You've made the decision to finally try this whole meditation business. After all, your social media feed is blowing up about all the benefits and you could really use some quiet time. So, you plop yourself down on the ground, close your eyes, and wait for the magic to happen. Expect- it doesn't. You suddenly realize just how hard the ground is, your thoughts keep running a mile a minute and you can hear your neighbours arguing next door. Your eyes pop open and you see your pet staring at you. You close your eyes and try again to get back into it- whatever "it" is.
Now picture this:
You try the whole meditation thing again. Except this time, you hear nothing. You see nothing. You feel.. pretty much nothing.
If reading about all that "nothing" gave you a queasy feeling in your stomach and a dash of trepidation creeping around your shoulders, don't worry dear reader because I'm right there with you. Gather round as I tell you about my first time with nothing.
That's what floating is- It's essentially nothing.
If you haven't heard of sensory deprivation tanks/ floatation therapy, they're one thing from the 70s that people are really stoked about bringing back. "Floating" involves stepping into a tank/tub of water full of epsom salts- which keep you afloat. From there, you shut the door to the unit and block out all sound and light for the next 90 minutes.
I first heard of floating back in the late spring of 2013 when I came home from being abroad and one of the first float places in Vancouver had opened. Actually, let's backtrack- I first heard of floating when I was 12 and watching the Simpsons.
Floating came up again when Trevor from Float Yaletown reached out to connect when I created MOMENT- the pop up meditation space at thisopenspace last fall. We chatted and I made a mental note to check out floating once Float Yaletown opened.
Four months later, I slipped off my street shoes and put on a pair of slippers at the new Float Yaletown.
After getting a 101 on what to expect, Tracey led me to a large tiled room with a giant oyster-shell-looking tank on one end and a luxurious rainfall shower on the other end. She explained that I had to shower/ rinse off before going in (which makes sense), how to put on ear plugs (more on that later), how to get in to the tank (very carefully so as not to slip) and that the light in the room can sense when the oyster lid is closed and will turn off on its own.
"Oh, one last thing-" She noted, "Be sure not to take too hot of a shower beforehand. The water is meant to be your body temperature".
Cold shower- noted. I quickly got down to my birthday suit (I had done my research and they recommend floating in the buff) showered, and started to put in my ear plugs. After securing one, the other one popped out. I put them back. After moving my jaw around, they popped out again. Let me throw it out there that I've never been good with anything in my ears (those earbuds with the squishy bit that extends into your ears? No thanks!) Eventually, I figured that shit out and stepped into the tank.
I slid to a seat and right away I could feel my legs float out from beneath me. Then i turned around. Moment of truth- to close the tank the entire way or leave it slightly ajar?
One thing I should mention- the tanks at Float Yaletown aren't the square coffin boxes that we're used to seeing (a la Simpsons & early youtube videos). While I'm not sure if leaving the "lid" ajar is recommended, I opted to close the tank entirely.
I should also mention that up until now, there was a soft green light illuminating the tank from within. I was so tempted to keep this light on (The question: Are you Afraid of the Dark? My answer: A resounding yes.) but decided against it. The only way to describe my next movement is bounce. As in, I bounced/ floated around in the water until I could reach the little button to turn off the light. Once the light was off, I was surrounded by darkness.
"Okay," I told myself. "no big deal. Just lie back, relax, focus on your breath. You've meditated before!"
I should note that the longest I've ever meditated in one sitting is 30 minutes. The float session is for 90 minutes.
The first 30 minutes or so involved me getting used to my environment. This of course included moments of anxiety. My brain went into rapid-fire mode.
"Are you nuts?! You've never meditated for 90 minutes before!"
"What if you suffocate?"
"What if you can't get back out??"
As I began to settle in, I shifted around on my back and I noticed a few things:
1.) The air was kind of hot and clammy
2.) I literally could not push my arms beneath the water because the water was so buoyant.
3.) The water was silky smooth and so was my skin.
4.) All noises are 100% amplified when your ears are under water, even if you have ear plugs on. Cracking fingers and toes sound like firecrackers.
5.) To add to point #3- I could hear myself breathing and I sounded like darth vadar.
My go-to methods of meditation are to focus on bodily sensations (eg. body scan) and focus on my breath. In this environment, both were a bit tricky. As I mentioned above, focusing on my breath was distracting because my breath was SO LOUD. And without something to ground to/ without an external environment pressing against my body it almost felt like I couldn't feel my body in space because there was little to no feedback. I had to work to feel my body from within- which is a pretty interesting thing to feel and something I often recommend, even in yoga classes.
The next 30-45 minutes was spent ping-ponging between moments of deep relaxation and rest (aka- I may have fallen asleep...) and moments of clarity (where I could really see my thoughts laid out in front of me without following along with them or getting too attached). At a certain point, I started to get restless- which I can only imagine was my body being unaccustomed to such a long period of time doing nothing whilst awake. I started to drift around to orient myself (just in case I somehow magically did a 180 in the tank) and when the music played to signify the session was over, I already knew where the handle was and hopped on out.
Some other misc things that just came to mind and I thought you should know:
1. It is NOT a bath. I love baths; however, I draw them extra hot and after 15 minutes, I feel drunken, woozy, and super pruney. Floating leaves you feeling invigorated, clear, and silky smooth.
2. If you're rocking long hair, your head will feel like it weighs 50lbs when you come out. When was the last time you spent 90 minutes in water like that? Probably never. (Luckily- the Float Yaletown peeps have you covered with shampoo, conditioner, a blowdryer and all the goodies.)
3. I would highly, highly, recommend that you keep your eyes open. I closed mine for a portion of the time due to my aforementioned fear of the dark (seriously) but found that with my eyes closed, my brain thought it was nap time.
I would 100% do it again and definitely plan to incorporate floating into my routine.
There is something pretty powerful about being in an environment that has literally zero distractions. You start to become very aware of the stories you create to distract yourself as well as the stories you create in your head on an everyday basis.
For those who are newer to meditation, it may feel a little intimidating but know that it is, at the very least, a great relaxation tool. I would almost suggest giving it at least two tries. The first one to orient yourself and the second one to actually experience it for what it is.