What isfloatation, anyway? Why would you do it? What is it like? Single Spy went along to The Float Spa in Hove to have all your questions answered.
The Float Spa is a tranquil and soothing space just off the seafront, which offers yoga classes, massage, and several complementary therapies as well as floating. On arrival, I swapped my shoes at the door for a pair of flip-flops, and drank some welcome cucumber water while I filled in my consultation form. I was lucky enough to have a massage booked before my float so the spa owner, Camille, took me through what floating entailed first, so that when I later drifted from massage to float, I could do so without having to take in a short lecture en route.
At The Float Spa, floatation involves floating in a special white pod for around an hour. The pod itself seemed huge: an enormous white capsule with blue lighting within and a lid to pull down to close yourself off from the world. The water is filled with Epsom Salt (the mineral compound magnesium sulphate, which has a long history of use for muscle relaxation). The pod contains water to the depth of about 25 centimetres and around 450 kilograms of salt. Such a high concentration of salt increases the water's specific gravity (its density) so that when you climb in, you float -- just like in the Dead Sea -- because your body is less dense than the salt water surrounding you. The water is kept at a constant temperature while you float.
Camille talked me through the various need-to-knows. She furnished me with mouldable earplugs; these aren't compulsory but some people don't enjoy the feel of water against their eardrums. Also, as the water contains so much salt, when it dries, it can leave little crystals of salt inside your ears. You need to shower before you get into the pod but, if you're using the earplugs, put them in before you shower; they do a much better job of moulding and blocking when dry.
Camille also provided a small sachet of petroleum jelly. This is to dab over any small cuts or dry areas of skin you may have; if you get into such concentrated salt-water with a cut, you'll soon know about it -- and that won't be the most relaxing of experiences. If you wear contact lenses, you'll need to store them while you’re floating.
Camille also showed me how to open and close the lid, the position of the internal light switch, and explained the sequence of music. When you first get in the pod, there are ten minutes or so of music then silence. When the hour is coming to its close, the music returns, rousing you from relaxation and signalling that this is the time to get out.
I explained that I was a little apprehensive. I'm not claustrophobic, but I wasn't sure I could cope with being in total darkness and total silence for the best part of an hour. Camille reassured me; I could get out of the pod and in again if I liked; I didn't have to be in total darkness if I didn't want to; I could leave the pod door slightly open until I felt settled and relaxed; it was my private time, and I could use the floating experience in a way that was comfortable for me. I was completely in control.
The relaxation begins
My massage therapist, Sasha, was brilliant. She took me through to our treatment room, checked my form, and asked what I wanted to get out of the treatment. She listened carefully to my concerns -- lots of tension in my shoulders --and idiosyncrasies -- I don't like having my legs massaged. Sasha listened and she took everything into account. I had a massage that incorporated all the twinkly bits I love -- scalp, feet, neck and face -- as well as some serious focus on my badly knotted shoulder muscles. She adjusted her touch to my sensitivities and eased my spine, winkled out tension in my hips I didn't even know was there, and worked hard on increasing my mobility.
Once the massage was (sadly) over, I put on a towelling robe, Sasha picked up the box containing my clothes, and we crossed the corridor to the floatation pod.
I put in my earplugs, showered, and got into the pod, pulling the lid down behind me. The water was pleasantly warm and felt smooth and silky -- hardly like real water at all. The music was more like waves than tunes, too, as it turned out. As the waves faded away, I voyaged to total silence. I tried total darkness for a while, too, but found that I preferred to be able to close my eyes but open them to see the real world if I needed.
The floating sensation was divine. As you float, your body experiences a reduction in the force of gravity. (Gravity itself doesn't cease -- this is beyond the abilities of most floatation tanks -- you just don't experience it in quite the same way.) Not one of your voluntary muscles need to be at work, which means you can be totally relaxed. There is a neck pillow in the pod which I tried, but found I preferred just to let the water take my weight, and this included keeping my head afloat. I was utterly aligned and utterly at rest. I didn't feel at all "closed in" in the pod, but off somewhere in outer space, disconnected from the real world. As you wear nothing for the experience -- well, you could if you liked, but what's the point when you're alone and the aim is to get you feeling as free as possible? -- this is probably the closest you'll ever get to feeling how you did before being born.
The hour went by remarkably quickly. I felt I had rested and reconnected with part of myself when the waves returned and the time of drifting was over.
I climbed out of the pod and into the shower to rinse the salt away. Everything I needed was there in the room: organic body wash, shampoo, conditioner, towels. As I showered, the pod went into its clean cycle.
A small note here on cleanliness. When you take off all your clothes and get into a warm floatation pod, you want to know that it is not only spotlessly clean for you, but also for the person after you. At The Float Spa, the water in the pods is filtered four times between each float; the filters are effective to one micron (100 times smaller than a human hair) so you can go into the experience clean, come out of it clean, and not worry about your cleanliness in between. All is sparklingly.
Once dressed, I moved to the vanity room, which has cotton buds, hairdryers and moisturiser: everything you need to get you looking like you didn't just spend an hour floating in some salt water. Just bring your own hairbrush.
The advantage of having deep massage work done on your shoulder muscles and then floating in warm water for an hour, I discovered, is that your muscles don't complain about it the next day.
That's one reason to have a float. Why else would you?
To relieve pain: Effective weightlessness allows your blood to circulate around your body more efficiently and releases endorphins into your system. Endorphins are natural painkillers that make you feel good.
To reduce stress and anxiety: Floating in a little-visited corner of the solar system feels surprisingly peaceful. After a while, the "brain chatter" slows and stops and calm descends.
To chill during pregnancy: Floating is a perfectly safe way to cast off the slings and arrows of expectation and relax, relax, relax...
I went to the relaxation area where I sank into soft cushions, refreshed with a small jar of banana and mango sorbet, and uplifted with the Imagine tea from Positvitea.
I was apprehensive about floating but I needn't have been. I can see that as you become more used to being in the pod, it becomes quicker and easier to reach the state of total relaxation where both body and mind are completely calm. I'll be doing it again.
A one-off float of 60 minutes currently costs £65 at The Float Spa. They recommend you try floating three times so that you become comfortable with the process and can be sure of its benefits; a three-float package is currently £180.