ROAD TEST: “I lay naked in a pitch black pool of salt water for 75 minutes.”

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“I’ve been floating for about three years now,” the softly spoken attendant casually told me as he walked me through Flow Revive’s Scandi-style foyer to a dimly lit room.

In the middle of the stone sauna space sat a wooden footstool, lots of white towels, a shower cap, earplugs and what I imagined to be a white, shiny space pod.

“This is where you’ll be spending the next 75 minutes,” he said, gesturing towards said space pod.

This was my first experience of float tank therapy. And yes, he did mean to use float as a verb, because as I was about to find out, floating is a way of life.

Depending on where you go, you’ll hear float tank therapy referred to as flotation therapy, float therapy, isolation tank therapy, sensory deprivation therapy, or floating.

Put simply, it’s the practice of lying naked (or in swimmers) in a pool of water mixed with so much salt, you float like a cork.

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“You’re going to love it, trust me,” he assure me before closing the door, leaving me to strip down, stand awkwardly for a bit, then shower before clambering into the salty, space pod-like chamber pool.

I didn’t doubt I’d have a great time in the pod. The idea of float tank therapy was appealing to me because, unless you’re asleep, when do you ever get over an hour of uninterrupted time to yourself?

No smart phone. No Netflix. No chatter from your housemates, neighbours (depending how thin your walls are) or an open-plan office.

Just you, your naked body, 30 centimetres of luke-warm salty water and your thoughts.

Here’s what I learnt about floating.

What is float tank therapy?

Whichever name you call it by, float tank therapy is a form of sensory deprivation where you shut yourself in from the outside world. In a shallow pool of salt water.

The white pod is lightless (i.e. pitch black) and soundproof, and filled with mid-calf height water heated to 35 degrees. This water is also made up of 40 per cent Epsom salt, which to put it in perspective, is around 200 kg of salt.

Because of the high salt content, you automatically float in the water, providing a zero gravity simulation where all the your muscles can relax completely. This, combined with the sensory deprivation, gives you the feeling of being completely weightless.

At Flow Revive, the float therapy sessions go for 75 minutes, but you can hop out whenever you feel like it. There’s no lock on the door – you can even float with it open if you get claustrophobic – and a light on the inside gives some comfort should things in the pod get… weird.

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The float tank therapy space feat. a salt lamp, as if there wasn't enough salt in this room.
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The salty space pod where you lie down for 75 minutes. Images: Supplied.

Benefits of float therapy.

Float therapy has been a thing people do since the 1950s after it was discovered through doing research on the brain and states of consciousness.

Some of the potential benefits include:

  • Stress and anxiety relief.
  • Being potentially therapeutic for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Pain management of arthritis, back and neck pain and other pain.
  • Improved sleep.
  • Faster recovery from injury to joints and muscles.
  • 'Glowy' hair and skin due to the Epsom salt.
  • Reduction in cortisol, increase in dopamine.
  • Overall feeling of wellbeing.

Everyone's floating experience will be different, as will the benefits they experience. At the very least, it's a great way to relax and get out from behind your phone screen.

What was it like in the isolation tank?

Dark. It was dark and quiet in there. But specifically, my float tank session was a journey of sorts.

The first thing I noticed when I got in was 'god damn the blisters on my toes bloody sting!' If you've got any cuts or wounds, best to postpone your float because, remember, floating in the float tank feels exactly like swimming in the salt water at the beach, times one billion.

For what I think might've been the first 10 to 15 minutes, my brain was actively making sense of my surroundings and the situation.

Yep. It's dark in here. Oh, the water gets cold when I move.  Do I need the head rest pillow? Will I fall asleep in here? Am I the only person on this planet right now?

The hour or so that followed (again, guesstimating as you really don't have any sense of time in the pod) went by quickly but also really slowly.

My thoughts swirled around almost every topic I care about (a.k.a. stress over) - work, family, my partner and friends, the things I don't like about myself, the adult life plan I was meant to have started in January, budgeting, The Bachelor and the people I should be texting more often.

Physically, it felt like I could've been in a black hole floating through space. Once I found my position - palms facing downwards, ankles rolled outwards - I could feel my whole body relaxing, each muscle letting go of the body weight it carries around all day everyday.

About halfway through I also got a droplet of water in my eye (don't ask how) and it was probably the most painful thing I've ever experienced because of the whole 200 kg of salt thing.

I got through that, and then before I knew it, a soft melody let me know my 75 minutes were up.

How did I feel afterwards?

The best way I can think to describe how I felt post-float is... floaty.

Like one of those blow up things with the arms that fling around. Or Harry Potter's arm when Gilderoy Lockhart accidentally removes all his bones.

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How I felt after my float session...
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How I actually looked after my float session (the blurriness of this photo is a good indication of my mental state).

Trying to get out of the tub to shower the salt off me was a highly ungraceful series of slips and manoeuvres - even speaking to the attendant afterwards was slow. I might have even slurred my words.

For hours after my float, I felt like a space cadet. On the way home, my Uber driver sadly got a flat tyre, so I ended up walking the rest of the way home in this hyper relaxed, hyper jelly state.

Without sounding like a bit of a dick, I've never felt so 'zen', you know?

Then, just before bed, my whole body felt exhausted, kind of like I'd ran a marathon rather than lay horizontally with absolutely zero pressure on any of my limbs and joins. I slept really well that night - had a few bizarre dreams though - and felt great the next day.

If you're claustrophobic or can't possibly handle laying in dark silence for over an hour, float tank therapy might not be for you.

But the thing I loved most about floating (because, I float now) was the feeling of weightlessness. Just like some people living with anxiety find the sensation of a weighted blanket comforting, not having to use a single muscle in my body for over an hour made me feel light.

The uninterrupted time also gave me the space to just think about stuff. Not particularly profound stuff, but the junk that makes your brain feel like a crowded bar on a Saturday night. I've never been one to meditate, but during my flotation tank therapy session is probably the closet I've come to experiencing the mental clarity those who mediate describe.

Oh, one other thing.

If you've got thigh chafe, stay away. Just trust me on that.

If you're keen to try floatation tank therapy, you can find out more information and book your 75-minute session at Flow Revive in Paddington, Sydney for $65 on their website.

Have you tried floatation tank therapy before? What was your experience like?

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