Visiting Float House – My First Floating Experience

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Float House

I’d heard about floating from a few of my friends, and the experience got mixed reviews. A couple of people swear by it, while others said it made them feel claustrophobic, or ever seasick. However, ever since I first became aware of it, I wanted to give floating a try.

Enter the Big Elf Run. I know it’s hard to imagine the connection between a festive holiday fun run, and the mellow relaxation of floating – but somewhere along the line Float House Vancouver became a sponsor (or, at the very least, a prize donor) for the Big Elf Run in December. The race included several contests, and I had the fortune of winning the ‘Elf Name Contest’ – and the prize, a visit to Float House!

Float House

What is Floating?

Oh, you haven’t heard of floating before? Well, I hadn’t until recently – and I’ll admit that while I was skeptical, it still intrigued me. You may be more familiar with the sensory deprivation tank, which is essentially the same thing with a slightly less uplifting name. I’ll relate my experience in a moment, but floating is exactly what it sounds like – lying in an enclosed tub of super-salinated water (there is about 800 lbs. of Epsom salt in each tank), and allowing your body to float.

Others have explained it better. To get a good understanding of what floating is all about, read more here.

The Float

I decided to take advantage of the few days of holiday between Christmas and New Year, and reserved a float tank at the Gastown location. There are a few different Float House branches around BC, but I chose Gastown since it’s the biggest one in Vancouver.

Nervous before my first float, I read up on everything they had online:

  • Don’t shave within 6 hours of the float. Check.
  • Eat – but not too much – about an hour and a half before. Oatmeal. Check.
  • Caffeine – don’t drink coffee so you won’t be overstimulated. Check.

I arrived in the pouring rain, too early, and had to find shelter nearby. My stomach was growling – I guess the oatmeal wasn’t enough, and I didn’t want that going on during my float – so I bought a bakery croissant. I’ll just eat half, I thought. Polished off the whole thing. I wandered back to Float House, and they greeted me warmly.

Float House

I was shown a short introductory video, and then given a brief tour. The place isn’t huge – there are 8 individual tank rooms each with a shower, a couple of washrooms, and a post-float relaxation room. After a pre-float visit to the washroom (don’t want that distraction!),  I settled into Tank Room 3.

Float House

The process is fairly simple: get undressed, put in the silicone earplugs provided, take a shower using unscented soap, DRY YOUR FACE, get into the tank, and close the lid. Fairly straightfoward, right? You’d think so.

OK, yes, I tend to overthink things. Which may be why, in fact, I need to float. So keep in mind that these little worries are not universal…just my own issues.

First off, the earplugs. I’ve never used silicone ones before, and it took me a bit to figure them out. Are they in too deep? Will they leak? What happens if they leak? And then the logistics of closing the door while in the tank. In the video, it looks very smooth and effortless. I was sloshing around a bit, trying to figure out how to pull the door shut above my head while lying back…not very graceful at all. Finally, though, I managed to get into the right position and force myself to relax.

Which is impossible.

One of the most important instructions is to get yourself centred in the tank by bracing your hands and feet against the sides, waiting until the water calms, and then slowly letting go. I don’t think I ever quite got the hang of it. While I didn’t ‘ping-pong’ (as they termed it), I did tend to bump my fingers or toes gently against the walls from time to time. It was a bit distracting, and I feel like I could have done a better job.

Float House
Float Tank 3 – I spent 90 minutes inside this thing

My other issue was a neck. I’ve been having shoulder issues lately, and I hoped the floating would relax it. They do encourage you to ‘let go’ and trust that the water will support your head and keep your face above water. No question that it does. But I found my neck straining and, as a result, I started stressing myself.

But! The Float House thought of that! They offered a floaty neck support ring, which I had positioned just outside of the tank. With some contortions and effort, I retrieved the ring, and settled back in. Now THAT is better! The unfortunate consequence of disturbing the water, though, was that it took ages for me to settle down again. Eventually I did.

I tried breathing steadily. Like in yoga or Pilates. Really, the only sound you can hear in there is your breath. I tried to get a rhythm going, and never really managed to.

From that point on, things were a bit drifty – which is appropriate. It felt like I was easing in and out of a dream. Thoughts would swim into my head, noodle around for a while, and then depart. There was the sensation of weightlessness, of not really feeling the water. Of endlessness.

When the music started, I wasn’t even sure if I was imagining things. It kind of builds quietly in your brain. And then it’s time to move again. Getting out of the tank was a struggle. I felt heavy and earthbound. Washing off the salty water was refreshing, however, and I was happy to be moving again.

Post-Float

In the lounge, I sat quietly with some ginger tea and read some of the thoughts and comments penned in the guest books. Experiences ranged from euphoric to indifferent, although very few were downright unpleasant. Some folks are really good at poetry, or a sort of spiritual philosophizing. I have skill for neither. All I could say, with a bit of reflection, is that I felt quiet. And I was OK with that.

One comment said something to the effect of: “I think I did it wrong”. I could empathize with that expression, although I disagree. The experience of floating – based on my one 90-minute session – is extremely individual. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. However, there’s definitely an element of ‘getting used to it’. With this session, I’d say I spent at least half of the time getting used to the idea of being there, before I could even begin to benefit from the experience. It takes time.

And you know what that means? I’ll be back for another float! Turns out the prize I won wasn’t just one float – it was an intro pack! Instead of just one float, I get three! Thanks, Big Elf Run, for this awesome opportunity!

Is floating for everyone? Possibly not. I had no concerns about the enclosed space, or about seasickness. Others may. But as both a runner and as someone who sits at a desk most workdays, there’s something very healing about this effortless escape. Of letting go. Of just allowing your body to relax, and to float.

Have you ever tried floating? If not, would you ever consider it?

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been so curious about this! The thought of being in that tiny tank freaks me out about it… but I’ve wondered about the physical benefits too (like easing sore muscles). I’d be interested to hear if you continue to go and notice any big benefits or changes!

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