My Experience with Floatation Therapy

Photo by Holly Huepfel

Photo by Holly Huepfel

By Holly Huepfel

Floatation therapy. Sensory deprivation. Floating. It has many names, but no matter what you call it, one thing is certain: its popularity has been rising almost as fast as the sea level. 

If you haven’t heard of this phenomenon, floatation therapy is the experience of being enclosed completely naked in a tank full of skin-temperature water that’s so dense in salt that you float effortlessly, totally deprived of light and sound for 60- or 90-minute sessions. The goal? Ultimate relaxation. 

Sounds a little freaky, right? I thought so too, and absolutely had to give it a try. Luckily, Stillpoint Yoga and Float in King of Prussia has a state-of-the-art float spa less than 20 miles from Temple’s campus. After a conversation with Stillpoint’s owner, Dianne Rutstein, I scheduled my float for a Sunday afternoon and tried it out for myself. 

Around since the 1950s, flotation therapy has proven to have countless benefits for the mind and body. I was attracted to the idea because studies have shown that floating lowers your cortisol levels, therefore reducing stress. It is also used to expedite recovery from exercise, promote better sleep, and provide relief from various medical conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, migraines, and even PTSD. With all that in mind, it’s surprising it only increased in popularity recently.

Stillpoint has a variety of options to make the experience accessible to anyone, and here’s how it works: When you get there, a float guide will take you back to your room—equipped with a float tank, fully stocked shower, towels, and washcloths, plus anything else you could need for an enjoyable experience. Stillpoint really thought of everything, including earplugs, Q-tips, Vaseline to protect minor cuts from the salt, and even makeup remover. You’re instructed to shower both before and after the float session—before to cleanse your body of any oils from sweat, lotions, or perfumes that could possibly harm the tank, and after to rinse off the 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts that you’ve been soaking in for the past hour.

Photo by Holly Huepfel

Photo by Holly Huepfel

During your float session, you can play your own music, listen to the spa music provided, or choose to float in silence. There are also lighting options (ranging from single colors to a disco setting to complete darkness) and an intercom inside of the float tank so that you can reach your guide at any time during the session.

Dianne recommended to go into my float with absolutely no expectations. The float experience is different for everyone, and it can even vary from float to float for one individual. Some people fall asleep, some fall into a deep meditation, and others have really intense internal dialogues with themselves. 

She told me that one woman left her float session with her entire Thanksgiving menu planned down to a T, and another felt her baby kick for the first time. The possibilities really are endless.

However, my restless mind couldn’t possibly go into the session without any expectations. Let’s be realistic—there were a handful of things that I expected going into it: 

First, I was totally freaked out by the total darkness and silence. While I expected I wouldn’t be able to handle complete sensory deprivation, I decided to at least give it a shot for the beginning of my float. As I thought, it was a really strange experience. It was so dark that I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open. The silence, however, was a huge relief. I stuck with these lighting and sound preferences for the whole session.

Second, I thought the goal was to feel totally weightless, so I would be able to be completely still and eventually feel nothing at all. This was actually a very distracting preconception for me. I spent the first part of the float (who knows how long—time is a complete illusion in there) extremely restless and very focused on not only trying to be completely still, but also trying to make sure that my hand wasn’t brushing against any other part of my body (where it naturally wanted to fall). As soon as I actually allowed myself to stir when needed and to let my hand rest wherever it felt natural, I was monumentally more relaxed.

My last expectation was that my mind would go totally still and I would fall asleep. This, of course, never happened. There was always some movement in my mind, and the best way that I can describe it is the limbo between awake and asleep when you go to bed at night. My thoughts were everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I even I forgot where I was. There was a point where I opened my eyes and they rejected the complete darkness around me and gave the trippy illusion of movement in the darkness—like I was traveling through a portal. 

When the lights finally returned, signifying that my float was over, I could not believe that 60 minutes had already passed. It felt more like half an hour, and I thought that it was a mistake. I definitely didn’t want to leave, but the jets in the tank turned on as a gentle nudge back into the real world. 

The lasting relaxation was imminent from the second I stepped out of the tank. I was so zen that even the way I walked was smoother. When I showered and got myself together, it felt like everything was in slow motion. I then had the opportunity to go and sip some lemon water in their decompression lounge and write in their journal about my experience. On my drive home, the anxiety that I usually get while driving was totally absent, and I went through the rest of my day completely at peace. 

Floatation therapy is definitely something I want to try again, especially now that I know what to expect and won’t waste precious moments at the beginning of my session getting situated. 

To anyone else who has an interest in trying it out, I definitely recommend going into it with an open mind and zero expectations, as hard as that sounds. The relaxation benefits are unlike anything that I have tried before, and for anyone who craves a little bit of separation from reality, it’s definitely worth a try.

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