I was like, “Oo, I want to try!” And in honour of 4 Mothers’ reviews of interesting spas this week, I did. And it was really quite cool.
My local H20 Float Spa, conveniently located on Danforth Avenue, offers two float pods (with lids) and two open concept float rooms (large enough for a couple to float together). I opted for the pod, which really is large water capsule with a lid, perhaps the size of a queen size bed, filled with 10 inches of water and filled with 1000 pounds of Epsom salts. At this concentration (higher than the Dead Sea), the body naturally floats to the surface without any effort, which in turn is conducive to deep states of relaxation.
It was this selling point that got me: I am trying to meditate more, and was curious about doing so in the pod. What would it be like?
The water in the pod is comfortable but not hot – you can’t float for an hour in water that is too hot. It’s normally kept at body temperature (34 degrees) although when I mentioned to the attendant booking my appointment over the phone that I get cold easily, he increased the temperature a degree or two for my session. I slipped into the water and immediately was buoyed up.
The attendant had asked me if I wanted cream to cover any cuts on my body, but I didn’t think I had any. Apparently I had small cuts on some cuticles though, and the high salt content of the water meant that the stinging was distracting enough that I buzzed the attendant (there’s a button in the pod for this) to request the cream after all. I generously applied (and reapplied) this and felt better. (Luckily I hadn’t shaved before floating; I later learned this is not recommended because any little nicks in the skin will sting too.) I also inserted little spots of wax into my ears; apparently you don’t want the salt water entering the ear cavities.
It’s possible to plug in music to the pod, which I think would be an amazing experience, but for my first try, I wanted just silence. When I was ready, I reached up for the handle to close the capsule. When the lid actually clicked shut over me, I had a moment of startled awareness of enclosure. And the sudden, completely absence of light. There was a subtle green glow in the pod when the lid was open, now with it shut, there was a short window of reddish darkness, and then just black darkness. Pure sensory deprivation.
It was quite amazing. Weightless, with absolutely no difference to my sight whether my eyes were open or closed, I began my mindful meditation practice. With so little sensation, what was there was heightened. I was very aware of the water, its temperature and mine, its texture on my skin (so very smooth), and also what parts of my body were covered by it or exposed. The sounds of my breath were intensified, and almost foreign as it got deeper. My mind wandered (it always does – my meditations are a work in progress), but there was very little external stimulus. And I don’t think I have ever heard my own heartbeat so prominent and plain.
The one meaningful distraction was the periodic rumble of the subway that makes the location so convenient; in my sensitive state I could both hear and feel this. I took this in stride with my meditation but could imagine a purer experience without it – some music might mask this beautifully.
I’m fairly sure I fell asleep and woke a few times. Towards the end of my hour, my meditative state ended, and I very nearly opened the lid (although I didn’t – the lights came on just a few minutes later to signal the end of my session). I began to wonder: how much oxygen is in this pod, and was my breathing a bit more laboured than when I started? In other words, I began to experience some mild anxiety. But I recognized this, and was not actually worried; I had just left my relaxed state. I finished up with a leisurely hot shower in my floating room, and ended my spa with a hot cup of sweetened tea and an orange.
As Beth-Anne astutely observed from the beginning, the floating pod isn’t for everyone. Even though there’s only 10 inches of water, I think you have to be really comfortable with water – no fear of it at all – to enjoy the experience. Also, you have to be a-okay with the dark and small spaces (although it’s absolutely possible to float with the lights on and the lid up, but you’ll be missing the main experience of sensory deprivation).
If you are good on these fronts, by all means, give it a go. I’m not sure I’ll become a regular, mostly because I rarely go to spas in general, but it was an unforgettable experience and a very good meditation session. The attendant told me that there are some excellent meditators who book three hour sessions. (I had asked him my oxygen question, and he explained that there is a filter inside the pod that is constantly monitoring oxygen levels and adding air so very long sessions are possible.)
And if the pod isn’t quite up your alley, the open concept floating rooms sound very accessible. There were only couples in the waiting room when I was paying and wrapping up; a casual testimonial, I thought, that floating in the dark with your lover probably makes for an excellent date. One thing is sure: you wouldn’t soon forget it.