‘Do sensory floatation tanks cause hallucinations?’ ‘Can you drown in a floatation tank?’ ‘Are floatation tanks sanitary?’ Whatever you do before you head merrily off to your first floatation therapy session, don’t google it. Floatation pods are safe and clean, but the auto-correct bar will certainly put you on edge.
Due to increased scientific evidence, floating is becoming a more common therapy for people wanting to deal with chronic pain, stress and anxiety. A 2018 study found that patients with anxiety and stress-related disorders reported that, after one-hour in a floatation pod, they experienced significant reductions in stress, muscle pain and depression, as well as improvements in serenity, relaxation and happiness.
This week, Crouch End-based fitness centre 3Tribes has expanded to Borough and with the new opening has launched three float tanks. Since I’m always on the quest for a new way to relax, I headed down to try it out.
What happens during floatation therapy?
Each floatation pod is in a private room, so lock the world out, hop in the shower, pop in the earplugs provided and use the Vaseline to seal any irritated skin, like open cuts or eczema. The water inside the pod is saturated with Epsom salts and burns if it gets anywhere near your eyes or, as I found out, your nostrils, so do use the Vaseline liberally.
Around a foot of body temperature water will slowly fill the pod, simply step in and pull the lid closed. At 3Tribes, for the first five minutes, soft lights will dance around the tub while relaxing music plays through the underwater speaker, then it is complete silence and total darkness.
I don’t consider myself particularly claustrophobic but for the first few moments it’s impossible not to panic. Don’t worry, should you need to leave, you can simply pull up the tank lid or ring the alarm if things really get too much. Ride it out, though – it turns out floatation therapy is one of the best things I’ve ever done.
It took a while to adjust to the tank. At first I kept opening my eyes, a few times I stretched out to touch the side of the tank as if to check it was still there, and I found it hard to release the tension in my neck, worrying that if I completely let go my face would be submerged in the salty water. But then, after 10 minutes, I fully relaxed. I discovered, after some trial and error, that the most comfortable position was with my hands floating up over my head rather than down by my sides. Play with your position to find what works for you.
The feeling is hard to describe, but I can only imagine it’s what floating through space would be like. Physically, you feel completely weightless and it’s so freeing. Nothing aches, nothing twinges – it’s a blissful numbness. Mentally, too. What I found most interesting was where, with nothing to distract—apps to scroll through or to do lists to obsess over—my mind went. It meandered and roved, memories of trips and childhood flooded into my mind. It felt like I was on the verge of sleep, in a meditative state, but never quite drifting off.
Then it was over. I could have laid in the tank for another couple of hours. Experts recommend 60-90 minutes for first time floaters, but people can go up to two, three or more hours.
I stumbled out on to Borough High Street in a daze. Having been freed of all responsibility for only an hour had a strong effect on me. That evening I went home with a feeling of contentment and fell into a deep, deep sleep. Over a week later and the feeling of tranquillity is still with me. As a bonus, the Epsom salts left my skin feeling silky soft and even helped to clear up some patches of eczema I'd had on my hands.
At over £50 a session it's an expensive hobby to have and the price will render it out of bounds for some people, but if you can, give it a go. How often can you utterly shut out the world?
London’s floatation tanks
Single 60-minute float, £55; 2 sessions, £100
London Floatworks, Vauxhall and Angel (opening June 2019)
Single 60-minute float, £50; 3 floats package, £105
London Floatation Centre, Isle of Dogs
Single 60-minute float session, £50; 3 floats package, £99