I Tried Flotation Therapy and Here’s What Happened

By Cristina Cleveland

*ed. note: So excited to launch our newest series on the site that we’re calling The Wellness Report, where we’ll be testing out the trendiest (and often weirdest) wellness practices we’ve been hearing about – and reporting back with our results. Many of these practices have been around for centuries, but I (Camille) kicked it off with a relatively new development in the wellness world: flotation therapy. Here to report on all the wellness trends you’ve been curious about but too afraid to try: our longtime editor, Cristina Cleveland. Take it away, CC!

Our days are typically packed full with stimulation from our inboxes, social feeds, news, texts, not to mention real life interactions, so it’s safe to say most of us could use a time out that involves no stimulation at all.

Flotation therapy is a method of blocking out stimuli by floating in a sound-proof, light-proof tank of skin temperature water filled with epsom salt. It got its start in the 1950’s as a way to study consciousness and has since been used as an alternative medicine and a path to deeper relaxation, without much scientific evidence to support its efficacy.

I asked Austin’s Liquid Floats Founder, Sean Thompson, about the benefits and he broke them into two categories, the mental and physical. “The most obvious benefits are escaping from gravity and relieving your body of all that compacting stress we really never get to escape anywhere else” Sean says, “secondly, you experience a restricting of the senses and the decompression of stimulus.” You may have heard this described as sensory deprivation, but Sean prefers the term “sensory restriction.” It’s a feeling that’s unique to floating, and many people seek it out for anti-depression, PTSD, and pain management since it has amazing results for people suffering from fibromyalgia and arthritis. He said it’d be best if Camille approached her first float without expectations, so I didn’t tell her any of this before she arrived. Post-session, here’s what she had to say.

What did you expect before you went in?

I went in with almost zero expectations – I’d intended to do a little research before my session, but ran out of time, so I just showed up ready to go! I arrived after a hectic morning of conference calls and getting both kids off to summer camp, so I was honestly just excited for a rare hour where I had to do nothing but lay there. The people at the float spa walked me through everything, but I was so distracted looking at the orb that I kind of forgot to listen on some parts (i.e., when he told me that I’d know my session was over when the jets turned on, which caused some confusion down the road.)

What was your first impression when you got in?

It was really peaceful – warm and dimly-lit, and closing the door to the orb felt kind of enveloping like a cocoon. At first, the time seemed to go by pretty slowly, and I questioned whether I’d be able to stay in there the entire 60 minutes without feeling antsy.

How did that change over the hour that you were in there?

After a little while, I lost all sense of the passage of time, and there was no sense of boredom; only total relaxation. I made a conscious effort to relax all the muscles in my body from my head and facial muscles down to the tips of my toes. Being able to float in a suspended space without having contact with any solid surfaces allows the body to relax in a way that it can’t when you’re lying in a bed. I was surprised to find myself wishing I could stay in even longer than my allotted time.

Were you able to quiet your mind? What methods did you try?

I am not the best meditator – I’ve realized that I love thinking and brainstorming about things. But I did want to make the most of this opportunity to really relax, so I did a lot of deep breathing, slowly counting backwards from 10, meditating on different words that put my in a positive state, and tensing and relaxing my muscles. Of course, there were moments when my mind still when off on all kinds of tangents (I planned an itinerary for an upcoming vacation, and brainstormed the menu for a photo shoot), but I had several pockets of time when my mind was in a more meditative state.

How did you feel immediately afterwards?

Relaxed, peaceful, and very much in the zone.

How did you feel for the rest of the day?

I thought I’d feel zen’d out – like I’d want to climb into bed at home – but I was surprised at how much energy I had the rest of the day! Stress was non-existent and I tackled several work projects with gusto that afternoon.

Would you try it again? 

I would definitely do it again when I’m going through an especially stressful time or need help dealing with any type of anxiety. It was an enjoyable experience, but there’s still a part of me that, on a regular basis at least, would rather spend that time getting a massage.

Any tips for anyone interested in giving this a try?

Be intentional about using the hour to quiet your mind, meditate, pray, or do whatever helps you zone out and achieve a higher level of relaxation. I think that’s key to getting a lot out of your time. The only thing I would have done differently is to wear ear plugs. They had some in the room that I bypassed, but I still have a little water in my ears the next day from them being submerged for an hour.

I’d love to hear if there are any wellness trends you’ve been curious about trying in the comments – it just might inspire our next adventure!