12 December 2007

Floating away

Ever dreamt of switching off your mind for an hour and casting aside everything that stresses you? Joanne Hart sets out to find deep relaxation with flotation therapy.


I'm not adventurous – at least, not when it comes to alternative therapies that involve lying naked and being thumped and manipulated by total strangers. Or volunteering to be used as a human pincushion, or being wrapped in layers of seaweed and yoghurt.

Forced to face this weakness when presented with a brief to test alternative therapies for Health24, I hunted feverishly down the list to find something that wasn’t invasive or potentially painful, and came upon the flotation tank.

The staff at the Ubuntu Wellness Centre in Cape Town kindly made an opening for me.

What does flotation do?
Michael de Wet, the Ubuntu Wellness Centre flotation assistant, explained the principles behind this therapy:

  • Complete rest as you lie safely suspended in a zero-gravity solution of Epsom salts.
  • The brain and musculoskeletal system are released from distraction and adjustment to outside events and stimuli.

Michael outlined the short-term benefits to be derived from this restful suspension:

  • Relaxation
  • Stress relief
  • A positive state of mind, quite similar to meditation

He also put my mind at ease regarding the hygiene of the facility, explaining that between every float session, the water is pumped through filters that remove every particle and the solution is fully sterilised.

Alone and undisturbed
After demonstrating the float room facilities, Michael left me to it. I found this feature of the flotation experience very appealing – you lock yourself into a room that contains the tank, a shower and basin, and you're in charge of the process. A flotation assistant can be summoned at any time by pressing a buzzer, but otherwise one is left to one’s own devices.

The process began with a shower where I had to wash my body and hair with the bottled soap/shampoo provided, insert disposable earplugs provided, and then lower myself into the tank. It’s a rather attractive capsule with a hydraulic lid and a panel of small lights inside. Once the lid was lowered, the lights and soft music stayed on for a period of time while I adjusted to the space of the capsule and sensation of the salt-laden water.

The capsule is equipped with controls inside that allowed me to open and shut the lid, operate the lights and an alarm button should I begin to feel anxious.

It’s an incredible feeling, lying suspended in what feels almost like warm air. Initially it was difficult to let go, but as I relaxed, my body and mind began to accept that the water wasn’t going to let me sink!

After a few minutes the lights went down and now, in darkness, there was absolutely no distraction other than the sounds of me moving in the water and my breathing. It’s obviously psychological, but the darkness seemed to intensify the humidity within the tank and I needed to open the lid every now and then to let in some cool air.

About halfway into my hour I encountered a problem, but it had to do with me rather than the flotation tank. I was carrying a lot of stress in my neck and shoulders and it became increasingly more uncomfortable to lie on my back. Later I discovered that there was a neck support which would have certainly helped me to relax totally.

The result was that I didn’t get to complete my entire hour as I tried to adjust my body in order to relieve the stiffness in my neck and shoulders - spending the last ten minutes with the lights on, lying on my stomach. It’s not part of the therapy, but I have to confess that ten minutes of feeling like a safe and free kid in a warm swimming pool lit up like a spaceship was as good for relieving tension as the therapy itself!

Benefits increase with repeat sessions
Michael explained that the benefits of flotation therapy increase with every session. As one learns to relax and to adapt to the quiet darkness, one enters the positive theta state of mind (deep relaxation) more easily and there are many additional benefits, some of which are:

  • Accelerated learning
  • Creativity
  • Increased memory
  • Pain relief for conditions such as arthritis and muscle tension

While I cannot say that I experienced all of the above, having only done one session, I can say that I felt very relaxed afterwards and that the sense of well-being lasted for a few days. The Epsom salts also left my skin feeling good, although it’s important to cover any little shaving nicks or mosquito bites with petroleum jelly as the salts can really sting.

For more information or to book a session, contact:
The Ubuntu Wellness Centre
99 Kloof Street
Cape Town Medi-Spa
Tel: 021 426 1156

- (Joanne Hart, Health24, December 2007)


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