Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Floating Experience

photo courtesy of The Floatworks
When I was approached about trying a float at The Floatworks in Vauxhall a million thoughts ran through my mind. First thought: No, absolutely not. No way! I also thought, I don't need this and it's totally not for me. I have the slightest bit of claustrophobia... I don't like big crowds that much or spaces without windows. I could never take a job working in a basement and I sometimes get a little freaked out in the Tube. Needless to say, the idea of getting into a pod and closing the lid seemed like an impossible pursuit for me, so naturally I turned down the opportunity. That was until the team at The Floatworks informed me that floating therapy is often used to treat claustrophobia and I realized that the pod contains epsom salts, something I've been a little obsessed with recently for their detoxifying properties. I mean, if they're good enough for Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham, they're good enough for me, not to mention that both my mother and grandmother have always praised their benefits! Long story short, I changed my mind and I'm so glad I did... As it turns out, floating is one of the best things I've ever done for myself and I'm happy to admit I've been converted.

I'm not someone who relaxes easily. It's not in my nature. I try and sometimes I pretend, but at the end of the day, I'm that girl in yoga class who's planning what to wear tomorrow, thinking about what to make for dinner, choreographing a dance or singing through the entire lyrics of We Didn't Start the Fire in my head to keep entertained. It can be exhausting at times and as I get increasingly more busy, I understand the need for a quite mind, even if only for a few minutes wherever I can get it. Having a busy head at all times makes me tired and occasionally a little frustrated, but nothing I've tried from meditation to yoga has ever properly relaxed me... Until now.

How it works...
the shower
photo courtesy of The Floatworks
I find in order to understand what floating is like, it's important to know how it works. You'll arrive about 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment and register if it's your first time. Before you enter the room, you'll be given a pair of flip flops, a towel and a locker. You remove your shoes, coat and any extra stuff you don't need and lock up your bag and valuables. You can take things other than shoes in with you if you want, but they may get wet. Once you've done that, it's very important to use the loo because it's not really an option once you go to the floating room. There's a heated towel rack a shower and everything you need to get floating in your room, including earplugs that you put in first thing while you're dry so they don't slip out. You'll find provided a packet of vaseline to coat any scratches or cuts on your body. Due to the high salt content of the water, this step is important as the it will keep away any stinging. It's also worth noting that you don't want to float after shaving as it will be uncomfortable, so best not to shave a day or two before your appointment. Next you have a quick rinse in the provided shower and dry your face to prevent any dripping or itching while you're in the pod. If you wear contacts like me, it's important to remove those as well. Once these steps are completed, you're ready to float!

what floating looks like
photo courtesy of The Floatworks

There's a large pod that looks sort of like a a hot tub with a lid and it's about half-full of water. The water contains a large amount of epsom salts making it so buoyant that you float once you're inside. You step into the pod and grab the handle of the lid and pull it down with you as you get in, being careful as the water can take you away. Once the lid closed, you simply let your body flop as it will, allowing your head to drop back as far as is natural and comfortable. The common mistake that people make is trying to hold their heads up because that's what we're used to, but it's not necessary and can cause discomfort. The water doesn't go above eye level, so you don't have to worry about sinking or getting water in your eyes or nose. There is a blue light inside and light music plays for the first five minutes, similar to what you might hear in a spa or a yoga class. There are two buttons inside the pod, one on the left that controls the light and one on the right that's a panic button, should you require assistance. There's also a spray bottle of fresh water which is useful in case you have an itchy face as you wouldn't want to scratch with salty hands. The idea is to turn off the light as soon as possible and let the world fade away. You are totally free of any stimuli. The float lasts for one hour and at the end of the float, the music gently comes back on to let you know it's time to turn on the light again and finish your float. Once you're out of the pod, it's time to take a good shower with the products provided, dry off, get dressed again, collect your shoes & belongings from the locker and head upstairs to finish getting ready and relax for as long as you need before heading back out into the world. 

My floating journey...
Floatworks, Vauxhall
photo courtesy of The Floatworks

When I attended my first float appointment, I was very nervous, but excited at the same time. The staff are very friendly and gave me all the information I needed to get started. If you're worried you'll forget to use the loo before your float, don't be... I was impressed at how they reminded me. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was totally wrong. I expected it to feel like floating in a swimming pool, but it doesn't... It's the most bizarrely wonderful experience I think I've ever had, but it took me a while to get to that conclusion. 

