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There are certain times in your life when you will ask yourself, What have I done? The thought usually follows a regrettable decision (getting caught in a lie, suffering an online shopping blackout, forgetting to use your free delivery code from UberEats after ordering from the other side of town, etc.) and is most often accompanied by feelings of horror and extreme dismay.
I happened to ask myself this question as I found myself stepping into a saltwater-filled pod my friend had described as a “space coffin,” lying back, and lowering the lid to enclose myself in it. Suddenly, everything was pitch black and dead silent. And I was floating. This is the point where one might expect me to say, And then I woke up from my nightmare! or And then I realized I’d never do drugs again. But no—this was real life, I was sober, and I had willingly placed myself in this situation. As horror-inducing as the scenario may sound, it’s actually a very real thing, and it happens to be an amazing stress reliever, among other things.
What Is Flotation Therapy?
Flotation therapy is a wellness strategy that uses sensory deprivation to enhance relaxation and meditation.
Say hello to flotation therapy, a wellness trend rising steadily through the ranks to cult status. "Flotation therapy is not a new holistic wellness trend," says Mandy Rowe, director at True REST Float Spa. "[But] today, flotation therapy is more popular than it has ever been."
Keep scrolling to read about my floating pod experience and find out if flotation therapy is for you. (Spoiler: It probably is.)
What Is a Floating Pod?
Flotation therapy (also known as sensory deprivation therapy) has been around since 1954, when a man named John C. Lilly built the first-ever float tank at the National Institute of Mental Health in the Virgin Islands. "His desire to study the origins of consciousness by cutting off all external stimuli gifted the world the first float tank," notes Rowe. "Over the next 18 years, float-tank design continued to evolve as scientists uncovered a multitude of health benefits stemming from flotation therapy. In 1972, the first commercial float tank became available to the public."
The idea is that by eliminating your senses (touching, hearing, seeing, smelling) in a floating pod or tank, your brain can completely relax and drift. Although the concept of floating hasn't evolved much, the floating experience has become much more luxurious and, should I say, spa-like. Here's what goes down: You enter a pod-like tub that's enclosed but not locked (don't freak). Depending on what float center you choose, the depth of the water can range from inches to a couple of feet and is the same temperature as our skin. But the kicker is each pod is filled with so much salt (1,000+ pounds to be exact) that your body will naturally float with no effort on your part. More on this below.
Benefits of Floating Pods
- Reduces stress
- Speeds muscle recovery
- Reduces depression and anxiety
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Enhances creativity
- Reduces tension headaches
Proponents of the method say benefits can include everything from stress relief to physical and mental healing (it’s particularly good for anyone with joint or back issues) to increased creativity. Cortisone (aka the stress hormone) drops, and dopamine floods your brain. In other words, it’s a drug-free way to make your brain and body feel amazing. "By eliminating the forces of gravity pulling on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, float therapy relieves pain and enables practitioners to relax, recover and improve sleep," says Rowe.
It's also a great way to detox after a chaotic workweek, unplug from the overload of tech devices and disconnect with the everyday stresses of life. Not to mention, pro athletes like Tom Brady use floating sessions as a means of self-care and relaxation before game days. "Scientific studies have shown this specialized solution, perfectly heated to body temperature, calms the nervous system and enhances the body’s natural ability to heal physically and mentally while promoting the psychological benefits of feeling inner peace," says Rowe.
How to Prepare for a Floating Pod
I had my floating experience at Venice, California, float studio Pause. According to the experts, there isn't much preparation needed before your float session. You can even drop in during your lunch break if you're having one of those days. However, there are a few suggestions they make to ensure a smooth and carefree experience. "We recommend that individuals avoid shaving, tanning, or waxing, or any other practices that may increase their skin's sensitivity immediately before their float session," says Rowe. "We also suggest that guests avoid caffeine for at least four hours prior to their appointment and eat something small at least 30 minutes prior to ensure the most relaxing experience."
The final tip is to remove all skincare, hair, and cosmetic products before entering the pod. But don't worry if you didn't have time to cleanse ahead of time—most floating pod studios offer rinse-off showers.
What to Expect from a Floating Pod
Pause was started by a former Equinox veteran. It’s an airy, tranquil space that feels more like a meditation studio or spa—which isn’t far from the truth, considering there is a small meditation room tucked in the back corner. The meditation expert who walked me through what to expect from my experience (the answer was nothing—she said to go in with an open mind) was incredibly calming and soothing. It soon became clear that my experience would be as much about the mental benefits as the physical ones, if not more so.
There were four private rooms, and I was led to one at the end of the hall—at which point I came face to face with a giant, white, futuristic, pod-looking thing lined with blue LED lighting, placed squarely in the middle of the room. After quickly snapping the pod for my Snapchat story (hence my friend’s “space coffin” comment), I was told to strip down and rinse off in the in-room shower then close myself into the space coffin—er, float pod—and let my worries melt away.
The float pods at Pause allow you to play ambient music if you’d like as well as keep the lights on; you can choose from a pink, blue, or green glow. I was determined to experience the true sensation of sensory deprivation, choosing to use earplugs and turn the lights off when I laid back in the pod.
The sensation was…strange. My friend Victoria had raved about her floating experience, saying the two hours flew by; that wasn’t exactly the case for me (my session was only an hour, thankfully). The water was about body temperature, and I found it comforting—like I was a fetus wrapped snugly in a saltwater–filled womb. I fell asleep or zoned out for the first half before suddenly snapping awake, trying to get my bearings until I realized I couldn’t because I was in a pitch-black pod.
After the initial zone-out, I couldn’t quite get to that level of Zen, and I found myself wondering how long I had been in there. I’d lost all concept of time—it felt like I could have been in there for days minus the fact that I most certainly would have been screaming out of hunger and thirst if that had been the case.
Slightly out of desperation, I turned the dial to my right until soft, ambient music filled the pod. Even though the point is that all your senses should be deprived, I found that the music immediately helped ease my mind, and I began drifting off again…until the pod flooded with light and a pleasant British voice came on: “Hello. Your float session is now over.”
As I rinsed myself off in the shower (which came with a nice assortment of organic hair and body products), I tried to analyze what had just happened. Did I feel more relaxed? Slightly. What did I feel about the experience itself? Unsure. Would I do it again? Debatable.
When I walked back into the lobby, I was greeted with a steaming cup of turmeric tea—a little treat for everyone who floats at Pause. I sipped the soothing tea and chatted with the owner, suddenly aware of the fact that I felt happier and more relaxed than I had in ages.
“A lot of people say they feel like they’ve just gone through an intense workout,” Rowe said. And that’s when I realized that’s exactly how I felt. Imagine that high you get after a particularly grueling SoulCycle (or barre or any workout) class. Your limbs are loose, your mind is refreshed, and you feel light as air—and inexplicably happy. That’s what you'll feel after one float session at Pause.
As I drove home from Venice to downtown Los Angeles that night, I still felt like I was floating in both mind and spirit. I felt the strong urge to crank up the volume and blast a tune (Blood Orange’s album Freetown Sound was the choice du jour), and I nodded along to Dev Hynes’ crooning, blissed out and completely unperturbed by the L.A. traffic that usually elicits a feeling more akin to road rage within me.
The Final Takeaway
So, would I go again? The answer is a resounding yes. It’s by no means wallet-friendly—one session will set you back $75 ($69 for first-timers)—but the feeling you get when you emerge is invaluable for anyone feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or in need of physical or mental healing. In other words: everyone. Float on.