Right. The first reconnaissance for the Way-To-Wellness. What with this whole awakening to the idea that the outer layer of the self is merely a reflection of inner processes, I decided to first do a heralded-overseas-but-not-quite-so-exulted-act-in-NZ-as-yet remedial undertaking (that also came up as a project for a freelance piece, I must admit).
First off, bit of a background to enlighten you on just what this therapy involves (in some contexts I somewhat fiercely take agin the word “therapy”; I mean, it sounds so ominous and staid and solemn. But needs amust, and – alas – it is what “floating” is deemed to be) (Though I do bet by the time I’m a fair few weeks into this I will be all about broadcasting therapies and such tosh). (Funnily enough, I don’t take the same stance on “therapeutic”. What sort of oddly hypocritical one am I?).
Apologies. Back to just what entails a float. So.
Floating is based on a revolutionary scientific approach to deep relaxation – aptly termed REST; that being Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique – whereby oneself is cocooned in a floatation pod in a concentration of 500kg of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate). With the water warmed to the exact temperature of the human skin (that being the well standard 37 degrees Celsius), the dissolved salts fully support your body weight meaning you expend no physical energy maintaining your position – you are untouched by gravity.
Originally termed a “sensory deprivation tank” then the “isolation tank”, the device was developed way back in 1954 by one John C. Lilly, a USofA lad who was both a medical practitioner (that being one practicing medicine) and a neuropsychiatrist (meaning he researched disordered brain functioning relating to mental and emotional disturbances). Lilly (insertation: can’t stop chuckling – keep thinking of “Lilly” as in Chris Lilley and imagining Jamie and Jonah from Tonga meddling about with a floating tank) was all about testing the effects of sensory deprivation, coming up with a lightless, soundproof contraption whereby “subjects” (i.e., people) floated inside in a la-la land. Although he did experiment with having a float under the influence of psychedelic agents (namely LSD; can you imagine being in a plastic peapod whacked out of your mind on Acid?), he came to the forgone conclusion that going in sober, without taking any substances, proved a far better experience.
You see, at the time (better not actually say “way” back; it twas the years that Uncle Adrian, Cock and the father Henio all first graced this earth, after all) there had been much looking into about the brain. What keeps it going, the origins of its energy sources, that such lark. Some pounce averred that if one’s mind was cut off from all external stimuli, it would simply slip into slumber. Old Lilly decided to test this theory and create an environment where one would be isolated from all outside stimulation. And voilà (insertation here; my mind is fully in smithereens right now because I just googled the aforementioned phrase and realised that my entire 24-years-and-11-month of being I have thought it was “walla”. My word – or perhaps more correctly, my wrong word – isn’t that unbelievable that I’ve had it wrong this entire time?) (reminds me of that Counting Crows Big Yellow Taxi song; for years and years and years – ok, maybe like one at most – I thought the lyrics said, “And tell all a fucking lie”. It was only when fam friend daughter Brittany Stevens heard me enthusiastically belting it out in her kitchen one afternoon that she broke out into cacophonous cackles and informed me that it was actually, “put up a parking lot”. Suffice to say, I occasionally – ok, often – get a few things fairly wrong) the sensory deprivation tank was conceived.
In the 70s some fellas at the University of British Columbia revived the studies and started looking into the therapeutic benefits of floating (insertation: I reckon they should have termed it “tanking”. I mean, you’re floating about in a tank, are you not? Though I do guess that “tanking” holds connation of, A. getting hammered in the inebriated sense, or, B. bulking up in the gaining mass sense. No, eliminate such suggestion; “floating” does fine). Anyway, the findings proved so peachy-ly melon (i.e., “fruitful”) that the practice took off as the vogue, and as of the last few years has reached the shores of old wee En Zed.
So why have a float?
Well, everyday life is hectic, particularly nowadays. I mean, dealing with daily doings mean your mind and body are constantly inundated with stressful sensory intake that can leave you tense, frazzled and overwrought – often with you entirely unaware of just how much. Floating offers the space for blissful relief and relaxation (apparently). It allows you to escape the chaotic, saturated world into a state of deep mental and physical relaxation.
You see, the 40 to 90-minute interlude enables you to recharge, rest and (apparently) emerge with a renewed perspective and strength. Your body balanced is reset as you lie suspended in the salt, what with no pressure points running along your body or tactile input on your skin meaning your nervous, skeletal and muscular systems can totally surrender in the pod safe haven. In fact, a single hour in the tank is claimed to equal eight hours of deep, restorative sleep. With the brain free from processing duties, the production of theta waves is prompted meaning you reach a state of great tranquillity and creativity, releasing vast amounts of endorphins as to be in the state of mind that Buddhist monks aim to reach through hours of meditation and years of training. In the tank this state can last indefinitely without you losing consciousness, and many people – especially creative types – use the extended state as an opportunity for enhanced “vision”, “problem solving” and so-called “super learning”.
