“I just spent that last hour floating in a pitch black, dead silent tank full of salty water,” I announced breathlessly to my housemates as I rushed through the door, still in a half daze. They all stopped and stared at me for a few moments, not quite sure what to make of the rapid announcement. Looking at me sheepishly one brave housemate finally piped up, “Sooo, did you do that fully nude?”
Let me start by saying that I love baths, like a lot. There’s really nothing better than a long soak in the tub with a large glass of wine and a good book. So when I was offered the opportunity to try float relaxation at Auckland’s Float Culture, I was instantly excited. That was until I found out that you can’t take wine into the tank with you. And also there is no light… so reading is probably out of the question too.
The longest running float tank centre in Auckland, Float Culture specialises in offering floatation experiences that benefit the body and mind. Used by a wide range of people, floatation has a range of benefits including relieving stress, reducing anxiety, helping to soothe sore muscles and encouraging creativity.
Situated within private rooms, each tank looks like a large space-aged pod and is filled with a super-saturated Epsom-salt solution about 30cm deep. Each tank is warmed to 35.5 degrees C, making it about the temperature of a warm bath. Because the salt solution is so concentrated, without even trying you will float to the top of the water, making for a unique weightless experience.
The catch – the tank is designed to provide a full sensory deprivation experience, meaning you can’t see or hear a thing. After awhile the side of your brain that perceives touch also slows down, meaning that you can’t even feel the water around you. Yeah, kind of spooky stuff, right.
Slightly nervous for the experience that lay ahead of me, I walked sheepishly through the door of Float Culture one evening after work. To my surprise I was not overrun by strange, new-age hippies, but a very normal and nice man who greeted me warmly and made me feel at home instantly.
While they didn’t exactly offer me wine, they did offer me kava to help me relax as I watched the tank briefing video and read the information booklets on what to expect. “Floatation isn’t new, but it’s pretty new to New Zealand,” the receptionist explained. “Floatation has actually been around since the ’60s but it has only really been popular in the mainstream for a while.”
After my mouth was numb from the kava and I had reassured myself that I wasn’t going to drown in a shallow tank of salty water, I was ushered to my float room – a stylish and very private room with a tranquil forest picture on the wall. After having a thorough shower to remove all of the dirt and beauty products on my skin, I hopped into the tank, concentrating on trying to say calm… and not drowning of course.
Because I have sensitive skin, the salt solution stung my skin for the first few moments of contact, however the sensation quickly went away. As I lay down in the water and closed the lid of the tank, calming music began to play and I reached over to switch off the tank light.
I’m not going to lie, for the first 15 minutes I wasn’t a fan of the whole experience. After freaking out about how dark and silent it all was I began thrashing around in the water trying to find the tank lid and managed to get salt water in my eyes. If there is one piece of advice I could give you it would be this – DO NOT do this. Seriously, the salt water feels like acid in your eye balls and nobody likes that. Thankfully there is a squirt bottle of fresh water in each tank so that you can flush out your eyes if need be – so needless to say, I used that liberally.
After recovering from my incident and leaving the tank for a few minutes, I made a conscious effort to relax and once again entered the dark tank. After a few minutes I felt myself beginning to relax and after a few more minutes I even started to enjoy the experience. Apart from being groggy in my warm and cozy bed, I don’t even remember feeling as relaxed as I did floating in the tank and the experience was made all the better by the fact that I felt weightless.
A little while later without even trying, my brain kicked into creative mode and I found myself beginning to brainstorm ideas for creative projects that I had been planning for the past few weeks. Just as I was beginning to feel completely at home in the tank, a soft murmur of music began to play in the tank, signalling the end of my 60-minute session.
After about five minutes I left the tank, once again showered to remove the salt, and made my way back to the reception area where I spent a period of time relaxing and allowing my brain to enter back into the real world. While the experience was difficult to get into at first, I left Float Culture feeling relaxed and energised, more aware of my surroundings and more in tune with my thoughts.
My final recommendation – give it a go. I would guess that float relaxation won’t be to the liking of everybody, but if you give it a real chance you may be surprised by how much you enjoy it. Turns out that sometimes having a big bath in the dark, without the wine or book is okay after all.
Oh and by the way, I was wearing my swimsuit and unless you’re into the whole ‘free and easy’ scene, I would suggest you do the same.