A friend recently gifted us certificates to a float spa here in St. Louis, at Float STL. I adore the gift of an experience, and float spa has been on my list of things to try. In accordance with my 2019 theme to step out of comfort zone, I went for it despite not knowing what to expect.
The minute we stepped into the spa, we were transformed into a different environment. The space felt voluminous, with tall ceiling, and warm décor. We were invited to sit and have a cup of tea while they prepped our float rooms. I saw Thich That Hanh’s “Breath in Every Step” on the coffee table, and instantly felt more calm.
After our tea, we were brought to our individualized float room. Each private room is outfitted with a float tank, a rain shower, towels, ear plugs, etc. The staff very warmly oriented us to the flow, and provided options to make our 90-minute float comfortable.
I had a quick shower, plopped in the ear plugs, and emerge into the float pool. The water is about 10 inches/25cm deep, and the surface area is approximately that of a king size bed. The door looks like something you see on a boat. I grabbed the foam halo that is meant to support my head, and pressed a button to begin my session.
Within seconds, I was in pure darkness. There I was, naked, floating on top of this salty water. No matter how big I opened my eyes, I see black, literally the absence of color. Since this is an enclosed space, and thus no light source, my eyes couldn’t adjust to anything. The sense of sight is on pause.
For the first 15 minutes of the session, a gentle spa music played in the pool. It shuts after 15 minutes, and now I’m not only in darkness, I am in silence. Since I had ear plugs, I could hear my breath very loudly. Inhale. Exhale. There is something remarkably relaxing to hear the breath and recognize its movement. I also became aware when I stopped breathing deeply. Other than my internal breathing, my ears submerged in water, and thus I couldn’t hear anything else. My hearing senses were purely devoted to the breath.
The weightless experience was most curious. I suppose this is as close as I could get to feel what it’s like to be in an anti-gravity environment. I didn’t need to do anything to keep my body afloat; it simply does. While laying in the center of the pool, I was reminded the savanna pose at the end of each yoga practice, where we let our limbs hang heavy. I practiced body scan to carefully examine what this feels like, and then I realized I was clenching my jaw.
Inhale. Exhale. I let go.
The salt water not only kept my body buoyant, it also made my skin incredibly soft to the touch. The softness is silky, yet fluid. Unlike being in a swimming pool, the water had a lighter resistance. I moved around and imagined myself as a jellyfish. Since the pool isn’t very big, I would quickly bump into an edge, then retreat. Floating from one edge to another, like I’m in Little Mermaid.
When I got tired of being a jellyfish, I stopped and tried to meditate. After all, this float spa experience is either an intense meditation session, or an expensive nap. I focused on my breathing again, and quieted my mind.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. This is simply an elaborate solitary confinement. How did our society evolve to paying for this treatment? Isn’t this meant for prisoners?
The mind has a life of its own. I went down this rabbit hole for a while. Thinking about what is wrong with our world that we need to imprison ourselves to find relaxation. I thought about the story I once saw of a prison hotel in Korea, where guests receive an “uniform” upon check-in, hand over their devices, and are are locked in their cell for the night.
We, as a society, are now paying for solitary confinement in various forms to escape from our stressful lives.
My mind was boggled. And as often the case when my mind is challenged, I thought about how I would describe this experience to others. Despite the discomfort of the mind, my body is thoroughly relaxed; I am really enjoying this. It would be great if more people could try sitting with their thoughts for 90 minutes. Wait, I was supposed to be meditating.
Are We Done Yet?
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Hmm… I wonder how long it’s been. I have no concept of time. The lady told me music and light will come on when my session is coming to an end. Okay. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale…
Hmm… I am bored. Maybe let’s do some stretches in this bouncy water. I began to contour myself into various yoga stretching positions as if I was laying flat on the ground. It does feel quite nice. Maybe the next hype will be float yoga. Do those already exist? Hmm…
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale… Are we done yet? I think I’m ready to be done.
5 More Minutes
Another while goes by, and then a gentle light comes on. Suddenly, I see myself in those movie scenes where people swim under water. My senses are completely disoriented. And then a sense of lament overcame me. Okay, maybe I wasn’t ready to be done. That was so nice. For the last few minutes, I floated with intention, cherishing each moment until the music stopped, and the water jet kicked on.
I showered, got ready, and lamented that I didn’t know about their zen den and the tranquil living space. I had scheduled dinner after, and wish I had known to allot more time for post-float relaxation. Alas, maybe next time.
Word of Advice
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Just not sure when and where since I am leaving St. Louis tomorrow. A few tips if you are considering this experience:
Start a Meditation Practice
Even if you’ve never meditated before, start now with a few minutes at a time, a couple times a week. It’s no joke to sit with your own thoughts in darkness and silence for over an hour. The experience could be extremely agitating if you have never allowed yourself and your thoughts in the same space before.
Float spa could also be a great way to measure your meditation progress. Perhaps every month, or every few month, a float would be a good fidgety mind progress report.
Keep Calm, and Breathe
If you have a session tomorrow, and you have not mediated even once in your life, then keep calm, and breathe. Plop in those ear-plugs, and let the oceanic sound of your breath guide you. Let your mind wander, but then come back to the breath. Be amuse by your thoughts, and then come back. The minutes will tick by whether you are calm or agitated. I suppose this lesson applies to life as well.
Allot Ample Time
The nice lady at the spa told me people sometimes come float during their lunch hour. Seems stressful to have to rush back to the office. I recommend picking a time where you don’t have any obligation until well after your float session. Hangout in the zen den, read a chapter of a book in the living lounge. Relax, and sit with the silence and the freedom away from your obligations, and your devices.
I hope this post inspires you to check out a float spa, or give the gift of a float spa. By the way, Float STL didn’t pay me to write this post. I simply enjoyed it and want to share my experience. Have you floated? How did you like it?