Claustrophobics beware: this story is not for you. Everyone else, welcome to my float-tank adventure. If you've never heard of floating, the idea is pretty simple. A windowless plastic tank is filled with 800 pounds of Epsom salt dissolved in about 10 inches of water. You crawl into the tank through a hatch, then float on your back in complete silence and darkness. The theory is that after about 40 minutes, your brain shifts into theta waves, bringing you to another plane of relaxation and clarity. That sounded good to me, so I booked an hour-long appointment and got ready to float. For the scoop on how it went, keep reading.
I went to Float Matrix in San Francisco, where an hour cost $75. (You can search for local float tanks at this site.) After talking with the owner about what to expect, I stripped naked and entered the tank. It was equipped with an optional light, and I could also leave the hatch open a tiny bit. Surprisingly, though, the light made me feel more aware of the enclosed space, so it was more comfortable to just float in pitch-black darkness. Here's what wasn't comfortable: that salt-choked water hitting my lady parts. Sorry if that's TMI, but I wanted to warn you of the intense burning sensation that will hit you for about two minutes. (Apparently, the alkaline water and acidic body don't play well at first.)
So! After the crotchy inferno died down, it didn't take long to lose awareness of my body. That's because the water is body-temperature, so it's hard to tell where your skin ends and the water begins. Trippy, right? Even more surprising was how quickly my senses sharpened. Without any sound, my ears began picking up on things we normally take for granted, like the sound of our breath. I could even hear my eyelids as they blinked, no joke.
Visually, you'd think that darkness would be just that — darkness. But you know how sometimes you close your eyes and see little squiggles against a black backdrop? With my eyes open, I saw a lot of that, but it was more intense, and somehow emotional. Another surprise is that just as my mind would drift off into total relaxation, it would try to snap itself back into focus. As the Float Matrix owner had told me, that's pretty typical for first-time floaters; our minds aren't used to resting.
Although I didn't fall asleep while floating, I completely zoned out and lost all sense of time. I know I wasn't asleep, but I don't remember any of my thoughts, either. It was just spacey and peaceful. When the session was up, I felt somewhat relaxed but also dog-tired. That sounds bad, but it was akin to the feeling you get after a big ol' cry session — you're exhausted from processing the emotion, but it feels good to have gone through it. After showering to remove the salty residue, I went home and napped for a good hour or so. Later, a friend said that I seemed "different." Interesting.
Would I do it again? Sure. Is floating for everyone? Probably not. I think you'd have to be ready to be alone, really alone, with yourself. (I personally think that's a good thing, but it could freak some people out.) If you go, don't expect the same kind of relaxation that you'd get at a spa — floating is indeed balancing but in a different way. But if you have an open mind, it's worth trying at least once. Have any of you floated before?