After the heart racing stress of ‘nearly’ leaping 100ft in the air, I knew I had to:
- Dye my hair, which turned white when I leaned over the rail and looked at the tiny dot like people below
- Head back to The Floatarium Spa for some serious relaxation!
To me, floating quietly in a warm tank of water is the ultimate de-stressor but, to some people, one hour in a dark, small isolation tank may be just as terrifying a mind/body challenge as I found the aerial assault course. There’s no need to be afraid! Floatation tanks have been used therapeutically for decades and The Floatarium Spa in Stockbridge has been de-stressing us lucky Edinburgh folk for 24 years.
When I went for the first time, I was expecting it to be all about the mind. Relaxing. Calming. A form of meditation. However, what surprised me most were the overall effects I experienced in both mind and body. So much so, that I was eager to head back for a second go. Looking back at my first visit, I was actually a little nervous about what I would think about for one hour. Would I get ‘stir-crazy? Would I last the whole time? I love being in water; I’m not claustrophobic and I love the relaxation and meditation at the end of a yoga class so I figured it was about time I put my concerns aside and give it a try.
On my first visit I filled out the usual health forms and had an informative chat with a very enthusiastic therapist. It was quickly evident that she loved the treatment and offered me some great advice and not just the standard procedural instructions.
I, like most people, thought I should lie in the water and be as still as possible but instead she encouraged me to enjoy myself. Maybe drift from side to side and feel almost childlike or regress even further and feel like I was back in the womb. Ummm….OK, I’ll give it a try!
There are 2 floatation rooms at the Floatarium. On entering my room I was greeted with a spaceage pod, looking strangely like the ‘egg’ that MorK from Ork came to Earth in…
The therapist let me know that I was totally in control. I could leave the lid completely open, partially open, or totally closed. It was also up to me if I wanted to turn out the lights in the room; there is also a small light inside the pod that can be left on or off.
After answering any further questions, I was left in my private room. Wearing my swimsuit, I stepped into the pod which was filled with 10 inches of water saturated with mineral salts – like floating in the Dead Sea. The salts not only provide the ‘float’ but they also help extract toxins through the skin and some beneficial minerals, such as magnesium can pass through the skin and into the bloodstream. The water (and the room itself) was lovely and warm; kept at around body temperature. This is to create the sensory deprivation effect as your nerve endings won’t sense any temperature differentials and therefore not have to work as hard.
As I laid back I could hear relaxing music. The music stayed on for 10 minutes, just to help relaxation and then…. silence. Even with all the lights off and the lid closed it wasn’t pitch-black but I did find it a bit stuffy. The warm water was creating quite a humid environment. I managed to find the perfect balance. I cracked the lid open using the small hand towel (provided). This gave a bit of light, a bit of air and was handy for blotting my eyes if I got some salty water in them.
Although I went expecting to benefit from deep relaxation – it was my muscles that got the most out of the first experience. Lying flat, I allowed gravity to pull my head and shoulders back further than I was used to – I do tend to hunch my shoulders, especially when sitting at a keyboard. While this was helping my posture, the unusual position was making my shoulders and neck ache. I found sitting up a couple times helped – as did letting my arms drift over my head. It was about 20 minutes into the session and I finally got settled. Now that I found the perfect position there were no stresses or pressure points on my body, unlike lying in a bed or on the floor. Now this was bliss! And then suddenly, I felt a strange spasm in my right hip. Then another little spasm. The niggling pinch in my hip that I’ve had for ages was gone and still hasn’t come back!
While lying weightlessly in the floatation pod, I also had a moment of unprecedented clarity…..I had the BEST Idea!! (It’s a secret for now – to be revealed later when I actually figure out how to turn the idea into reality)
Suddenly the music came back, signalling the last 5 minutes of my treatment, followed by a friendly knock on the door. I had to leave ‘the womb’ and head back to reality. There was a small shower in the room; a large towel, soap, shampoo and conditioner were all provided (there are also hairdryers and mirror in a dressing area down the hall with a glass of water waiting for me). Because of the high salt content, I was told to rinse really well. I thought the salts would make me feel dry, but my skin felt soft and silky. I was so warm, from the water and because my circulation was stimulated into ‘detox’ mode by the mineral salts, that it took ages for me to cool down enough to get dressed.
