When Seattle’s premier float spa, LifeFloat, contacted me about experiencing sensory deprivation, I was both apprehensive and yet very intrigued. I have never experienced a float spa let alone sensory deprivation before! I did some reading, I watched their videos, I scoured Youtube and finally it was the day of my appointment.
I know when I first think of sensory deprivation, I think of being in an enclosed pod. I sometimes get a little panicky being in an enclosed space, though not consistently so I’m not sure if I can be labeled “claustrophobic” or not. I was very thankful that LifeFloat is not in a pod, you float in a pool of water in an open room. That sounded much more palatable to me!
Once you make your appointment, you will be sent an email to fill out a waiver and it explains what you need to bring with you (which isn’t much except yourself, as they provide everything) and what not to do prior to your appointment, like shaving or spray tanning. They also send you a link to a video on what to expect the day of, and it’s very helpful. If you have long hair, I do suggest bringing a comb to comb your hair out after you are done!
Driving to LifeFloat was pretty easy and if you need a reference point, they are across the street from REI. 🙂 My appointment was on a Thursday, and as Seattle is seemingly forever under construction, I managed to find a parking spot at a lot just over a block away on Yale St between John St and Stewart St. Here is the best part though: using the PayByPhone parking app (which I highly recommend downloading), I paid for 2 hours of parking and guess how much it was in Seattle on a Thursday afternoon? I only paid $6.44!! That alone is worth its weight in gold to check out LifeFloat! I know many Seattleites use public transportation and don’t need to pay for parking, but I live 28 miles south of the city and for me, attempting to find 1) any parking at all and 2) affordable parking is a must!
I walked into LifeFloat and any amount of nervousness I had left quickly went away. The front lobby area is very welcoming and cozy, with beautiful artwork (for sale!) by the talented Susan Elliott of Neptune Creations Art. The waiting area has some comfy chairs and your choice of water or tea to indulge in before or after your float session. Megan, one of the great LifeFloat staff members, greeted me and made me feel very relaxed. She asked me if I wanted to go full on darkness and silence or if I wanted the lighting and music. Since I was going to write about this and it was my first time experiencing sensory deprivation, I chose to go the full monty – darkness and silence. If you know me, you would question this choice as I have a hard time sitting still for a few minutes, let alone an HOUR of depriving my senses.
Leaving your shoes on a rack in the front lobby, Megan explains everything you may experience and I suggest you pay attention to the little things she mentions because they are all correct! Definitely use the ear plugs so you don’t get the salt water in your ears, don’t take a hot shower prior to getting into the water because then the body temperature water will feel cold when you get in, it is more comfortable to float with your arms up near your head versus pointed down towards your feet, and don’t move around a lot once you get in the water as you will start feeling cold. I am not pointing this all out because I disobeyed her instructions (I did not!), but Megan spoke from experience and I’m just saying she was right.
Each of the rooms, which are lit with soft blue lighting, are basically a giant bathroom with a toilet, shower and a large and inviting pool. Megan explained to shower prior getting into the pool (wash off any lotions and dirt you may have on your body) and to put my hair in a ponytail or bun. Getting salt in your eye definitely burns (which I found out later – more on that coming up), and for those with long hair, if your hair isn’t pulled back in the pool, sometimes it can get on your face and splash salt into your eyes. In case that happens, there is a spray bottle on the pool to use to help remove the salt. She also gave me a Floatease Halo to rest my head on while I was floating, which allows the neck to completely relax and reduce neck pain while floating. She explained the buttons were for on the side of the pool (the big one is for turning the lights and music back on in case you need it) and then it was time to fill up my pool and get ready!
The pool fills up with about 12-18 inches of water and the music and lights stay on until its time to just relax. I took a cool shower to remove any grime on me (they even have shampoo, conditioner and body wash you can use), put in the ear plugs, took some Instagram worthy photos (because why not?) and then once the lights started to dim and the music stopped, I knew it was time to just be with me.
An hour of floating in complete darkness and silence – how does one describe that? I have many analogies – is this what its like for a baby in a womb? Is this similar to what astronauts feel floating in space? I imagined myself laying in the open ocean and staring into the sky. I often drifted to the side walls of the pool and didn’t even know it until I gently tapped the walls. I tried stretching out my entire body in the pool (I am 5’8 inches tall) and the tips of my toes and the tips of my fingers touched the top and bottom – that’s how long the pool is. Only when I tried doing the splits were my legs able to touch the sides of the pool. I kept my arms above my head most of the time, as Megan had said earlier, it’s more comfortable for your shoulders to do that, and again, she was right. I know I dozed off a few times because I startled myself awake.
I spent some time focused on my breathing and then all of a sudden my mind would drift and I actually forgot I was floating (that was weird!). It was really cool (for me, maybe not for others) to feel the salt that was on my exposed skin start to harden. It made my skin feel tight, but then I would just put that exposed part under the water again for a brief moment. I also thought I could feel and hear the salt water seeping into my ear plugs after awhile so I took them out one at a time to try and prevent that from happening. Probably not the best idea as I think it actually got more water into my ears (I did not attempt this while under water)! But after a minute or two, everything felt back to normal again.
