where women celebrate their ageless authenticity

Floating - Fantastic or Freaky?

The Alphabet Adventures With Nancy Hubbell Fournier (pronounced Forn yay)

Journey along with our resident humorist Nancy as she embarks on unusual adventures from A to Z. With the alphabet as her guide to new experiences, Nancy rates her excursions as a “Fourn-Yay” or “Fourn-Nay.” 

LETTER “F”: Floating in a sensory deprivation tank, no sinking or swimming involved in this adventure!

Imagine yourself in a small, dark room. You can see nothing, touch nothing, and feel only water around you. For 90 minutes.

Does that sound relaxing to you? Or, do find your palms sweating, heart racing and your claustrophobia kicking in?

Lisa and Nancy posing at Float Clinic signage

Floating in an isolation tank may not be for everyone, but I was eager to give it a try. When I proposed this activity for my “F” column, my adventurous friend, Lisa Carey, founder of Intentfully Fit, dove at the chance to join me. I booked us at Float Clinic in Torrance, Calif., looked at the info on their website, and shared it with Lisa over lunch before our appointment.

“The water in the baths goes through multiple filtration methods between each client, then it is heated to 93.5 degrees. The bath is filled with 1200 pounds of Epsom salts to help you defy gravity so you can float and just relax.”

“Do you wear a bathing suit?” she asked. I told her that I had brought one, just in case, but in the “what to bring” section, it said to just bring yourself. She also pointed out that it said not to eat right before your session. Oops.

When we arrived, Dorian, the kind clerk who also gets photo credit, gave us his spiel. He said that the bath is 38 percent salt, compared to the ocean which is 3 percent. He said that the lack of gravity would help ease our muscles and that he, as a Mixed Martial Arts, MMA fighter, floats several times a week to help heal his body.

Since our MMA fighting days are behind us, our muscles probably don’t need maximum floating, but we were curious what one session would bring us. So, we headed back to our flotation rooms.

Each of the clinic’s three private rooms has a large dressing area and shower. Dorian suggested we put in ear plugs to keep the salt out of our ears, shower and wash our hair (biodegradable shampoo provided) and then step into the tank.

Um…what tank? He opened a hidden door in the shower that led directly into the flotation tank. It was like entering a dark attic. Or a closet under the stairs in the middle of the night. Yes, it was creepy.

We would be in the tank alone (no bathing suit needed) for 90 minutes. We would know it was time to get out when we heard music playing.

In the name of adventure, I followed his instructions. Once in the tank, I shut the door, took in the total darkness, and tried not to freak out. I told myself: “Lay down. Breathe. Ignore the salt feeling in my eyes because I can’t wipe them with my fingers (a squirt bottle and towel are provided, but I would have had to find them in the door handle). Breathe. Relax.”

Finally, I took my own advice and sank into the tub. And then a stream of consciousness began: “What am I supposed to do for 90 minutes? … are the Epsom salts draining color from my hair? … I’m glad I’m getting fresh color next week … am I hearing music? … I wonder if I’ll hear the music when the session is over? … what’s for dinner? …shouldn’t I be relaxing more? Breathe.”

I started concentrating and realized I was a little cold, so I dunked parts of my body to warm them up. When I moved, I’d drift in the tank and bump a side. Then I’d adjust and bump the other side. Finally, I found my equilibrium and focused on relaxing my muscles and releasing pain. Occasionally I would switch positions to maximize soaking my right arm, which is chronically sore. Eventually, I began to see what floating was all about.

Crossed legs and feet of a woman bathing and relaxing in a pool of clear blue water

According to Float Clinic, the benefits of floating include:

  • Creates a REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) previously known as sensory deprivation to free your body from outside stimuli to free your mind.
  • The Epsom salts infuse your body with magnesium and sulfur, which have therapeutic properties.
  • Relieves stress, helps you recover from injuries and eliminates chronic pain.
  • Dopamine and endorphin levels increase which boosts your mood for days.
  • Floating helps you meditate and reflect on your life.

As promised, I entered the “theta brainwaves phase” which is a state between waking and sleeping. I had some momentary dreams which let me know I had relaxed enough to sleep.  Soon, the music came on, and got louder and louder, blaring for me to get out of the tub. I scrambled for the door in the dark and pushed. Nothing. A jolt of panic went through me. I pushed again…and the door flew open so I could escape.

When I told my friend, Kris, about this experience, she sent me photos of the “clamshell” flotation tank her clinic uses. You can choose the color of the lights and music, or you can keep it dark and quiet. Kris described her first session, which was uncomfortable, at best. But she stayed in the lobby of her float center, saw the harried looks of the people arriving, and compared them to the blissful countenances of those departing. She gave it another try and now floats regularly to clear her mind and manage her arthritic knee, which is no longer painful.

floating pod with side table

After our session, Lisa and I chatted about our floats and then agreed to compare notes the next day. While she enjoyed the experience, Lisa said she would probably not do it again. Her body felt basically the same and she would prefer to draw her own Epsom salt bath, light a candle, and drink a martini.

Meanwhile, I shared that floating had released my magic spot. No…not like that! I have a sore spot at the base of my neck that no amount of massaging, stretching or creams has been able to eliminate. But for several days after floating, I was pain-free. Whichever muscle or nerve triggering that area must have been temporarily lulled into submission.

So would I do it again? Yes, probably. I don’t know that I’d make it a regular thing, but with the knowledge I have, the second time would definitely be better.  And, who knows? Maybe I have other magic spots to discover!

It’s a wrap: (Please note: This adventure was fully paid for, this is not a promotion or partnership)

Fourn-YAY: Floating relaxed me in a way nothing else has. It’s certainly easy and can be done any time.

Fourn-NAY: Stepping into that dark room was scary. Their literature says claustrophobic people have no trouble doing this, but I’m not so sure about that.

Doesn’t float your boat? Here are some other adventures that start with the letter F: fishing, frisbee, Farmers Markets, figure skating, flying a kite, foosball, face painting, and Flamenco dancing.

Got something fun on your bucket list I should try? We’d love to hear your suggestions at intentfullyfit@gmail.com

Nancy Hubbell Fournier montage of fun faces