*header photo by Matt Sleep
At one point or another, you may realize that there is a lot of noise – and I don’t mean noise from the city or your loud upstairs neighbor, but in a metaphorical sense. We naturally internalize all the stressors in our lives and sometimes it seems like that voice of worry inside your head just won’t shut up!
But there is a way to achieve peace of mind, that you may not have considered – I’m talking about floating. Okay, before you go and roll your eyes, I don’t mean the Eleven kind of floating in Stranger Things where you have telekinesis and are transported to another dimension, but simply put: sensory deprivation.
While there may have been a spike of interest in floating ever since the Netflix series, there’s actually a lot of scientific evidence that backs the practice. Floatation therapy or R.E.S.T (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy), dates back to 1954 and was discovered by accident by a neuroscientist named John C. Lilly.
Lilly needed to eliminate all incoming sensory stimulation to create a control group for one his experiments and in turn, discovered something magical. Turns out being in total darkness, without sight or sound, while you float in saltwater has a ton of benefits.
Floatation eases chronic pain, increases blood circulation, initiates a relaxation response in the nervous system, increases immune function, increases muscle recovery, and just feels greats. I experienced all these things over a series of three floats at Float Toronto on Queen West. Essentially, during and after every float session I felt zen AF.
I’ll admit that stepping into a huge box of about a foot of water, with earplugs, and then turning off the lights, felt a little weird at first. There was a bit of a sense of claustrophobia, but knowing that I could turn the lights or calming music back on at any moment, eased the transition into letting go. “I am NOT going to die in here!”
After what seemed like five minutes I felt my body start to slip into a deep relaxation; everything seemed to melt away. The water is at a temperature that is skin and air neutral, so you literally feel like your suspended on this comfy cushion. I naturally began to picture myself drifting through expanses of stars. At another point, I was seaweed swaying in the ocean. LOL
While you may have read some bad reviews on floating, I think a lot of people try too hard (and also forget that you’re not locked in there; you can get out at any point). Try to remember that you’re basically simulating meditation and they don’t call it a practice for no reason. Once you’re physically put into sensory deprivation, you realize how hard it is to truly let the mind go.
Rather than getting frustrated over the fact that I couldn’t eliminate every thought I was having (I kept thinking about food – guess I was hungry?), I tried to focus my attention on breathing and positive affirmations… just allowing my mind to wander gently, actively telling my body it deserved this rest. Sometimes I swayed around a bit or stretched out my arms; I just allowed myself to do whatever felt good.
While a typical float lasts an hour, you don’t really feel a sense of time when you’re in there. It could have been 15 minutes, it could have been two hours, or it could have been two years? It was quite a surreal and different experience since our society puts so much emphasis on time and productivity.
As the music slowly came on in the background, letting me know it was time to get up, I kind of wanted to stay in for a little longer. As I slowly made my way to the front of the tank, I felt an absolute calm, and took my time; things could wait and there was no rush to return to what I had been worrying about before.
The time was around 11:00 pm, so after I rinsed off and cleaned up at the blow-dry station, I made my way home and had THE BEST sleep of my life. Seriously, I felt like a newborn and like I had just slept for five days. I woke up feeling refreshed with that same peaceful energy I had manifested during my float.
The next day, problems seemed smaller, large tasks seemed achievable, and I didn’t feel the need to over analyze as much. Obviously, at some point, the sense of calm wears off, but you almost seem to take a bit of a deeper self-awareness with you. Before I would embody my stress, but now I had the knowledge that we all have the choice to step away from our stressors and deal with them as tangible objects outside our bodies.
Sounds kitschy, I know, but regardless of how you choose to interpret it, floating is still doing many good things for your body and nervous system. Whether you’re into meditation or not, you’ll still feel the physical benefits if you go into it with an open mind.
In terms of floating in the evening before bed, versus the morning, I tried both. I hoped that floating would turn me into one of those strangely happy morning people, but it didn’t. Oh well. I found doing it before bed worked better for me as it was a natural progression into sleep, but it’s totally a personal preference.
So now you’re probably wondering if I would do it again? The answer is YES! It’s my belief that the juxtaposition of having zero stimuli in a noisy life that’s bombarded with worries and things to do, is something we could all use a little more of.
If you still need more convincing, it’s more mainstream than you think. The New England Patriots use floatation therapy and Tom Brady has his own private tank… I think he’s doing pretty well in life so maybe he’s onto something with the floating.