I purposely moved around a bit and sure enough, I got a little chilly so again, Megan was right – be still and relax. And it is indeed dark in the room, whether closing your eyes or opening them, all you see is darkness. There was NO light whatsoever. I feel like my description of what floating felt like is jumping all over the place, but that’s about how it felt! Your mind drifts, you doze off, you focus on something and then forget, it was very surreal. While I wasn’t worried about somehow flipping over and drowning, I did worry a little bit about not waking up if I had fallen asleep when my time was up. That was not the case as the music and lights slowly drifted back on and it definitely woke me up from whatever state I was in! That hour went by so fast!!! I slowly made my way out of the pool (be careful not to slip as the salt water can make things a little slick!) and to the shower.
The shower is where I got salt in my eyes! I started washing my hair and I think the salt from my hair streamed down my face and into my eyes. I was also wearing contacts and things stung and were blurry for a good minute or so! It eventually went away and I was good to go again, but just be aware!
Megan mentioned prior that they want you to take no more than ten minutes to get ready to leave in the room, and if it takes any longer, to finish in the ready room down the hall. The ready room has better lighting and a blow dryer if you need it! I got ready fairly quickly in my room and used the ready room for any touch ups I needed and to comb my hair. It was raining outside so all I needed was my beanie and I was going home anyways.
I had the chance to pick the brain of LifeFloat general manager, James Kilgallon.
What is the history behind the concept of sensory deprivation and floating as an aim to relax the mind, body and spirit?
Here is a great explanation of the history of floating.
What are the health benefits of sensory deprivation by floating?
Floating helps with Pain:
- Your body will absorb magnesium sulfate from the water through your skin, which will help your muscles relax.
- The Epsom salt in the water helps lower inflammation.
- When you’re floating in the water your muscles can fully relax and release tension.
- Floating helps shift your nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic.
- Floating naturally aligns your spine, helping it decompress.
Floating helps with Stress (Lower Blood Pressure, and Cortisol Level):
- Decreases the activity level of the reticular activating system, and subsequently the cortex, and hypothalamus, which are integral to the stress reaction to external stimuli. This decrease in activation can foster a shift of attention toward an internal mode of consciousness conducive to meditation and relaxation.
- Decreases Cortisol Levels
- Lowers Blood Pressure
Floating helps with Creativity & Mindfulness / Hacks the learning curve for meditation:
- Some believe the predominant Brain Wave after 10 minutes of floating is the Theta Brain Wave. Theta Brain Waves (at approximately 4-8 Hz) create a connection between the conscious and unconscious mind, almost like a dreamlike state that is optimal for creativity, and deep relaxation.
(References: Epsom Salt Council, Med Sci Monit, APA PsycNET, NCBI (Rest), NCBI (EEG))
I understand the water contains Epsom salt, biodegradable cleaning products and hydrogen peroxide. What is the reason for that and what does it do to the skin?
The Epsom Salt is there to make the water buoyant so that you float. The purpose of this is to allow the nervous system to relax as it is not having to control proprioception, and to remove senses to allow the brain to slip into a lower brain wave state. The Epsom Salt is Magnesium so that helps the muscles relax further. The Epsom salt is also believed to be a powerful detox agent, and helpful in lowering inflammation. We use hydrogen peroxide to keep the water clean, as it’s a much more natural solution than chlorine. Salt can be great for the skin working as a natural exfoliant, and we use a very small amount of hydrogen so it does not affect the skin.
How often would you recommend someone experience LifeFloat and why?
How often one floats typically relates to the purpose that they are floating. Folks who use floating to help themselves fall asleep, reduce pain or anxiety, or improve physical performance through recovery will float multiple times in a week. Those who are using floating as a creative tool, or as a tool to clear their head which some call it hitting the reset button might use it as needed which could be once a week, once a month, or even every other month.
I know the water is drained after each person experiences LifeFloat, but is it cleaned as well? If so, what is that process?
When the water is removed we clean the inside of the pool. The water itself is then taken through a filtration process going through 4 large filters to remove any particles then through a UV filter to kill any bacteria that the salt or hydrogen does not kill.
Do you have different sized pools for taller people or are they all the same size?
Our pools are larger than pods and tanks. Every pool at LifeFloat is the same size.
What can you tell people who might be afraid of water/swimming/potentially drowning in the pool? Are there any safety protocols just in case something happens?
We usually tell folks who are afraid of drowning they can leave the light on until they get comfortable. You do not have to know how to swim to float.
All in all, I absolutely loved my LifeFloat experience. If you have any interest in trying out sensory deprivation, LifeFloat is the best place to start. Between the location, the staff and the experience itself, you will come away as I did, relaxed and just happy. I highly recommend checking out LifeFloat for yourself! Check out the prices and packages here.
213 Yale Ave.
Seattle, WA 98109
Ph. (206) 624-1264
Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a comped float for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.