I Tried Meditative Floating And Here’s What Happened
FYI - it defs wasn't smooth sailing at first.
Ever floated on your back in the sea and felt totally zen? Well there’s a type of meditation called ‘floating’ that’s a bit like that, except you are lying inside a shiny, Black Mirror-esque, white pod.
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I stumbled across floating during my quest to discover new meditative ways to reduce stress. It turns out that, according to various studies, floating significantly reduces activity in the part of the brain called the amygdala which controls our flight or fight responses and reduces the production of cortisol (often called the stress hormone). It can also apparently relieve pain.
Obvs I thought why not, and booked a floating session, carefully scrolling through the website and the instructions they sent so that I was fully prepared.
I wasn’t fully prepared. I don’t think much can truly prepare you for your first float. I was shown to a small private room which contained a shower (complete with shampoo, shower gel and conditioner) and towels, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the huge pod sitting in the corner. The blue lighting in the room made it look a lot more ominous than I had expected. As I stared at it, all I could think of was, “I’m genuinely going to spend a whole hour lying on my back in there, by myself”.
I was quickly given the instructions (it didn’t help that I had arrived late and flustered, as Citymapper had lead me astray within the maze that apparently is St George Wharf), and left alone to do my thing. I took a shower, got naked (they advise this for the full experience, I’m not an exhibitionist), and slipped into the pod, nervously pulling the lid down behind me.
Immediately I felt the human-like strength of the buoyancy push me up to the surface of the water. I was glad that the light was on inside and the temperature was warm. However, they tell you to switch the light off via a button at the side (not to be confused with the button on the other side which calls for assistance) once you’re comfortable and in position.
So I switched off the light and settled into the water, and listened as the music (distant forest birds and trickling stream sounds) filled the pod and made its way to my muffled ears underwater. I was just settling in when my breath caught – I realised I was lying the wrong way round. Heart beating, I reached for the light, switched it on, then slowly rotated myself around.
Take two. I got in position, closed my eyes, and the music turned off (they play it at the beginning so that you settle in, and at the end to signal the end of the session). I was lying there for about two minutes listening to the blood pound in my ears when I realised… I had been told to put ear plugs in! Maybe I should just forget about it and try to relax, I thought… but what if the water is actually harmful for my ears?!
Feeling a little bit stressed I pushed the lid up (immediately relaxing a little as I realised how easy it was to get out of the pod if I ever needed to), grabbed the ear plugs, stuck them firmly in and jumped back in the water, determined now to relax and start my deep meditation.
Unfortunately as I quickly lay back down some of the water flicked into my eye and my mouth. I realised that what the staff member had told me was right - it really did sting when it got in your eye, and it was distracting. Also it didn’t taste good. Not one bit.
Take 3. This time I was much calmer and felt much more ready and in control of the situation. I relaxed my body completely, letting my head fall back so that it was completely supported by the water, and stopped being an IRL Bridget Jones.
Although I was initially worried about how long an hour was to lie in a dark water pod alone with my thoughts, as the minutes slipped by I felt more and more content. With my arms lying out alongside me, I focused more on what floating felt like - there were moments where I could sense I was rotating slowly around in the water.
In past meditations I had done the aim was to focus on the changing sensations in each part of your body but as floating is all about sensory deprivation, I had barely any sensations anywhere. Nothing was touching my body but the water which was so still I could barely feel it - it felt like there was a lack of gravity. I started imagining myself floating down a river, like Baloo in The Jungle Book, staring up at the sunshine sparkling through the yellow-y treetops. I imagined myself floating in space in the heavy silence, staring down at the tiny blue and green Earth.
Apparently, one of the mental benefits of floating is that it can increase creativity and heighten visualisation… it certainly seemed to for me.
By the time the sounds came back on to signal it was time to get out, I was fully immersed. It didn’t seem like I had been in the pod for an hour and I knew that I had drifted into light sleep at some points. I got out feeling weightless both in my body and my mind. I was dizzy with calm... I didn’t know that was a thing.
I washed my hair in the shower, moving slowly and luxuriously, staring at my pod contemplating what I’d just experienced. I was told beforehand that once I was done I could make my way up to the relaxation room which was gently lit, filled with beanbags and low furniture, and featured a kettle and an array of tea bags for a hot herbal post-float cuppa. There was also a dressing room with hairdryers and mirrors so that you could put your face back on if any came off. It was civilised, and I wish I had time to enjoy it instead of having to rush back for a work meeting. Unsurprisingly, despite the tight timing, I had a very zen meeting.
We’re so used (those of us who live in busy cities) to the noise of traffic and the rumble of roaring trains approaching the station that an hour of silence is often hard to find. The experience unnerved me at first, but after a while I felt the effects wash over me. It was calming, peaceful, and when I emerged into the bustling streets of London, everything was bright and clear and still.
I’d definitely try floating again. I can see how I’d slip into it quicker the next time around now that I know the ropes. Although the first float can be a bit of a trial, apparently the more you do it the deeper you meditate and the more you reap the benefits.
So definitely try it, but key tips - make sure you tell the staff that it’s your first time, and don’t expect to be the world’s greatest floater straight away. I’d also recommend practicing some meditation and mindfulness exercises beforehand, to really get you in the flow once you’re floating.
If you catch my drift.