Looking for extreme relaxation? Try a bit of sensory deprivation, says Mark Jorgensen.
Largely due to a decade of often spectacular failure, I don’t really bother with any ‘New Year, New Me’ ideas.
“I panic if I have forgotten my headphones and have to walk for five minutes without music”
Cutting out drinking, eating out or any of the generally fun things, and eating only organic kale while doing squat thrusts may very well add years to my life, but I suspect they would be years spent telling people about the time I stopped drinking, ate kale and did squat thrusts, so I’m happy to give that a miss.
Nevertheless, January is a good time for trying stuff out, so rather than deprive myself of pleasure, I decided that I was going to deprive myself of my senses instead. All of them, actually. For an hour.
Based in Ancoats, Float Level is the only dedicated floatation centre in the North West. You lie in a pod half-filled with body temperature saltwater in complete darkness and silence. This removes nearly all external stimulus and leaves you all alone with just your brain for company and is said to aid deep relaxation.
Upon arrival, following a quick overview, you’re left in your soundproofed room to shower, pop some ear plugs in, then get in the pod and turn the light off from inside once you’re settled.
For the first fifteen minutes, there is music gently playing in the background – imagine an Enya instrumental – before it gradually fades out. It fades back in again five minutes before the end to let you know when time is up.
The pods themselves look like something from a film – a suspended animation chamber for a light years-long journey courageously traversing the outer realms of the universe in a desperate scramble for resources.
I definitely wasn’t pretending that’s what was happening, and I certainly didn’t give a cheeky ‘wink and the gun’ to a beautiful girl in the imaginary crowd there to tearfully see me off, before closing the pod with a dramatic sweep.
Once inside, the first thing you notice is how peculiar it feels to be effortlessly buoyant. You sort of bob around on the surface of the water like a Halloween apple and I spent the first five minutes or so trying to retain a position in the middle of the tank without fidgeting, drifting, then bumping into the side.
After I relaxed, I started to think that it’s initially hard to not try and force yourself to have an earth-shattering epiphany, and in doing so you can end up in a weird little mental cul-de-sac.
I found that just focusing on my breathing allowed me to side step that issue and my mind drifted off on tangent after tangent, interspersed only by the odd drip of saltwater in my eye (for which there is a cleansing spray inside the pod). I was really surprised when the music came back on to say the hour was up.
To put this into context, my impatient stimulus-mollycoddled brain being what it is, I panic if I have forgotten my headphones and have to walk for five minutes without music, so if I were to lie down on the sofa in silence for an hour it would feel like a month. In the pod I was so away with having a good old, constructive word with myself and thinking bizarre thoughts that it passed in no time at all.
After you get out, there is a glass of icy lemon water waiting for you in a little relaxation area where I sat and chatted with another guy who had gone in the other pod at the same time and had a similar positively relaxing experience as I had for his first time doing it.
I recall pondering whether I had become a new age hipster, as I floated round in my futuristic saltwater meditation chamber, wondering what 18 year old me would have made of it. Thankfully, I remembered that 18 year old me was a complete prat who did nothing but relax, so who cares what he would think.
I will definitely be going again, not least for the relaxation of it all – I felt refreshed and actually came out with a to-do list of positive things sort in my mind.
Speaking as an impatient, scatty-brained, claustrophobe who is overly cynical about any form of ‘alternative therapy’, I really can’t recommend enough floating in a small, saltwater-filled box alone for an hour, if that makes sense. Which it doesn’t.
Sense is overrated anyway.