I’m in Cloud nine being led by the gentlest voice into a small dimly lit room. In the middle of the room lies a huge light blue pod she’s describing as a giant Jelly Bean. That pod holds water that allows you to float. I’m given the instructions that once she leaves I am to have a quick shower in the adjacent bathroom and climb into the pod naked, pull down the small entry lid which resembles a car boot and lie there for one hour.
I am at Cloud9 Spa in Craighall and I am about to have my first Flotation experience inside a sensory deprivation tank. An experience said to be great for relieving stress both physically and mentally, easing aches and pains and like getting a 4-hour sleep.
Sensory Deprivation Tanks remove all your senses and create an environment that is completely free of any sensory stimulation.
Angela Hardy, owner of Cloud9 has been doing flotation therapy for 20 years, of which 16 have been at Cloud9. She explains that each pod contains just 30cm of water and 500kg of Epsom salts which allow you to float and ensures your head never dips below the surface. The water is filtered and ozonated by ozone gas making it completely sterile. The temperature is set to exactly 34.2°C (the temperature of the human body) and regulated by a thermostat so that it never dips or goes higher. The Epsom salts increase endorphins – your body’s natural pain killers. It helps postural pain like back aches and It also decreases toxins without alkalizing your body. Sensory Deprivation Tanks are incredible effective at removing lactic acid, making it a great training recovery method.
Once inside there’s no light, no sound, no temperature, no gravity, no stimulation at all and nothing to distract you. You are left with nothing but your thoughts.
Once she leaves the room, I take a quick shower, put in the earplugs provided to try preventing water from streaming into my ears and gingerly step into this pitch-black pod. Although you may wear a swimsuit, Angela recommends wearing nothing to create a completely sensory free experience, and promises that you are given complete privacy throughout the entire session.
My mind is already racing as to what’s inside, and as I step inside I hit lukewarm water set to exactly 34.2°C. I sit down, close the lid. I Have a moment of claustrophobic panic as I’m enclosed in complete darkness. I feel my way around and carefully lie down.
As I float I immediately regret two things – shaving my legs that morning as the Epsom salts burn my legs and not grabbing the neck pillow provided as my head awkwardly bobs trying to find a natural resting position.
For 15 minutes gentle music plays, this is followed by 40 minutes of silence and then 5 minutes of gentle music to wake you up.
Angela calls it the best way of destressing without having to work for it. But lying there in complete silence I struggle to shut my mind off from making lists of what I need to do. I also struggle to lie still. Disregarding Angela’s advice to not move around a lot – you want to relax – I start moving my legs and hands around to get a feel for the space I’m enclosed in. My skin feels like silk and aside from a little uncomfortableness in my ears as water passes the earplugs I settle into a gentle rocking rhythm that feels incredibly relaxing.
At some point I dose off and awake to complete silence and a mild panic that I’ve missed the wake-up music and will be lying here forever. The water is starting to feel cold and I resist the urge to get up and out.
Eventually I settle down and start enjoying the nothingness of floating. We live lives of constant doing, busy is what we all are, and rarely do we stop and literally do nothing. There is something incredibly calming about lying in complete darkness, not asleep, not moving and not looking out but inwards. It becomes almost a meditative state as everything that can distract you is removed and you are able to be completely present in the moment.
Before I know it, the wakeup music starts and I open the lid. I shower off to remove all the salts and feel oddly calm and refreshed, almost like I’m still floating.
Everything feels sharper and brighter. Angela explains that our brains are always filtering information, most of the times our brains are filtering so much they become overstimulated. When you remove all external stimulation, your brain can filter less making things much sharper.
Angela recommends floating every 2-3 weeks as more is better. She explains how our bodies are only meant to handle 20 minutes of stress every 48 hours; but our lives have become wired for constant stress so we need something to allow us to reset. Floating gives you that time to completely reset.
It’s great for times when life seems too overwhelming and you just want some calm and silence. When your body feels achy and tired; it’s something I’d use as part of training recovery. I’ve always done Epsom salt baths after long runs and would imagine floating being very effective for muscle recovery during intense training.
I leave Cloud9, quite literally on Cloud9 ready to tackle my to do list. I’ve become a floater.
Cloud9 is based in Craighall, Johannesburg. Aside from sensory Deprivation Tank therapy they offer a wide range of services including massages, reflexology, kinesiology and pamper parties. For more details or to book a sensory deprivation tank click here
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.