the float pod when it's closed
photo courtesy of The Floatworks
When I got into the pod to begin my first float, I was positively terrified. It took everything in me to stay there. I very nearly got out and apologized to the Floatworks team for my cowardice... I very quickly reduced from confident and excited to shaky limbs and shallow breathing. I then mustered every last bit of courage I had in me, tried to organize my panic and reminded myself that if I was so far outside my comfort zone, I was probably exactly where I needed to be and that I was lucky to have the opportunity to try such a unique experience. It also helps to remember that you're in control of the lid - I could've gotten out anytime I wanted. I lifted the lid to make sure I was still in the room (it really does feel super isolated), tried to calm down my breathing which was super freaky and loud since I was wearing earplugs and laid my head back. I surprised myself by turning off the light about a minute or two into the float, trying my best to be open-minded and unafraid. That lasted I think about 5 minutes before I felt like I'd migrated inside the pod and frantically started reaching for the light switch again. Once I found it and turned it on, I was suprised to see that my legs were still right where they started and only then, did I begin to relax a bit and I turned off the light for good. The fear was all in my head.

There are a few things I found frightening or strange. I could feel my breathing and I could hear it. Breathing is something so instinctive and automatic that it can be unnerving when you suddenly become very aware of it. It reminded me of that film Gravity when it's just Sandra Bullock in the darkness and all you can hear is her breathing and it's terrifying. Once I calmed down, it became very clear that the breathing was a good thing... It gave me something to focus on. It's also strange to have no indication of which way you're facing or which way is up and because the water is just the right temperature, I couldn't feel that either. I wasn't warm, I wasn't cold, I didn't feel wet or like I was in water... I just was. That's an unusual feeling and I imagine it's what it might feel like to be in space or suspended in Jello.

After I'm guessing about 10 minutes since getting into the pod (I had no concept of time in there), I was fully into it in some ways. I felt my mind wandering, but I had read somewhere to focus on my breathing. That certainly helped me be calm, but it didn't feel relaxing at all, so I decided to try something new. I had recently heard a lot about the power of visualization, trying to see something you want to happen. I tried to visualize a few things: What does success look like to me? What do I look like when I feel that I've truly achieved success? What's my job? Where will I live? What car will I drive? What will my office look like? What will my workout routine be like? Where will I go for time off? This totally worked and my mind began to wonder. I think about 40 minutes in, it got hard to think, hard to hold my body even though I wasn't holding it and I felt the fight go out of me... I relaxed! I spaced out! I was zen and my mind went completely blank! You can imagine my excitement, given that it had never happened before... It felt like such a relief and a blessing for my tired, overworked mind.

photo courtesy of The Floatworks
Even though I've heard that people do sleep in the pod, I never fell asleep and I think it would be hard to, though I'm a person who finds it difficult to sleep in a super quiet, pitch-dark room. If you're someone who needs that to sleep, then this might be the best nap you'll ever take. For me, I can't sleep unless I can hear the traffic outside, have the television on or at least have the gentle hum of a fan going. 

When the music came back on, I felt as though I'd been to the spa... I dragged my body out of the pod, feeling a bit like you do after a good massage, all slow, heavy and spacey. I then had what felt like the best shower of my life with lovely coconut scented hair & shower products and made my way to the Hollywood Room where there are well-lit mirrors and really nice hairdryers & straighteners for guests to use. Following that I retreated to the Relaxation Room for a cup of tea and some time to readjust to the world. 

the Relaxation Room
photo courtesy of The Floatworks
Trying to pinpoint my feelings after the first float is difficult. It felt like I'd done something so wonderful for myself and yet I couldn't say I liked it... As a person who doesn't relax, it was too foreign for me to compare it to anything, but I knew I needed it. It was like taking your medicine - no one ever wants to, but when you do, it's not as bad as you expected and it makes you feel so much better. The benefits to follow were immeasurable. My regular state of stressful anxiety didn't come back for at least a week, I found myself talking slower and softer, not reacting negatively to every snag and really feeling good in general. I had the best, most relaxing sleep of my life, felt better in my workouts and genuinely enjoyed a clear head. Better yet, my whole body felt better! I ruptured my ACL last summer and I've been working out a lot lately as strength is my best option for recovery... All the soreness was gone after my float and I felt as though I'd been taken apart and put back together the way I'm supposed to be. It was a wonderful feeling!

Because of my fear and because floating is something that promises to be better the more you do it, I booked in for a second visit to The Floatworks. It's true... It gets better when you do it more. While my first float felt long, the second one flew by so quickly. I wasn't afraid anymore and I got even more benefit from it. I also got so many ideas for life, for the blog, for things like furniture quandries in my flat that have been bothering me for months... These ideas and solutions came whooshing into my head! I now feel that floating will become a part of my life. It's an uninterrupted hour, unplugged from everything, free from my various obligations to do something that's truly beneficial for myself and refuel. It sounds cliché and I'm the first person to snarl when I hear the words unplugged or digital detox, but taking a short amount of time to create some white space in my mind has made me more productive, more creative, less stressed, more able to find joy and I truly believe it's done wonders for my personality. I hope to float at least once a month going forward or at the very least, book myself in for a float when I know I'm going to be coming out of a hard week or a big project to unwind and recharge. 

