If you ever wanted to convince a sceptic of the powers of meditation, just rip away their senses completely – something I discovered when I was locked in a pitch-black tank filled with salt water for 60 minutes.
Floating, known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST), promises many lifestyle benefits, including lasting calm, heightened creative thought, reducing anxiety, and relieving chronic pain.
It’s become a buzzword (and somewhat of a parody) through the help of podcaster Joe Rogan. I first discovered floating online a few years ago, but in truth, my curiosity for tanks was not serious enough for me to go out on an adventure abroad to find one.
Luckily, The Float Hub at Sanya in Naxxar, conveniently located just 10 minutes from where I work, has set up one of the first tanks in Malta. It’s €45 for an hour session – and Sanya provides you with a helpful guide to prepare you for what to expect, particularly if you’re a floating virgin like I was
“But one whole hour, in darkness, alone?!” was, without fail, the most popular response I received when I told people that I would be going into the tank.
So why do it?
Floating is designed to leave you utterly alone with your thoughts. No sight, sound, or gravity.
It’s an intriguing prospect and must be approached with an open mind. Dismissing floating before going in or hyping it up as some mythical force will be detrimental. My advice is just to go in and take it for what it is – a moment alone – away from everything and everyone.
A tank has about ten inches of water, into which a thousand pounds of Epsom salts have been dissolved. The water is so buoyant it’s impossible to not float in it.
The water is precisely body temperature, leaving you weightless without your senses.
That’s a luxury for most people who have not spent time without sight, sound, and feeling since leaving the womb. It is the perfect escape from our always-connected culture.
Journalism, a profession I have loved ever since falling into the industry about four years ago, can be hard to escape. Working overtime, weekends, and public holidays is the name of the game – with politics often following you whether it’s work hours or not.
I am someone who has seldom devotes time for self-reflection. Until recently, I was overworked, tired, irritable and stressed. That hour alone seemed like an unachievable paradise.
So when I was invited over to Sanya – I jumped at the opportunity.
I made sure to clear out my afternoon schedule, scrambling in the morning to make sure my daily tasks were finished by the time I went in the tank.
I was anxious about entering the tank from the moment I accepted Sanya’s invitation. The length of time can seem daunting – and for a person who has never properly meditated before, I was terrified that I would just end up bored, floating away as the time went by.
However, it hadn’t really occurred to me to be afraid of floating in a pitch-dark, top-sealed tank until a friend of mine told me they were terrified to try it.
“Scared of what?” I thought, but by then, some anxiety had already set in: heavy air, claustrophobia, and an irrational fear of falling asleep and drowning in the water.
All those fears are quickly brushed aside once you visit Sanya, who walk you through what to expect.
The floatation tank appeared more welcoming than I’d expected. It was white and sleek and looked like a giant clam. The lid domed up to make quite a lot of headspace. I am only 5ft8, and I could comfortably sit up in the tank when it was closed. Any final destination-esque fears of being trapped inside the tank are quickly dismissed.
The lid can be lifted with the slightest push – and even then, there is a panic button to the right of you just in case you get overly anxious. Sanya does suggest to people who suffer from any form of claustrophobia to experiment with opening and closing the hatch as they please since they are in total control”. However, my advice is to embrace the experience. Solitude and silence is a gift seldom afforded.
You can also turn the lights on any time you wish – so if darkness isn’t for you, you can enjoy a rainbow of colours filling the tank.
I was scheduled for an hour—a long time for a bath, maybe, but a short time by the standards of a REST tank, where the temperature holds steady and the salt means that your skin won’t prune.
The short time can be great for anyone on a quick schedule. You can easily just go for an hour session, just as much as you might visit a spa. However, unlike spas, tanks help not only your body but also your mind.
The time finally came for me to enter the tank. They provide you with earplugs and a cloth to wipe off any salt. A word of advice… do not touch your eyes once you’re in the water. It’s a mistake I’ll never forget.
I laid back in the water, the music slowly filled the tank, and I turned off the lights.
It was a sensation, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, to be completely suspended above water without any effort whatsoever. If I sat still enough, it really felt like I was floating in a vacuum.
For three or four minutes, I had a vague feeling of panic. I was anxious about the experience, but floating in the dark for the first time can be disorienting, so I often reassured myself by touch.
The music was welcomed as I slowly found myself drifting and easing into the experience – but the tank turning silent roughly 15 minutes in was a relief.
Many people are afraid of lulls in conversation; other people are afraid of silences in their own brains – this is a weird mixture of both. Once the music stopped, I began hearing my breath and heartbeat, which seemed to echo in the tank.
Suddenly, I felt an ache in my left shoulder – an area that flares up whenever stress rears its ugly head. I powered through it – lying there doing my best to just focus on my thoughts – and most importantly, relax and enjoy the experience.
Soon after – my body slowly descended into a perfect calm. My mind began drifting. I found myself fluctuating between memories I once thought I forgot – and issues I was having with work at the time.
Although I wasn’t having any life-altering hallucinations, my spatial awareness became heavily distorted, and geometric forms began to form in the darkness staring right back at me. It was almost as if my brain were trying to create some visual image to match my sensory perceptions.
Every now and then, one of my limbs would graze the side of the tank —a gentle but welcomed reminder of reality. However, considering the noise and distractions of my daily life, it turned out that spending an hour in the tank was exactly what I desperately needed. And it was far too short.
I was lying there, alone with my thoughts and little concern for how much time has passed. It became one of the few occasions I truly felt alone and at peace.
Suddenly, the music started playing again – and I knew my time was coming to an end. I turned on the lights of the tank – my eyes blinking and bleary – slowly coming accustomed to reality. An hour had passed, but in truth, it did not seem that long. I even double-checked the clock to make sure!
I got out, had a shower, and even managed to squeeze in tea before making my home.
This is where the real magic begins. I wandered back home, looking forward to an afternoon of just sitting down on my sofa, reading, and sneaking in a nice nap.
But suddenly, my phone began ringing, and I had some errands to do. What was once a nauseating feeling that caused irritability on my days off became a distant memory. Nothing felt tedious, and dealing with short queries quickly with no stress became a simple task.
The following days and weeks were more of the same. Frustrations fell by the wayside – and I found that floating affected my mood and ability to take the stress on the chin to an impressive degree.
I did not go into the tank with many expectations – but one thing it did was restructure my mind and appreciate the power of stillness and meditation in our daily lives.
Book one as soon as you can.
If you’re interested – you can reach out to Sanya on 21436936 or visit their website.
Would you ever try a float tank?