Escaping gravity: the growing popularity of flotation therapy

Portrait of Sophie floating. [Elena McDonough]

If you’re looking for a new way to decompress, relieve aches and pains or are just up for trying something out of the ordinary then maybe you’d like floatation therapy. It’s becoming popular in the States and is hailed as one of the best forms of relaxation out there. Consisting of lying down in a tank of salt-water heated to 35.5 degrees Celsius – skin temperature – you begin to float to the surface, removing your sense of gravity.

At Floatworks in Canary Wharf, assistant Julie Pleteneva told me about the benefits of floatation: “It allows the brain to release endorphins, it replaces stress with a sense of well-being, increases energy levels, improves skin conditions, it’s a full-body detox, and it also helps muscles to relax. It can also regulate sleeping patterns and help insomnia.”

I first heard of floatation tanks through a Joe Rogan podcast. He talks about flotation and sensory deprivation as the holy grail of understanding your own consciousness, and being able to have a pyschedelic experience stone cold sober. According to Rogan after a couple of sessions you’re able to totally let go of yourself and regain a fresh perspective on life. Heavy stuff.

Portrait of Sophie floating. [Elena McDonough]

Clients are made to feel weightless by the high content of epsom salt in the flotation tanks.

I asked Julia if anybody had any weird experiences in the tank: “Yes, it’s really strange because yesterday some guy said that it made him feel high. He came out and said ‘Yo, you should also sell some other stuff!’ and I was just looking at him thinking oh my god, okay. I would say it does make people see strange things. It’s more about your imagination but that is nothing to do with the actual floatation. It’s your own mind playing tricks on you.”

The tank itself is a bit like a futuristic pod, its giant white lid opening up into the cascading pinks, oranges and blue lights emitting out onto the Epsom salts. As you climb in and get yourself comfortable you can immediately feel the buoyancy rise you to the surface – it’s quite powerful. Like your own private Dead Sea.

The weightlessness immediately sends your body into a meditative state. Inside you’ve got the option to stay immersed in the dim multi-coloured lights or plunge into complete darkness. I tried it without the lights but started to get a bit too disorientated.

It would be good for sleeping or a super intensive session but I thought it would be best to leave that one to the pros.

Typically Floatworks offers a one hour session. It’s definitely a solid amount of time to spend in the tank due to the fact that time suddenly seems to drift away pretty quickly, I certainly lost track. At one point I wasn’t sure if I had been in there 20 minutes or whether they had forgotten to let me out. It does make you think with a lot more clarity and focus, but it’s also easy to switch off completely and go into an almost trance-like state, happily floating without thinking about anything at all.

Images by Elena McDonough.

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