This experience was so uniquely beneficial that I was happy to go back a few weeks later with a friend. The second time I chose to try the other room. This room was bigger and a bit more updated but instead of a space age pod, there was a rectangular, metal tank.
This had a door on the front, instead of a lid on top (if you think you’d want to keep the lid open – ask for the egg!). Although it seemed a bit clunky (compared to the sleek egg), I actually liked the tank.
The rectangular shape provided more room to drift; I could even make water angels. The only unpleasant sensation from my first visit was having my ears under water so this time I brought swimming earplugs. These let me relax my head and let it sink back and find its natural alignment. Unlike my first float, I never had to sit up so I never got salty water in my eyes (guess that was a rookie mistake). This hour flew by! In fact, I checked my phone when I got out to make sure I wasn’t short-changed – but nope, I had the full hour! No major revelations this time or noteworthy muscular release but overall my mind was far more still and I was able to let my muscles relax and put my faith completely in the water to hold me just where I needed to be.
The benefits of Floatation Therapy are well documented and I’ve added a few links at the end, but here’s a short summary:
- The Darkness, quiet, and controlled, neutral temperature = sensory deprivation for the deepest possible relaxation as your nerve endings don’t have any work to do.
- High levels of mineral salts create ‘float’ but also aid detox, soften the skin, magnesium can pass into the blood stream – relaxation mineral good for heart, muscles….
- Floating creates an anti-gravity effect, there is no pressure on the body and spending time in a ‘neutral’ position helps realign the spine and relieve aches and pain – it definitely worked for me!!
- Mental release to aid clarity and creativity – my big idea!!
To paint the complete picture of my experience at The Floatarium, I think I need to mention that although clean, functional and fit for purpose, the rooms (which were built around the tanks which had to be lowered in by removing the floor above!) definitely have the home ‘diy’ look (I think I could even do a better tiling job). I know some people go for a therapy session expecting the height in luxury and may be disappointed by the lack of attention to detail and certainly a more professional, high-end finish would take the experience to another level but at the end of the day it’s the therapeutic value that stands out far and above everything else. So if you really want to experience the therapeutic benefits of floatation, I cannot recommend this enough. Just go with an open mind and realistic expectations. It is a unique facility, not found in many places and here we have it in Edinburgh and have had it for over 20 years! I’ve always thought Edinburgh was a healthy city but even I’m surprised that I keep finding more and more amazing, unique places that really show how Edinburgh is leading the pack in providing cutting-edge health and fitness facilities, and giving me plenty to write about. #onlyinEdinburgh!
By Kjellgren, A., Lyden, F., & Norlander, T. (2008).
Summary: In summary, we can conclude that floating is a method suitable for a broad target group. The method can provide among other things, deep relaxation, pain reduction, and other positive changes in the life situation. Powerful mental experiences may sometimes be induced, but the experiences are often of a positive and fruitful nature. It is of value if the opportunity for peace and quiet is provided in connection with the flotation sessions, and if there is the opportunity for a discussion of the experiences, if needed.
Summary: Floatation therapy is such a simple idea that some of the benefits seem too good to be true. But they are real and scientific research has validated the health giving and performance enhancing effects. The deep relaxation state achieved allows the body to recover from stress. Pain is relieved. Blood flow is stimulated through all the tissues, natural endorphins are released, the brain gives out alpha waves associated with relaxation and meditation. Floating is a perfectly still experience with no contact points, no movement, no postural muscle action. The release of endorphins to kill pain is a completely natural and powerful effect working alongside natural healing and repair processes.