If switching off doesn’t come easily, 60 minutes of weightlessness could well do the trick, and if the mental benefits don’t swing you, the beauty ones might...
The self-care movement is arguably at its peak and kindness is finally, finally cool, despite what the social media trolls might have you think. While it’s not about to lose its kudos any time soon, in such a fast-moving world it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and abandon the notion of being kind to ourselves and giving back to our bodies and minds. Is that sacred ten minutes of meditation more beneficial in the morning or at night? Should I be practising one yoga method or mixing it up? HIIT blasts or endurance training ? Massage or acupuncture ? The downtime options are seemingly endless and everyone’s recipe or secret for success is different, to the extent that we’re often not sure what we need and give up before we’ve even begun.
How about if you could tick off meditation, relaxation and muscle recovery all at once, and within an hour at that? This is the proposition that flotation therapy puts forward, and it’s more accessible up and down the land than you might think - you can book a session through Treatwell at the click of a button and tanks are now almost as prolific in London as they are in LA.
Committing to the experience is pretty effortless once you’ve cleared that hour in your schedule - you’ll be spending 60 minutes floating in a tank of salt water at that’s pretty much your lot. The tank looks like something straight out of a sci-fi film – it’s an enclosed pod large enough for a single person to lie down in comfortably and it closes overhead in the same way that a sunbed would. As such, it’s potentially not the the self-care ritual for you if you suffer from claustrophobia.
The flotation therapy concept was originally developed by neuroscientist Dr. John Lilly in the 1950s as a means of understanding the origins of conscious activity within the brain. Daniel Percival, founder of flotation and hot yoga studio 3 Tribes , highlights that “the very first flotation tank wasn’t dissimilar to today’s interpretation. It was called a ‘sensory deprivation tank’ as Lilly wanted to decipher whether the brain needed external stimuli to keep its conscious state active.”
The result was negative and Lilly found that by removing all distractions, time in the tank could produce the altered state of mind that we now associate with deep meditation ; out-of-body experiences, waking dreams and complete relaxation.
Today, the flotation concept and impetus is much the same. The tank is filled with body-temperature water infused with a high concentration of Epsom salts which enable the body to float unaided. A session at 3 Tribes (£55) starts with five minutes of soft, coloured lighting and soothing music to allow the mind to switch off and completely ‘trust’ the water. From there, the lights go out, the music stops and you’re left with your thoughts for the full 60 minutes. It’s not dissimilar to the effects of a sound bath , but it’s more of a bonafide bathing experience if you catch my meaning.
“It’s the ultimate digital detox and a gentle introduction into meditation,” says Percival. “The mental health benefits range from reduced anxiety to improved sleep quality.” Given that these are the things that many of us desperately crave, alongside escapism from busy city life, flotation therapy is undoubtedly appealing, and the physical restoration element can be as powerful as the post-float mental clarity. The Epsom salt solution can help to alleviate muscle aches, stimulate digestion and has even been reported to help prevent migraines (although be wary of the flashing light situation at the beginning of the session if you are migraine prone). David explains that flotation therapy can be especially beneficial for post-exercise recovery:
“As you float, the weight that you’re putting on strained muscles, joints and bones lessens. Muscle tension, inflammation and blood pressure are lowered and the body’s lactic acid levels are reduced. It’s a great way to treat muscles post-workout or as a means of rehab after injury.”
There’s a beauty benefit to time in the tank too, as David adds that “Epsom salts act a natural exfoliator, helping to remove dead skin cells, unclog pores and clear breakouts.”
It’s a concept that sounds relatively utopian in principle and while it’s marketed for ‘anyone and everyone’, the reality of drifting in a dark, enclosed pod full of water for a fairly significant amount of time can be a daunting one. The best way to find out whether it’s for you is to quite literally dip a toe in - many flotation centres offer taster sessions to allow you to get used to the environment and sensation.
As with any means of self-care every person’s experience is unique and, like therapy of any form, emotions, benefits and takeaways can differ from one session to the next. If you’re looking to take your mindfulness practice to a new plane, however, flotation therapy could provide the physical and mental break you need.