Ask anyone around this time of year how they’re feeling, and chances are they’ll say tired, over-extended, depressed, anxious, fat, high on sugar and just plain stressed. Ask any parent, and they won’t even have time to answer because they’ve barely put a dent in their shopping lists, and they’re already late for picking their kids up from school. When my own shoulders are up by my ears and the pressure of a never-ending to-do list keeps me up at night, I dream of (child-free) tropical vacations and twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. What do I really want for Christmas? I want to lie in a quiet, dark room with a giant ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door.
Hallelujah, someone has actually thought of that. Floatation Therapy was developed in the ‘50s by a Harvard neuroscientist who discovered that if all stimuli (light, sound, smell) are cut off, then your brain waves gear down to something called a theta state. Translation: Deep relaxation like you’ve never experienced before. All that’s required of you is patience and a bit of courage, because you essentially put yourself into a pitch-black pod filled with salt water, close the hatch and it’s just you and your thoughts for up to two hours.
Sign me up.
I arrived at Float Toronto at the end of a typically crazy day, desperate for any kind of relief. It was only once I’d been shown to my pod that I started getting second thoughts. You’re going to shut me into a giant metal box? What if the door locks and you have to call the fire department to get me out? What if I drown? Am I actually signing up to be buried alive? My jaw started to clench. Sensing my rising panic, the owner talked me down with a soothing pep talk. I’d be floating in just 10 inches of water and 900 lbs of dissolved Epsom salts (that’s three times more buoyant than the Dead Sea) and I could open the hatch any time I wanted. Not in Toronto? Not to worry, you can close yourself off from the world in Walden-esque isolation in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Coquitlam, Montreal and most major cities.
After a thorough shower, I gingerly and nervously stepped into the pitch-black pod expecting a shock of cold. Instead it was like stepping into, well, nothing. The water is skin-receptor neutral, meaning it’s controlled at the same temperature as our skin (34.1 degrees Celsius), so there’s no shock to your system. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “You can do this.”
I closed the hatch, stretched out on my back in the water and waited to drift off into theta-land. Initial thoughts? Complete and utter panic. Fear. So much uncertainty. My heart pounding like a paddle ball, I fumbled around for the door handle and aggressively pushed it open. I gasped for air as the salty water stung my eyes, feeling claustrophobic and panicked. But after a few deep breaths, I ventured back in, albeit cautiously.
It was either this, or back to the endless to-do list and crippling yuletide anxiety. Besides, Harvard neuroscientists are usually right, right?
I reminded myself that the last time I experienced zero gravity in dark silence was as a baby in my mother’s womb. From what I’m told, that’s a pretty nice place to be, so I kicked back and opened up to the whole experience (the experience of lying down in, what is essentially, an hour-long death of the senses). Once I’d found a comfortable place for my arms (crossed across my chest worked best for me) I started to drift. I have no clue how long it took, but my mind sort of shut off. I didn’t dream, but I wasn’t really awake. My eyes opened a few times (I think?), but because it was pitch black and I’m not a kitty cat, there was nothing to focus on that indicated I was inside a tank/alive/real. After an hour or so, soft music started piping in and my brain slowly ‘woke up.’ I’m alive. I exist.
After stress, panic and being considerably less chill than I have ever been, I felt, oddly, relaxed. In fact, I felt more zen-like than I’d ever felt in my life. It turns out that locking yourself into complete darkness and quiet is exactly what the doctor ordered. Sure, being shut into a pitch-black box in total silence may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but my verdict? It floats my boat. I would float again, and I’m not afraid anymore.