Photos in this article courtesy of Floatworks
Did you hear the one about the microwave bed?
Eight hours’ sleep in ten minutes!
The nearest thing I’ve found to the microwave bed is a floatation tank. After relaxing for an hour in darkness, silence and what feels like zero gravity, it feels like I’ve been ‘away’ for much, much longer.
What Is a Floatation Tank?
A chamber filled with water supersaturated with Epsom salts – which means you can lie back and float on the surface, like your own private Dead Sea. And because the water is maintained at body temperature, after a while you don’t feel it. You’re left with a sensation of weightlessness, like floating in space.
You can leave the light on if you want to, but trust me, it’s better if you switch it off. And a pair of earplugs will block out any noises from outside.
Weightlessness. Darkness. Silence.
Eventually, some new age music will filter into your chamber, signalling time to rouse yourself and leave the tank.
When you emerge into the outside world, only an hour will have passed. But inside, it feels like eternity.
There are several theories about how floating works and many benefits are claimed for it. In The Book of Floating, Michael Hutchinson proposes ‘seven theories of floating’, including explanations based on antigravity, the left/right brain, neurochemistry, brainwaves and biofeedback.
Benefits claimed include stress relief, detoxification, improvements in various health conditions, enhancing meditation or athletic performance, better sleep – and you’ve guessed it, ‘creativity and imagination’.
During a float, you produce slower brain-waves patterns, known as theta waves, which are normally experienced only during a deep meditation or just before falling asleep and when waking up. This is usually accompanied by vivid imagery, very clear, creative thoughts, sudden insights and inspirations or feelings of profound peace and joy, induced by the release of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates.
(The London Float Centre website)
This matches my own experience fairly closely. For me, there’s a stage of floating which is very similar to falling asleep, when you can experience vivid flashes of hypnagogic imagery. (In my case, it’s more likely to be minor auditory hallucinations, like snatches of voices speaking – but when I asked some friends whether they’d also heard the ‘little voices’ in the tank, they all laughed, so I may be in a minority there.)
I can’t say that I’ve experienced any particularly clear thoughts or major insights while actually in the tank, but I definitely think it benefits my creativity, particularly during times when I’ve been floating fairly regularly.
When I come out of the tank my mind is much calmer and clearer than when I went in. It’s almost comparable to the feeling after a weekend meditation retreat. You never realise how busy you’ve been until you stop and relax – and the same goes for switching off your mind, which the tank does very well. So floating helps me approach all my work in a calmer, more considered fashion, which I’m sure enhances my creativity.
I also feel more centred in my body and relaxed after floating, so I can chill out and enjoy life more. If you live in the country, the effect may not be so dramatic, but for city dwellers like me, floating can be a wonderful antidote to the hustle and bustle of urban life.
For these reasons, I think floating could be helpful if you’re experiencing a creative block, particularly the kind brought on by working too long and trying too hard. I’ve not tried it under these circumstances, but if you’ve been tearing your hair out trying to crack a brief or write the next chapter of your novel, an hour in a floatation tank could be the perfect creative tonic.
If I’ve whetted your appetite for floating, there may well be a float centre in your nearest city where you can try it. Here in London, I’ve floated at Floatworks (who kindly supplied the photographs for this article) and The London Float Centre, both of which provide excellent facilities in a relaxed atmosphere.
Have You Ever Floated?
If so – did you find it beneficial?
Do you think it boosted your creativity?
If not – is it something you’d like to try?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet and creative coach.