Can floatation therapy help my arthritis and relax my stressed mind?
Floatation tanks were once the wellness experience reserved for London, but Driftwood Float Spa has now brought the practice to the North East. Our wellness warrior, Hannah Bullimore, gave it a go…
By Hannah Bullimore
Being in the dark has never been my idea of fun.
Even at 30 years old, I am that person who turns on all the lights as soon as I get home because the dark makes me feel uneasy. I also sleep with some form of noise, whether it’s movie soundtracks or white noise playing in the background.
Yet, I signed up to try the sensory deprivation of a floatation tank in an effort to deepen my meditation practice and help alleviate my chronic pain.
A few years ago, I read an article about the new floatation tank trend. A floatation tank is a large pod containing shallow water which is used for complete sensory deprivation. The idea is to feel weightless in the dark and silence.
The article I read discussed deepening an existing meditation practice through the sensory deprivation of a floatation tank. At the time, I was a fairly proficient yogi who was trying to commit to a meditation practice and explore the non-physical aspects of yoga.
However, there were no floatation tanks around and it seemed like the sort of wellness experience reserved for London.
But, thanks to Driftwood Float Spa, you can now experience a floatation tank here in the North East.
Going into the tank, I was curious to know what benefit an hour of floating might have on my anxious mind, as well as the aches and pain I experience from arthritis, (and, let’s be honest, spending too much time on my computer and mobile phone). I was booked in for a Monday evening appointment and while I was looking forward to unwinding, I was also nervous to be cut off from everything in the tank.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A FLOATATION TANK?
A floatation tank isn’t just a big bath in the dark.
The water is shallow but filled with a high concentration of Epsom salts so that you can float without any effort. The tanks are large and there is relaxing lighting and music to ease you in before the silence and the option of darkness.
The experience can also be personalised so that, if you’re anxious in the dark (like me), you can enjoy floating with lighting.
I spoke to Lee at Driftwood Float Spa before going into the tank, who explained the benefits.
‘It’s a structured way of going about trying meditation for the first time,’ Lee told me. ‘A lot of people might say I tried it and it didn’t work. This can be like training wheels for meditation, as there are no distractions; there’s nothing to take you out of the moment.
‘For me, it helps to put things in order and get an outside perspective without the emotions of everyday life. It’s about relaxation and that’s what most people are coming in for.’
Lee also explained the physical benefits of floating for those recovering from intense workouts or experiencing chronic pain, like myself.
‘Your joints are supported by the water and your body will fall into a natural state. Everything opens up and you become aware of any tense points.’
The tanks can also be beneficial for pregnant women because it’s a ‘relief for them to be supported by the water.’
But everyone can benefit from floatation as a way to calm the mind and fully unwind.
‘Because the water is at body temperature, you can lose sense of everything else – so you can relax and space out completely.’
PREPARING TO FLOAT
As I was a little nervous, I asked if there was any advice for my first time in a floatation tank.
‘I would go through this with everyone coming through the door, but I always say it can be hard to switch off so don’t try too hard,’ Lee advised. ‘Let your mind wander, watch your thoughts come and go, but don’t put pressure on yourself to empty your mind.
‘You want to avoid bobbing, so try and remain still. Practicalities like not touching your face and taking out contact lenses. Also, have a light meal and avoid caffeine a few hours beforehand.
‘But there’s no one right way to float, it’s everyone’s individual experience so they can float however they like. It’s normal to feel a little anxious as it’s something new, but once you start it will help with any anxieties as it relaxes the fight or flight portion of the brain.’
TIME TO FLOAT
The spa at Driftwood Float Spa is dimly lit with a spacious room containing the tank and shower, as well as a separate room with a large mirror and hair dryer.
Shower gel and shampoo was provided as well, which was a nice touch for washing your hair there and then, (as a blonde I had worried about the effect of the salt on my colour, but being able to wash and condition straight away definitely helped).
Before floating, I changed into my swimwear and took a shower. I wore earplugs to prevent salt getting into my ears and I chose to use the head rest provided to help my neck relax fully.
Stepping into the tank, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the past, I’ve meditated for up to an hour before, but that was after a long yoga class and I was guided by a yoga teacher.
As I can get claustrophobic and I’m not great with the dark, I chose to keep the lights on and the door to the tank open just a little.
Once lying down, it took a few moments for me to relax. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was warm and comfortable. Lying in the water, I could feel my whole spine stretching and relaxing. And then, the music drifted away and I was left with just my thoughts…
FLOATATION AND MEDITATION
After a few moments, I decided to tune into my meditation practice by simply adding a count to my breath: five in, seven out.
This is something anyone could do, just try to make sure your exhale is longer than your inhale as this will help your body to naturally relax. But the actual count can be anything – three in, four out, whatever works for your natural breath.
Inside the tank, there’s no way to know how long has passed. After an hour, music is played to gently wake you up but, besides that, there are no clues. I think that I meditated for about 20 minutes before my mind became busy with distractions, but then I managed to meditate again for the last part of the session.
As I lay in the water, I felt all the muscles in my body relax. Early on, I moved around to find where I was comfortable; eventually I found lying with my hands behind my head to be the most relaxing. It felt as though all the tension in my spine lifted and I was barely aware of anything around me. It was like lying in savasana (the relaxation at the end of a yoga class), but without even a floor to distract.
I agree with Lee that I think a second visit would be even more laidback, as I would know what to expect and be more comfortable with my surroundings. However, I left the tank feeling relaxed and rested. Lying completely supported definitely eased the aches around my neck and shoulders in a way that’s similar to a really good massage.
I would recommend the experience if you’re looking to change up your meditation practice or are someone who could use a massage but perhaps isn’t comfortable with physical contact.
I also enjoyed the novelty of trying something new and, while I don’t think the tank could replace my yoga and meditation practice, it’s definitely a lovely addition to anyone’s wellness routine.