Imagine freeing your body from gravity and your mind from information overload – just floating in a peaceful, meditative state. That’s just what Shelby Johnson, Marketing Associate, experienced when she visited Float Harder Relaxation Center, which recently opened in Portland, Maine.
Flotation therapy spas and “float centers” are cropping up across the globe, offering an array of benefits, from stress reduction and pain relief to enhanced creativity and mental acuity.
“It truly is remarkable for the mind, body, and soul,” says Shelby, who has floated twice since Float Harder opened. “I would like to be able to do it once every four to six weeks. For me, it makes me feel very relaxed as it’s great for meditation and clearing of the mind. I feel rejuvenated after floating. The Epsom salts are very good for your skin.”
The Epsom salt is also what makes floating effortless. About a thousand pounds of Epsom salts are added to roughly ten inches of water in each float tank or pod, keeping your body completely buoyant. The water and air in the pod are heated to 93.5 degrees, the approximate temperature of the outside of your skin. You have control of the door and the light inside the tank. With the door closed and the light off, it is completely dark, and you are free from all distractions.
Float tanks aren’t a new phenomenon. Neuropsychiatrist John C. Lilly created the first “isolation tank” in 1954 at the National Institute of Mental Health to study the effect of sensory deprivation on the brain. He hypothesized that if all external stimuli are cut off then the brain would go to sleep, but he found that a surprising amount of cognitive activity takes place in the absence of stimuli. Later research delved into the therapeutic benefits of floating, and today, float therapy is enjoying a surge in popularity.
In the Q&A below, Shelby talks about her first floating experience.
How did you discover floating and what prompted you to try it?
A friend of mine had written an article about her son, discussing the benefits he had received from floating, and I was intrigued since I had never heard of it. I contributed to a Kickstarter project and received a free float, which I gave to my husband to try (to date he’s been 3 times). He’s a self-employed web developer, so floating has really helped tightness in his lower back due to long hours sitting at his desk.
What was your first time in the tank like?
There are three float rooms at Float Harder – two pods and room with a larger float tank. The first time I went, I tried one of the pods. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the amount of Epsom salts they add to the tank is so significant, it literally is effortless to float. I equate it to what it would feel like to be in a weightless environment, perhaps like outer space.
Was it totally dark and silent, or did you have lights and music?
I was able to choose the color of lighting and music I wanted to experience while inside the pod, but I was also able to turn the light and music off and be in a completely dark and quiet environment. I thought I might be a little uncomfortable trying complete silence and darkness, but I actually like it better than having lights and music. It really depends on how I’m feeling at the time.
Were you nervous or claustrophobic?
I was worried I would get claustrophobic if I shut the hatch to the pod, but I never felt confined or anxious. My neighbor went with me the first time I floated. It was her first time as well, and she was certain she would be claustrophobic in the pod. She told me she definitely would not be closing the hatch to the pod, but when we met each other in the waiting room after the session, she said she ended up closing the hatch entirely within the first five minutes.
How long were you in the pod?
The sessions are 90 minutes, and I thought I would be ready to get out earlier than that. However, the time went by so fast that when the session was over, I wished I had more time! I also dozed off occasionally, which before I floated I thought would be dangerous, but you can’t drown – it’s impossible for your head to go underwater.
What advice would you offer a first-time floater?
If you’re nervous, I would recommend booking with a friend at the same time. Be open-minded to the experience. It really is an amazing and surreal experience. It’s very restorative, and I think if you enjoy massage, acupuncture, or reflexology, you might like to incorporate floating into your relaxation routine.