The Float

For my birthday Jeff got me a float and massage at Halsa, which sounds like a brand of Swedish shampoo, but is in fact one of those spas where you can enter a sensory deprivation tank to have an out of body experience or whatever it is that happens when people do these things.

The place was very clean, very white and for the most part, very dark. When I got into my room, Ocean 1, I had to use the flashlight function on my phone to read the instructions on the wall regarding the provided earplugs.

The float was an hour and a half and was a little weird. The first room I entered was a low-lit antechamber with a place to leave your stuff and at the other end a shower, as they ask you to shower first and provide plenty of foamy soap to do so. The shower water took awhile to warm up but once it did it seemed to stay at Very Hot no matter how I adjusted it. I showered and then opened the door to the ocean (room).

This is a chamber that’s tall enough to stand in and large enough that you can lay down without touching any walls. This is important. It’s filled with enough water to get you buoyant, but not enough to drown you to death, should you be inclined to drowning to death. The secret spice is Epsom salt, and enough of it is in the water to keep you floating serenely on top of it, so much so that the top half of your body never gets wet unless you roll around like a panicked dolphin.

Spooky New Age music plays quietly in the background. It fades away when your official start time kicks in.

You are advised to keep your fingers away from your face for obvious reasons. I apparently had a minor abrasion on my inner thigh that I became instantly aware of when it hit the water/salt. It settled down quickly, but I imagine laying down with an open wound would be a great way to achieve immediate agony.

Once in, I had three choices to make:

  • Did I want to kill the lights? There are two soft blue lights embedded in the bottom of the pool, creating a calm but very visible effect. You can’t have proper sensory deprivation if you don’t deprive all your senses!
  • Did I want to use the ear plugs? They’re optional, so it’s up to you.
  • Did I want to use the halo? This is a thin foam ring that you lean your head back into and is recommended for people with neck tension or pain.

I kept the light on at first to get my bearings and skipped everything else. After a few minutes, the spooky New Age music stopped, so my experience was officially on.

My body floated just fine (it normally likes to sink like a very heavy rock), but every time I laid my head back, my neck tensed up. I kept fearing I would dunk my head under water, which would be incredibly unpleasant, uncomfortable and not very sensory-deprivation-y at all.

I got the halo and put it on my head, like an actual halo. This was clearly not the right way to use it, but it amused me. I then used it properly and found if I laced my hands behind my head, with the halo, it seemed to work. Eventually I made it work with my hands hanging at my sides, but it never felt 100% right. I can only conclude that my brain is so densely packed with smarts that my head simply will not float like the rest of my body. But I did get to a point where it felt relaxing and I relaxed.

I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift. As it turned out, I also drifted, which they warn you about. In the dark this could be disorienting, but I was too relaxed now to get up and hit the light switch, so I could get my bearings by just opening my eyes. Not that it mattered, really. But I drifted a lot, mostly because every time I moved my arms it changed my buoyancy and set me gently off. My head would oh-so-gently thump against the wall of the pool. I’d then course-correct because I had arbitrarily determined I must lay in a specific orientation to the door (I later gave up on this and just drifted like a log down the Fraser).

At one point I had to get up to pee. Hardly surprising for me. When I returned to the pool, I ended up tilting and getting water in one ear, then over-correcting and getting water in the other. This was when I decided to use the earplugs because the water in the ear was very distracting.

The ear plugs both help and hinder the sensory deprivation. On the one hand, they make it much harder to hear anything–though there is really nothing to hear, anyway. On the other hand, your own breathing becomes amplified about a hundred times. The alternative is to not breathe, which isn’t a good idea, so I just got used to it and breathed a lot through my mouth, which was quieter.

They kept the water out, though, so that was aces.

I did try to turn the light out several times by drifting close to the switch, but the force required to push in the big rubber button was too much to manage from a supine position and each time I tried I just pushed myself away from it. I could have stood up, but the pool is kind of slippery and injuring myself would not have enhanced the experience.

I did hit the button hard enough to kill the light one time, though, but the action caused me to both push off from the switch and roll at the same time. This was very disorienting in total blackness, so I scrabbled to turn the light back on and re-orient myself.

I’m not very good at sensory deprivation.

Once everything was in place and I relaxed, though, I didn’t mind the soft light being on. With my eyes closed I couldn’t see anything, anyway, which is my preference for how I not see things. I was surprised when the music started piping in 90 minutes later. The time went quickly.

I showered, put on my bathrobe and went to the lounge to wait for my masseuse. I don’t wear robes much, and struggled to prevent a Basic Instinct/Sharon Stone thing from happening.

The massage was an hour long and very thorough. A few places were tight, but I never experienced any actual pain, only a few moments of discomfort as the knots were beaten about lovingly. My neck was not surprisingly the worst. My mind didn’t drift as much here and you’re unlikely to fall asleep as something pummels your flesh, but it was relaxing in its own way. If I was rich I’d have someone do this every week or something.

Overall, it was a zany, strange but ultimately worthwhile experience. I’d definitely try doing a float again and knowing what I know now, I’d probably have more time to zone out and less given over to flailing.

Also my ears were crusty with salt when I got home. That’s not something you normally expect.