This week I tried floating for the first time. I’ve wondered about it since my friend told me a few years ago that it was his way to relax and escape from the outside world, to be completely alone with his thoughts. Spending time in an isolation tank and depriving my senses of stimulation peaked my curiosity.
I skipped my morning coffee and rode my bike to the floatation centre because exercise and avoiding caffeine are recommended before floating. I walked into the pristine, white entryway of Float Sense in Burnaby and was greeted by the two young, attractive owners, Randy & Craig. It was their grand opening after nine months of preparation. Craig made me a cup of tea and Randy showed me around the floatation centre. The two owners have known each other for a long time, since before they left Alberta to live in British Columbia. They are passionate about health and wellness and have been involved in the industry for years. I left my shoes at the front and was guided to room two, where I would be spending the next ninety minutes. Randy instructed my to use the shower before and after my float, to wear the provided earplugs and to avoid touching my face while in the tank. The water is so salty that it will burn my eyes if I get any in them. There’s a spray bottle with fresh water and cloth outside the tank in case I need to rinse them out. The earplugs prevent ear irritation.
The float tanks are bigger at Float Sense than they are at some other float centres, but I started to feel a bit nervous looking at the tank and picturing myself going inside and shutting the lid. The lights in the float rooms are blue to avoid shocking bright lights as the floater comes out of the dark tank, but it added to the eeriness of the tank room.
Randy finished explaining everything and I didn’t have any more questions, so he left me to it. I took off my clothes, washed up in the shower, put in my earplugs and stepped in the tank. Alone, everything was silent. I knelt in the warm water of the tank and carefully shut the lid on myself. It was so dark that it looked the same with my eyes open or shut. The water was the same temperature as the air and it supported me as I laid down and relaxed. I was floating on the water like I would in the dead sea.
I touched my hands and feet against the walls of the tank to centre myself in the tank and then relaxed my limbs at my side. My face was above the water and I breathed comfortably. The water was warm like the temperature of my skin. Dark and silent, I felt like talking to myself, but didn’t. I breathed in and out slowly. I don’t have much experience with meditation because I tend to struggle with boredom while meditating and become frustrated when my mind wanders. I hoped that the isolation tank would help me meditate because for a fixed amount of time I would have no external distractions.
My ninety minute float went through different stages. At the beginning, I was curious and excited. I felt pampered by the luxury of taking ninety minutes for myself, unable to be reached by the outside world. I imagined my breath was a liquid that moved in and out of my body through my nose. I tried to focus on my breath and imagined it changing colours. My breath turned into a flock of birds, flying in and out of me and then into black swirls.
After a while, the visualizations of my breath stopped keeping me focused and my mind started to wander. I thought about what I would do after the float, about what I did last week and I wasn’t ‘in the moment’ anymore. I’ve told it’s normal to struggle to focus while meditating, but it frustrated me. I started to feel bored and wonder how long I had been in the tank. I couldn’t tell if it had been 15 minutes or 45 minutes or longer. I stretched out my arms and legs like I just woke up in the morning, then I crossed my legs and ran my hands along the sides of my body, which felt soft from the salt water.
Then I relaxed again. I started to feel like I was in a dream, but I wasn’t sleeping. I almost forgot where I was. I felt totally present and in the moment again. I don’t know how long I was in that state before I heard gentle music playing and it was time to get out of the tank. I wasn’t anticipating it, then the session ended before I knew it.
I stepped out of the tank and got in the shower. I felt relaxed and refreshed as the water rinsed the salt off me. I was happy with how my float session went because, while I struggled at times, most of the session I felt more focused and at peace than I had in any other mediation session. There was nothing to do in the tank but let my mind settle. Sometimes my brain fought me and didn’t let me relax, but eventually it calmed down and in a 90 minute session there wasn’t much choice but to let go and just be.