A wee bit of awkward talk... 
As far as side effects go, I only had one and I reckon it's more of a benefit that a side effect. I'm sure it's to do with the detoxifying properties in the epsom salts, but when I've finished both floats, I've made a beeline for the loo even though I went right before. Throughout the 24 hours following both floats, I've had to pee a lot... I imagine my body was flushing itself of nasty toxins, which as I said before, is more of a benefit than a side effect, but you might want to avoid scheduling 5 mile hikes or anything that takes you too far from the loo following a float appointment.

photo courtesy of The Floatworks
Who floats?
There are a number of people who can benefit physically from floating, from those who suffer from bodily pain & fatigue caused by athletic training, arthritis or injury, to heavily pregnant women who could use a bit of relief from carrying the load of another human being on their tired bones & muscles. I truly believe that floating is something that anyone could benefit from, regardless of their bodies, their inclinations or causes of stress. In today's constantly switched-on society, there are more opportunities to constantly be doing something and very few places where the world goes away for an hour. Treating yourself to 60 minutes of no interruptions, nothing to look at, nothing to listen to and no physical demand is a unique treat to the senses that allows you to have the space to generally feel better, both mentally and physically. Whether for meditation, visualization, creativity, a really good nap or just an uninterrupted time to sort through something in your mind, an hour-long float pod is like a lifetime compared to what we normally allow ourselves in our all-to-busy schedules. So many of us make time to go to the gym, exercising our muscles, strengthening our hearts and building our stamina. The Floatworks offers the opportunity to exercise the very important muscle we tend to ignore, our minds... It's also worth noting that one hour of floating is the equivalent of 2-3 hours of sleep, so it's perfect for catching up on rest or for anyone who has trouble with insomnia or jet lag. 

the Hollywood Room
photo courtesy of The Floatworks

A few tips...
If you're heading to The Floatworks for a float, here are a few things you should know or do to make your visit the best it can be:
  1. If you wear contact lenses, bring a case and some solution with you so you can remove them for the float.
  2. Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are provided, but you'll need to bring your own deodorant and moisturizer if you plan to use them post-float. 
  3. There are hairdryers and straighteners available in the Hollywood Room, but if you're planning to look super glam when you leave, you'll want to bring your own brush or comb and any make-up you'd like to apply post-float. 
  4. Drink plenty of water before and after your float. The epsom salts are detoxifying and you will want to be well-hydrated.
  5. It's worthwhile to hit the gym before your float. It will help you to relax if you're that little bit more tired than usual and it's a great way to combat any muscle soreness you may be experiencing post-sweat sesh!
  6. You'll want to eat a light meal maybe an hour or two before you float, but nothing heavy. I usually have a bowl of soup about an hour before my appointment.
  7. I'm always super hungry after my float, so I'd suggest making sure you have time to eat something delicious afterwards.
  8. It's worth allowing yourself a bit of time after your float to enjoy the Relaxation Room. Bring a book, check your e-mails and social media or simply unwind with a cup of tea and your thoughts. 
  9. If you're entirely too afraid to close the lid of the pod, don't let it stop you. Leave it slightly ajar if you need to and trust that eventually you'll be brave enough to close the lid and turn off the lights.
  10. You may find the salt dries out your hair a bit. I find that using a good hair mask afterwards is beneficial. 
  11. You can wear a swimsuit if the idea of a nude float makes you squeamish, but it's better in the buff... The choice is yours, but keep in mind you'll be toting a wet swimsuit around with you afterwards, so plan accordingly. 

How can you arrange your float at The Floatworks?
Offering a wide variety of pricing options including multi-float packages and memberships, floating at The Floatworks can be enjoyed once, multiple times or regularly throughout the year. How often you float is entirely up to you. A single float is £55, however the price reduces slightly with package and membership options, which can be shared between family members. Gifting options are also available. Nearest transportation is the Vauxhall Tube (Victoria Line) and Train station, which is literally a 2 minute walk away. For more information or to book your float, visit www.floatworks.com

1 comment

  1. I'm so glad I found this post - I haven't been regularly since they were on Thrale Street and wasn't sure if the new location would be worth travelling to, but it looks lovely! I'm terrible at relaxing my mind but always found that a session did wonders for my back pain. I'll definitely be planning a visit.


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