Well, you could say almost anytime is a good time to wallow blissfully in a float tank, but I’m going to try and break some things down from my own experience, and also draw from the last three years of running a float center. A float session will always leave you feeling better than when you came in, but sometimes the difference between a good float and an absolutely wonderful float can be a matter of timing and a bit of common sense. Let’s start with some of the more obvious things and move on from there.
One thing many people will ask me is "What time of day is the best time to come in?". This is a challenging question to answer because everyone is different and will have varied results coming out of a session. Each float experience will be different depending on your energy levels and what kind of stress you’re currently under. The best way to figure this out is to actually float a few times and get a feel for it, but there are some things that I can point out. For instance, if I get the feeling that a person is what you would call a “type A personality,” then scheduling a session in the afternoon or evening after a full day of activity would be advisable. For those that have trouble letting go of their mental activity, scheduling a session in the evening after the work day will mean less to worry about. Plus, the body will be more conducive to relaxing and shutting down. Floating in the evening can also prime one to get a deeply restful night’s sleep, as improved sleep is a common benefit I hear about often and experience myself. I’ve also found that floating after a workout or a good yoga session is an excellent time for some float therapy. Not only is it easier to release the mind after a workout, but it can also help the body speed up recovery time. That being said, if one does not have any obligations that day, floating in the morning can allow you to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in a nice serene state of mind, and enjoying a languid day can be just what the doctor ordered. So generally speaking, floating in the morning versus the evening comes down to the degree in which you have control over your mental activity and what kind day you have planned. This can include preparing for something like a presentation or a final exam. I will often see university students schedule appointments before and after midterms for example.
Timing a float session before and after a long flight or a road trip can also do wonders for minimizing stress levels, including muscle tightness and/or pain. A float session can just put one in a much mellower mood, which can be helpful for everyone during travel. Speaking of travel, one thing I wanted to cover real quick--as it happens to be flu season at the moment--is please don’t float at a public center when you are sick or contagious. Although most float centers are very good at keeping their space very clean and hygienic, the inside of a float tank is still a warm, moist environment. So in other words, please be considerate if you have the sniffles and wait until you are completely back on your feet. Your bio-computer is constantly overcoming bugs, viruses etc. and you usually become sick when its processes become overwhelmed. Some of the main benefits of float therapy are preventative when it comes to stress and your immune system. The idea is to de-stress and allow it to work optimally and not let your system get run down in the first place. One last note concerning sinuses and allergies: I would avoid doing a float session if your nasal passages are agitated or swollen, as this can detract from an optimal float experience. This is because your breathing will become a distraction that will be difficult to ignore.
Again, there’s no better teacher than experience, therefore, getting a couple float sessions under your belt will go a long way in helping you figure out the best times to get away from the world.
Let’s move on to some other basics concerning the body. I always tell my clients not to eat a big heavy meal within an hour or so before a float session. Being inside a float tank right after stuffing yourself will only magnify your discomfort. On the other hand, if you haven’t eaten in a few hours it’s okay to have a light snack before you come in. That means a handful of nuts, a smoothie or a fresh apple-kale juice; something along those lines; not something greasy or heavy on your digestion. I also tell people to avoid caffeine before a session for a couple reasons, but mainly because it can make for a counter productive float in terms of getting your mind to shift gears. This would also apply to any other type of stimulant, such as an energy drink and so on. I also want to address the issue of cannabis, but it deserves it’s own little paragraph, so lets move on for now. Being well hydrated is always important but you don’t really need to drink any more water than normal before a session. Doing so can result in having to interrupt your session to go to the bathroom. I should point out that Epsom salt is not actually a salt but magnesium sulfate, and unlike spending a long time in a bathtub, it won’t dry you out and leave you like a prune afterwards. Also, I don’t recommend drinking any alcohol before a session for the same reasons as caffeine, however a single glass of wine would most likely be okay, but nothing more than that.
Now let’s address the issue of cannabis. With the changing attitudes towards cannabis use, more people will be asking about this. First of all, most float centers will have a policy of not allowing someone to use their facility under the influence of alcohol or other mind altering substances in the first place, so prudence in this area goes without saying. That being said, ingesting small amounts of cannabis before a session can have extremely interesting and pleasant effects during a float. What I’ve found is that moderation is the key in this regard. Also, vaping or eating a small amount is preferable to smoking, as smoke can agitate the sinuses, which can detract from an optimal float experience. The consensus about optimally heightening your float experience with cannabis is through ingesting edibles. Another word of caution, if you are new to cannabis use when eating it: Eating cannabis can have a much different effect and can last significantly longer. So, ascertaining your tolerance levels is the intelligent approach. Again, this is changing but depending on where you live, basically the worst thing about cannabis can be getting caught with it. So please be careful and always err on the side of caution.
Now that we’ve covered some of the fundamentals, let's explore some other areas that could be overlooked. One of the most amazing aspects of floating is the introspection and mental clarity that can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time. If you are new to sensory deprivation tanks, testing the waters with shorter sessions in the beginning is logical but I’ve found that a good number of people come out of their first sessions wishing they would have booked a longer float. Clients often report that they were just beginning to really get into the deeper levels of relaxation when the session came to an end. What I generally recommend is for a person to float at least three times to fully appreciate what a float tank can offer, with one of those sessions being a ninety minute or two hour float.
Let’s briefly dive deeper into the psychological benefits and how to use a float tank for mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, because of the current culture and our busy lifestyles, many people simply aren’t prone to taking time out of their schedules to simply “do nothing”. Although with float tanks, meditation and other practices like yoga gaining in popularity, the value of a little solitude is definitely being more understood and appreciated. However, with floating there’s really not any effort or discipline required on your part in order to achieve the same levels of meditative clarity. A float tank simply offers one of the most comfortable and salubrious environments for the human bio-computer to achieve those states and there’s really nothing else like it. I’ve experienced profound states of mind myself and clients will tell me all the time about the clarity and emotional balance they feel afterwards.
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
~ Joseph Campbell ~
~ Joseph Campbell ~
A good analogy that most today can relate too is the idea of rebooting your computer. To start a new program or reset a computer back to it’s original settings, you’ve got to shut it down. When your computer is acting “buggy” sometimes, one of the best things to do is just unplug it for a little while. You could say that is kind of what happens inside a float tank. Not only do the muscles get to completely relax from the stress of gravity, but because a float tank is designed to significantly reduce sensory input, the nervous system is allowed to shut down as well. So one of the things that can happen when you simply allow yourself to move into a state of being…is insight. Without the luxury of distraction (and aren’t there so many these days?) psychological stress and emotional issues will present themselves in order to be resolved. Bathed in silent awareness, a clarity begins to happen and boy does it feel good! I have literally had clients come out of a float session in tears of gratitude.
So what is it about a little solitude and silence that can have such amazing results? Well, that’s quite the question and it deserves its own blog entry to really do it justice. For now, I hope this short entry will help you choose the best times for a float session so that you’ll get the most pleasant and rewarding experience. If you’ve already floated a few times and would like to add any other tips or insights please feel free to comment!