I like floating in pools and have a fondness for baths, so I decided to try a float room on the weekend.
Float rooms or tanks (also known as isolation or sensory deprivation tanks) are plastic pods filled with water and enough Epsom salts so that a person easily floats when lying on his or her back. Typically, there is no sound, smell, or light in the room, and this experience is considered therapeutic and relaxing.
In Vancouver, float therapy is still relatively new, but it seems to be on the rise. Last year, Float House opened in Gastown and Kitsilano. I went to Pure Float (1197 Howe Street), which opened downtown recently.
After a quick orientation of the spa, I was shown one of two float rooms. The room had a place to store my belongings and a shower area that led to the separated float room. I was told to shower before getting into the water and wear ear plugs so that the salt wouldn’t bother my ears. After a few more instructions about how to turn the lights on and off from within the float room and what to do if I got salt water in my eyes, my Pure Float attendant left the room for my one hour session.
I stripped down completely, which is recommended since bathing suits can sometimes cause pressure on the body. After showering, I inserted the earplugs and stepped into the water. The float room was white but lighting inside the pod made everything appear blue. The water was warm and actually quite shallow, reaching below my knees, and the roof of the tank had blue and yellow star-like lights.
I was told that I could either close the door of the float room and be enclosed completely, or leave it open since it sometimes gets a bit hot. Since I was slightly worried about feeling claustrophobic, I left the tank door ajar. I also decided to not switch off all the lights and left the starry lights on. The idea of lying in a pool of water, naked, in complete darkness sounded slightly nightmarish to me.
I sat in the middle of the float room first before extending my legs and lying down. Magically, I was floating...but also I was stinging. Turns out, I had some cuts and scrapes on my legs and hands, and that saying about “pouring salt on a wound”? Well, it’s true. It was hard for me to relax as I waited for the stinging to stop, but eventually it sort of did.
Floating was an interesting experience. At one point, my ankle joint cracked when I moved my foot, and that sound magnified in the water. My skin felt cool and tingly, and I did lose sense of where I was floating within the room (I’d occasionally lightly bump into one of the walls, and my guess is that the room was around 6 feet wide and 8 feet long).
I have no idea how long I lay there, but it wasn’t the full hour I had booked since I was told that music would play in my room once my time was up. After a while, I started to feel a bit nauseous, so I stepped out of the float room to shower the Epsom salts off me before getting dressed to leave.
The lights in my room were softly dimmed, so when I stepped back outside into daylight, my eyes—and my head, in general—felt “funny”. To be honest, I felt a little bit high and disoriented, which I read later can happen to some people in isolation tanks. A part of me did feel relaxed at some points, but I was also nervous and tense because of how new and strange the experience was to me.
Would I recommend sensory deprivation therapy to others? Sure, if the idea of floating alone in water sounds appealing and relaxing to you. It isn't for everyone, obviously, but it’s worth a try if you’re curious.
Update: a previous version of this blog post referred to "float tanks"; however, Pure Float offers "float rooms".