Many high sports performance athletes use the benefits for pre-event visualisation, peak body reaching and recovery, as well as celebrities such as Fear Factor (once the highlight of my eleven-year-old self’s weekend) host Joe Rogan praising them as the wellness whole-y (gettit?) grail. It has also had the odd cameo in a number of pop culture works, from The Simpsons (Homer and Lisa hustle a float at a local new age store), Tom Clancy’s 1988 novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin (floating is used as a form of interrogation, where a sedated Russian woman is isolated in a tank and wakes up unable to see, hear or feel anything), in a number of TV shows (think Frasier, House, the lark) to even being featured in Dr Dre’s I Need a Doctor video. Wow ee.
So is floating a phenomenon in the bracket of new age natural healing? Or is it just an argumentation of the age old long hot bath? I went to test the waters. (Apologies. I couldn’t help but plug that one).
Before my afternoon appointment I had done a touch of half-hearted reading up on floating. You know, the what/where/why/how investigations. I had a pretty shallow (apologies) idea of what it all entailed but it was on the morning of my magnesium meeting that I turned to YouTube to watch it in action – and realised I may be a touch out of my depth (again, apologies).
You see, (as I have divulged before) I am a tad claustrophobic. As in the enclosed-spaces-tend-to-send-me-into-spasms-of-hysteria type classification. And upon seeing the floater on the uploaded vid open up the lid of the tank and climb inside, my breathing quickened and all I could think was fuck, fuck fuck.
Call me idiotic, but from my (admittedly, narrow) reading up on what floating was I had – for some stupiditic reasoning – assumed it would be a big open pool. The term “tank” had not set off any alerts, not had I come across anything referring to a “lid”. So in seeing the bikini clad lass hustling into a pretty confined space I had a moment of unnerve and considered cancelling my 3pm.
(But then a flurried Google of “can claustrophobic people float” somewhat assured me that I would be ok, I got into my – ok, Deb’s – car and went on my way).
On arrival at the Auckland spa where I was booked in for my float, I had to first fill in some paperwork – you know, the standard “circle if so” pregnant/menstruating/epileptic type question line (no circles required). Then I was led to a warm and dimly lit room, where a floatation tank itself stood centre stage of the room.
The therapist (absolute babe, must be said) talked me through the pre to-do’s; washing myself with the designated soap, hair with the instructed shampoo, such lark. My query of whether or not to wear swimwear in the pod was met with a no – apparently the straps and bands of bikinis take away some effect of the benefits, with the feeling on the skin – and I was shown how to lift the lid, man the lighting and the location of the panic button (I took great notice of the last mentioned). And then, after being handed a set of ear plugs, I was left to my own devices.
After doing as I was told, I tentatively dipped a toe in to – again – test the waters, before following it with the rest of my bod before shutting the lid. The therapist had explained to me that at first a meditative music would play, which would slowly fade out to silence after ten minutes, whereupon it was encouraged that I turn the lights off. Yikes.
So upon shutting myself in I did a quick scout around for my necessary knobs and handles. Yup, the panic one, the light one, the lever to lift the lid up and off. We were good to go.
I sort of swirled about for a bit, lid partly propped up, as I got my bearings in the somewhat silky water. This is nice, I thought, as the wistful melodies rebounded about the tank. Quite relaxing, like a, well, a bath really.
A minute or so later I was a little bit bored. I could do this at home in my actual bath with a book to keep my brain busy, I thought a bit bitterly. And with hot water too. Always one for the torrents of my shower or depths of my baths to be of the turn-my-skin-rose-red hot temps, the lukewarm water wasn’t really doing it for me. Mid shiver (ok, it wasn’t cold per se; just a touch tepid) I suddenly had a spurt of the giggles; my late Nanna Helen had always gone by gospel of the healing abilities of bathing in salt. For the brother Michael’s broken finger back in the pre-teen years (he had been running down the hallway pretending to be a car and had caught it on a door frame) her advice had been to “salt bathe it”. When I got a bit of a burn from a stove topped sauce pan (baking batter was always an irresistible calling for my young self, believe it or not), a phone call to Nanna had garnered the same advice, “salt bathe it”. It was one of my grandfather’s top situations to sketch my Nanna in when he sent us our fortnightly cartoons of the family; her swanning about with a salt shaker and instructing all and sundry to bathe their ailments. And all of a sudden all I could imagine was old Helen standing alongside the tank and nodding her approval at my salt bathing.
Then the music not so much faded out, but abruptly stopped. Having almost completely lowered the lid, I took a deep breath and shut it fully, then turned off the lights. Mate, I’m doing it, I internally fist pumped myself (when I use this term I mean “fist pump” in the “high five” type section of self-praise, nothing untoward I must clarify). In an enclosed space in the dark and fine about it. Go Pop!
Until about 30 seconds later I suddenly freaked out and shunted open the lid to check I could get out if I wanted to. And the light switch worked. I almost tested the panic button, but thought better of it and made myself settle down and get back in.
