Although the environment for floating is carefully constructed and controlled, it doesn’t stop every float being its own unique experience. This is true, not only from person to person, but also from float to float. The float tank is a neutral environment, but every individual brings in their own unique state of mind and body. It’s one of the reasons we always recommend playing around with different times of day (and days of the week) when you’re starting to float, so that you can find what you enjoy most consistently for your own practice.
What you’ve been thinking about, how much you’ve exercised recently, how sleepy you are, and even how long it’s been since your last visit can all impact the nature of your experience. With that said, there are a few surprising things that have way LESS impact on your float experience than you might think. These include the temperature and weather outside, the style of tank that you use, and even what your intentions and expectations are going into your session.
Temperature and Weather
Many people who haven’t floated yet put float tanks into roughly the same category as hot tubs, or a nice warm bath. After all, the basic experience seems pretty closely related: lounging in heated water for rest and relaxation. However, the neutrality of the temperature in a float tank makes for a very different experience than hot tubs, baths, or even a heated pool.
For starters, floating feels the same regardless of whether it’s sweltering outside or freezing. Your core temperature may be different when you first come in, but after a shower and just a few minutes in the tank, your body naturally equalizes back towards your natural, default temperature. This means that on cold days, the float tank can really help by raising your core temperature and increasing your circulation. On hot days, though, floating actually helps your body to stay cool, which in turn lends a hand with focus and energy levels.
Breaking the mental connection between float tanks and hot tubs isn’t intuitive for a lot of people who haven’t yet tried floating, and we see this reflected in our schedule over the course of a year. When the weather gets hot, we see far more regulars than new-comers, as a lot of first-time floaters assume that floating in warm water when it’s already hot outside is going to be uncomfortable. They don’t understand yet that although the water is heated, it’s only warmed to skin-receptor neutral: the level at which your temperature receptors stop sending any signals – hot or cold – to your brain.
Amusingly, one of the most significant ways the outside temperature affects your floats is simply in the number of layers you need to take off and put on for your session. Especially when you have that cozy, post-float glow, it can be hard to imagine how you could have possibly needed so many clothes just to protect you from the elements on a cold day (at least, until you head back outside). We have a lot of guests who get their base layer on, and don’t don the rest of their sweaters, jackets, and boots until just before they leave the lobby.
Style of Float Tank
Let’s start out by saying that float tank manufacturers have to pay attention to a lot of little details to make sure that they provide safe, high-quality float experiences. These include things like aesthetics (such as contours, colors, and lighting) or ease of entry and exit (with handholds and slip proofing). Height, of course, also affects getting into and out of the tank, and the width and length of the tank determine how much you can stretch out inside.
However, once you’re actually in our center floating in one of our tanks, and you’ve found a comfortable position where you don’t need to move – the float tank could magically transform into a completely different shape and you wouldn’t be able to tell that anything had changed at all. The air and saltwater immediately next to your body form a bubble that matches your own external temperature almost perfectly, and as long as the float tank itself is well-maintained and calibrated, you can achieve that feeling of floating, weightless, in wide-open space regardless of what style of tank your physical body is actually occupying at the moment.
Intentions and Expectations
The inventor of the float tank, Dr. John C. Lilly, was a huge proponent of going into your floats with no specific expectations. This is because the float tank is very good at giving your body and mind what they need, and this is often different from what you think you want.
Perhaps you have something stressful on your mind that you want to work through in the comfortable, distraction-free environment of a float tank… and then almost as soon as you enter the tank you go into a deep, sleepy state of theta brainwaves. When you wake up at the end of your session, you realize that you didn’t spend any time at all thinking through things like you intended. However, it’s likely that what you really needed was some physical and mental rest and, when you allowed your body a little room to check in on itself, that’s exactly what it gave you.
We had one customer come in because his doctor had recommended flotation therapy to help with an injured shoulder. He came out of his session talking about the colorful lights he saw, his reflections on his job and relationships, and how alive his senses felt. When we asked about his shoulder, he seemed almost surprised, raised up his arms a bit, and said, “Oh yeah – I forgot all about it. It feels great!”
As with so many things that are good for us, humans are excellent at finding small reasons to put off going in for a much-needed float. “It’s too hot outside,” or, “My favorite tank is booked up for the evening,” or, “I’m too tired,” or, “My brain is too busy.” Once you’re actually in the salt water, comfortable and buoyed, all of those objections fade into the distant background, and you’re able to rest, recover, and process in whatever way comes naturally at the moment. The particulars of an individual float are always uncertain, but the benefits from a regular float practice are consistent and irrefutable.