As I mentioned in part 1 of this article, my own personal interest in floating has much to do with decreased attention span and increased brain chatter still with me years after having ECT. I go over that particular experience and all its affects in detail in my book Look Left, Walk Green but suffice to say the permanent changes in how I think have their ups and downs. Insomnia is my constant, companion due to something called alpha wave intrusion (alpha “awake” waves interrupt delta “sleep” waves causing ultra-crappy sleep) which at present has no cure and I’m open to just about anything to combat this.
Enter floating and its promise to generate those calm, creative theta waves. Over the past few months our family has gone through multiple losses on both sides and after needing surgery on my hand and having my life totally upended around that, I felt that I needed some sort of reset physically and mentally to get back on track and hopefully help with my sleep as I’d slipped into a cycle of nightmares also interrupting my sleep. I was notified of a Groupon deal at a local float spa and booked 2 sessions to take the plunge.
I had some fears going into this. For one, I’m not real keen on water. I have Raynaud’s Disease (a disorder of the parasympathetic nervous system which reacts to temperature drops, or physical/mental stress by approximating the “dive reflex” reaction and creating spasms and constriction in the veins of the extremities) and I rarely swim because unless the water is above bathwater temperature, I get an attack and sometimes these have been pretty intense and scary. I’m that person at the office who is always freezing with the blue hands, the one who hacks and sputters when eating ice cream. So my first fear was the water temperature.
Secondly, I’m not a person who likes to be confined. As a kid I would fight my mother and have a total meltdown about getting dressed in anything confining. So being in a small space in the dark seemed pretty terrifiying.
Thirdly, to really get the benefit of having no extra sensory input you want to have no sensory input at all. Whether you’re thinking about it or not, your brain is thinking about your clothes and how they fit, how scratchy they are, how heavy or light or how ugly that print is. So the best way about this is in the buff. And frankly, I’m not that enamoured of my shape and I sure as hell don’t want anyone else looking at that.
So I went in trying to have an open mind, or at least one that was screaming a little less loud at the thought of being naked. Now all float spas are a little different in the shape of their tanks and what other services there are but all follow the same general guidelines as such:
1. You’re going to want to be not hungry and not full. Think of this like going to the pool in terms of eating. Your mother always told you not to swim until half an hour after you ate, right? That’s the general guideline for floating too. Not because of belly cramps but because the gurgling of your empty tummy is going to keep your brain distracted and stimulated and the churning of your digesting tummy is going to do the same thing. Then again, if you’ve got the world’s loudest stomach like I do, go with your best guess.
2. No caffeine after 4 hours prior to your appointment. Remember, trying to relax here. If you can’t sleep after 1 cup of coffee 12 hours before bed, go with your own body’s limits and skip that cup altogether.
3. Skip shaving, tanning or anything irritating to your skin the day of your float (or if you’re all thumbs with a razor, probably the day before as well). The water you’re floating in will be saturated with around 1000 lbs of magnesium salt (think epsom salts) so if your lips pucker thinking about getting a shaving knick, think about the pucker factor of 1000 lbs of salt in that knick. Float hairy and pale. And why so much salt?? That’s what makes you float.
4. It’s going to be dark. I’m not talking turn-the-lights-off dark, I’m not talking close your eyes dark, i’m not talking street-lamp-busted-dark, I’m talking:
So if darkness bothers you, try some deep breathing to calm yourself when the light goes out because the dark is going to be dark for 45 minutes to an hour, no kidding. Of course if you freak out in that much dark you can always turn the lights on but that’s going to obviously alter your experience and you’re paying for this so get breathing.
5. You’ll shower before and after at the spa. The before shower is to clean your skin of any oils or products, the after shower is to get rid of the salt. Now salt will do a number on hair so deep conditioning is a definite consideration after a float. I use Palmer’s Coconut Oil Deep Conditioning Protein Pack but that’s just me.
6. The spa may provide you with goodies such as vaseline to create a seal on irritated skin as well as ear plugs but if not, bring them. Any skin breaks are magnets for literally rubbing salt in a wound and a band-aid’s not going to help you now. If you can avoid floating until you’re healed up, do that. If not, try vaseline. And swimmer’s ear is not what you want to take home from floating so bring ear plugs if they’re not provided and make sure you put them in snugly before you get in. You want to make sure you’ve got a good fit, otherwise your brain is going to scream “THEY DON’T FIT!!” during your float.
7. If it’s your first time you’ll watch some sort of video on how floating works and its benefits. Something to pay attention to- as your brain is deprived of external stimuli, it’ll focus on its inner issues until it chills out into theta waves. If you have any pain going on or any disorder that causes pain (I have Fibromyalgia so the muscles in my legs and around my ribs tend to bawl when they get an audience), you will notice that with razor-sharpness for a short time. It will go away as your brain mellows out and adjusts.
8. The total experience in many spas ends in a communal relaxation room after floating where you can sit and relax, drink tea and in some spas, have a dose of oxygen. All optional and included in your session. Many people do benefit from getting a little extra oxygen, administered by a cannula.
9. And about that naked stuff. It’s advised that you float naked because of the clothing sensory input thing but that’s certainly your choise to do so. The float tank will be your personal space to use while you’re there and nobody is going to see you in there with all your freckles in places only you know about. Or you can simply wear a bathing suit, nobody except you is going to know either way.
10. Most spas in my area charge around $75- $125 on average for one session but some spas do have membership plans, first time discounts or Groupon deals.
So obviously I did keep my appointment and can’t wait to tell you all about it, so join me in part 3!