Having once again put a lid on my hesitation (apologies), I nestled back into the brackish h20 and thought about being Zen. Come at me theta waves, I vibed. Givvus some choice material for Seedless Green Grapes. Bit instead, memories of a favorably dog-eared Paul Jennings book of mine thronged into my thoughts and I found myself pondering the storyline of the, well, story. A lad finds a heavily tattooed man in the hull of a boat encased in a pool of salty water, and upon touching his arm finds all the tattoos up skin and attach themselves to his limbs and such instead. I was trying to remember the title of the tale (which alas, even Google has been unable to aid me in; obviously “Paul Jennings book where boy touches tattooed man and tattoos move to his skin name” doesn’t hold enough garnering to elicit the answers I require) and how the tattoos made their way back to the man in the end, which then led onto me considering the brother James’ tattoos and his near-finished sleeves. Then I found myself cavorting around in cackles myself as I thought about James’ latest addition, the face of a woman who – not yet having had her hair illustrated – bears a significant resemblance to the father Henio. “Why did you get dead Dad on your arm?” I asked the bro upon first sighting. Delighted with my self-defined wittiness, I once again had a few chuffed chuckles that resulted in a mass mouth intake of salty water and a necessity to open the lid yet again and have a good hack.
And to round three.
I decided that at 20 minutes in with no dip (again, I’m sorry) into this so-called serene state of reflection and philosophical healing, the thing was a hoax. A downright swindle, a ruse, the latest in the touted as the next-big-thing that was actually a container of codswallop. And to think I have another 40-odd minutes having to lie here in this lackadaisical loch! I furied. I wonder if I can maybe skive out and sit on the chair by the door and read a magazine…
And all of a sudden, I was out.
It wasn’t sleep. But it wasn’t being awake. You know when you sort of wake in the middle of the night, quite dozy, and make wees or such tosh? And you sort of stumble about as you aren’t quite conscious? Well, it wasn’t like that either. I highly dislike myself for even publishing the following sentence, but it was truly a state of pure harmonic heaven. I just drifted, wondrous thoughts filling my mind with the future playing out in my mind (very, very insightful I must say, however ridiculous that sounds) and absolute magic of prose being penned in my cognizance. And – very unlike myself – there wasn’t even a slight urge to leap up and grab a leaf of paper to scribble it all down; I’ll remember it, I languidly told myself. And you know what? I actually did.
When the meditative music started to play and rouse me from my completely calm position, I was so chilled I wasn’t even annoyed. I slowly stirred, feeling like nothing at all could stimulate any slight sense of stress; even switching on the light and realising the roof was right above me didn’t faze me in the slightest. Oh, I’m enclosed. I thought dreamily.
I somnolently rose out of the tub and stepped into the shower as had been instructed, dreamily washing my hair with the S&C laid out for me. I was just – extremely chilled-ly – marveling at how my left shoulder was no longer spasming with the knot that has been entrenched in there for as long as I can remember and considering the likelihood of me getting old Henio to fashion me my own tank out of some kind of big drum, when my serenity was somewhat scuttered by a loud and horrid gurgling sound from the floatation pod. I stared at it, not quite in panic but perhaps more in partial alarm. Fuck, I thought. I hope I haven’t broken the thing. But honestly? I was too relaxed to care really.
After an unhurried towel dry I attired up in my active wear and made my way out back out to the “consulting room”, where my gal pal Meilissa was awaiting my re-arrival. (Note: pod still gurgling like a mother fucker). “Heeeeeeyyyyyyy,” I greeted her, feeling like some kind of stoned Californian surfer. “I feel aaaaaaamazin’.”
After the babeing therapist came to check how I’d got on (“It’s making an odd noise,” I told her, quite unaffectedly; she informed me that it was sort of suctioning out and self-cleaning or some shit – I didn’t actually really listen) and gave me a big glass of water, and Meilissa and I went on our way.
And I was so calm. So unperturbed, peaceful and laissez-faire. Even the Auckland traffic didn’t get my hackles up; when a lad in front suddenly decided to brake, necessitating a quick reaction on my part, I just lazily smiled and pushed my foot down. At a set of red lights I came extremely close to rear-ending a gleaming Beemer, but instead of the usual “FUCK” and intense heart palpitations, I just looked sideways at Meilissa and casually shrugged my shoulders. “Mate,” I said. “I’m full on so chilled.”
The next day I returned to work; the untroubled and tranquil situation of myself dispersed like lollies at a school scramble (do they still do those? Probably not with all these mothers all agin refined sugar and such) and I was back to left shoulder spasming, somewhat anxious and slightly stressed Pop.
So; the decree on the old float?
Well I have come to the complete conclusion that thus is a therapy (I’m getting there with the term) that must be undertaken fortnightly, if not weekly, to feel the full effects and benefits. The state I was in upon arising from the waters and making my way back out into the stimulated world was one which I would slay to wake up in each and every day. I have already put “floatation pod” as number three on the list of necessities for when (ok, if) I own my own home space (following “sauna” as number one and “loft writing room” as number two; I mean who really needs a bed? Or a table? Wines with friends can just as easily be sipped in communal steam rooming as on a couch, am I right?).
So yes. Most definitely a therapy I shall undertake again. One I most definitely endorse as a try out for you too. On the Pop Appraisal Gamut, floating scores a solidly salty seven on the Way-To-Wellness Venturing Voyage.