We try a floatation tank

AILEEN NAKHLE
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2014
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These days I can only fantasise about sitting still and 'doing nothing' - not that I'm any good at it, but since having children I don't get many cracks at it. Well today I had my chance.

I spent the morning in a floatation tank.

I was invited by Float Culture - a brand new floatation centre in Auckland - to experience total sensory deprivation; a liberating weightlessness that claims to deliver deep mental relaxation, and 'a sense of wellbeing unlike anything you ever dreamed possible'. 

Well, they didn't need to ask me twice. I was there in a heartbeat.

But that heartbeat got louder on arrival to the neatly turned-out clinic where they showed me through to my private floatation room. What greeted me was a high-tech water-filled pod that could've been beamed in from space.

While roomy in length and breadth, I wasn't exactly 'excited' about getting in and shutting the lid.

The idea of course is to be safely cocooned inside, shut off from the world. As for the soft blue light inside, that's designed to be switched off too so you're in total darkness, floating weightlessly, detached completely from the worries or baggage you came in with.

The good news - the light and lid were in my control. But had I really thought this through? This didn't sound like 'nothing', it sounded like a dare. 

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It's said floating has genuine health benefits - beyond relaxation and stress relief.

For one, the weightlessness can ease muscle and back pain, taking pressure off your joints and spine for an hour.

The blood vessels dilate, which improves blood flow and increases oxygen supply to all the cells in the body. It also boosts endorphins and might be useful for depression and anxiety. A bit like meditation, it helps you experience the theta brain state where you access your subconscious to discover inspiration, intuition and vivid imagery.

For these reasons, floatation centres are big around the world. They're dotted across the US and UK. Sweden has around 150 centres for a population of 9.5 million. And in Australia, they're used by high-performance athletes for recuperation and rejuvenation.

An avid fan himself who uses the tank every day, young co-owner of Float Culture Anton Kuznetsov says, "Your body de-stresses so profoundly in the tank, it gives it that rare opportunity to focus on itself. Rather than focus on the world, the body turns inwards, freeing us from all the attention we spend on our environment - hearing things, touching things. In the tank, all those experiences are cut off."

Well for this, I can vouch. Floating effortlessly on 30 centimetres of water made ultra-buoyant by Epsom salts, it's true to say my mind wasn't on the usual chatter.

Instead I was wondering whether the pod was an analogy for the womb - should I ask that question? No, don't ask that question. Oh no, I touched my face, those salts will sting my eyes - quick reach for the spray bottle - ah great, stinging's gone. Should I turn the light off? Dare I turn the light off? Okay, lights off. So that's decided, lights back on. 

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Ah this is interesting, I can barely feel the water, let alone my weight - my body and the water are joined as one.

And so eventually it began - probably a little later than it does for dab hands. But the stream of consciousness started to quieten, my thoughts turning purely to deep, slow breaths and that faint drum I could hear - the centre of my attention - my heartbeat.

At ease now, I could sense myself drifting to a place of calm and quiet - that place of deep mental relaxation they told me about.

But all too soon, in came the chirping of birds and the gentle ambient music that slowly and gently brought me back to earth... or the water... and my friend the pod from space. 

As I explained to Kuznetsov, being my first time and so conscious of my surrounds, I couldn't fully surrender myself to the experience, but despite that I felt brighter. I might've even been glowing a bit. Doing it again would be different - I'd be more prepared to 'just be'. In the meantime, I'm shouting my husband a float - someone far more versed in accessing the deeper, stiller crevices of the mind, who I'm sure will get closer to the theta state than me and who'll hopefully enjoy a sense of wellbeing he 'never dreamed possible'. 

- Float Culture is based in Grafton, Auckland. Open 7 days from 6am to 10pm, by appointment only. One 90-minute float costs $120. 

- Stuff

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