble giant eggs with clamshell lids or one of the center’s two Ocean Float Rooms, accessed by a side door. Kind of like a walk-in closet. I chose the latter because the confined space of the pods left me a little uneasy, and I didn’t want to spend the first 10 minutes of my inaugural float hyperventilating. These Ocean Float Rooms also feature 7-foot high ceilings adorned with a starlight effect, which appealed to me on a cosmic level. It was pretty and roomy enough for me to feel relaxed.
The Ocean Float Suite
A room within a room. The outer room is spacious, beautiful and contains a private shower, much like those bathrooms where the entire room is the shower stall. (I’ve always loved those.) Before I entered the actual floating suite, I was instructed to shower: shampoo, soap, no conditioner or body cream, pre-float. Gina left me to it, telling me to completely dry off my face before entering the tank, as that is the one part of my body that would be out of the water (you know…breathing).
Once I Was Done Showering
I stepped into the float room. Naked. You float naked. It’s super private, so it wasn’t at all uncomfortable, but I mention it because it was the one question everyone asked me. The first thing I noticed was the water temperature. Since I had just taken a shower, I was aware of how much hotter my shower (which was the temperature of all the showers I take) was than the water in the tank. I take very good care of the skin all over my body, and I was left to wonder how much of my careful exfoliating and moisturizing I negate by taking scalding (and therefore skin-drying) showers every morning! Lesson learned. The water in the tanks is set to skin temperature, which really allows you to lose yourself while floating; where your body ends and the water begins starts to blur.
Floating Is Easy
The water contains 1,000 lbs. of Epsom salt, which makes you extremely buoyant. There are neck pillows available for head support. Now perhaps it’s because I have a huge noggin, but I was not really comfortable until I put on the neck pillow. Once I did, voila! I was comfortable and totally afloat. If you’re worried that an hour-long bath will cause you to go through the rest of your day, post-float, looking like a raisin, fear not. An Epsom salt solution is actually moisturizing and hydrating and does not cause the same skin pruning most long dips do.
Related Read: Tired? Maybe It’s Time To Try R.E.S.T.
I Relaxed Immediately
Gina advised me to situate my body in the middle of the tank so I would be centered once the water went still. You do shift around slightly as you’re floating (like a boat on tranquil water) and you don’t want your arms or legs to hit the sides of the tank—you really do lose sense of your extremities, so if they were to all of the sudden touch the side of the tank it would bring an awareness back to them that’s counter-productive to the meditative aspect of floating.
How Was It?
Blissful. Not for one minute did I wonder when it would be over. The room had a magical glow to it—nothing too bright. Like a purply twilight. I looked up at the “starry” roof of the tank at first, but soon closed my eyes. In the pods, you can also play music, if you’re so inclined. That seems antithetical to sensory deprivation to me, but to each his own.
A Few Minutes Into The Float
I started to remember, in vivid detail, my dream from the night before. Soon after that, conscious thought stopped, and I was in a dreamy state. Not asleep, not awake; just zoned out. In a great way. I didn’t put pressure on myself to have some deep revelation during my float, and I didn’t try to meditate (which usually leads to zero actual meditation). I just chilled. In my dreamy state, I actually experienced what Gina told me were hypnagogic jerks, those tiny spasms your body has on the edge of sleep. These were annoying because every time it happened, I stirred the tranquil water that made sound in the otherwise silent tank. Since your ears are under the water this movement seems super loud. Luckily I zoned back out quickly after every jerk.
The End Of The Float Is Announced By Soft Music
Then you can shower again—at your own pace, there’s no rushing you out of the room—get dressed and hang in the lounge with a cup of green tea until you’re ready to rejoin civilization.
It Takes Three Floats
Gina told me the results really kick in after about three floats, when your body knows what to do immediately upon entering the tank, allowing you to get the full hour of therapeutic floating. Still, immediately after floating, I got in a car with my husband and kids for an hour drive. If anything were to test my zen, this was it! I was much less reactive than usual—the bickering and the traffic didn’t get under my skin like they usually do. I even sang along with the Taylor Swift songs my daughter demanded we play instead of scowling in the front seat for three minutes as usual. Now that is a definite transformation!
Gina Antioco, Founder, Lift / Next Level Floats