Fear of Floating

March 26, 2018

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SHOW OF HANDS: Who’d like to be buried alive in a watery grave? Right. I’ve had that same reaction for years to the prospect of a flotation tank (née: sensory-deprivation or isolation tank—sounds like a dungeon for violent criminals).  On the one hand, I’m an avid swimmer and like a warm bath as much as the next girl, so the elemental power of water is not lost on me. On the other hand: A moderate claustrophobic, I panic trying to extricate myself from a sports bra.  Closing the lid on a body-sized box with me still inside seemed a non-starter, even if the benefits are transcendent and the popularity soaring.

When Soulex Float Spa opened in DC, though, I was finally intrigued enough to cautiously check it out. Okay, the website video is serenity itself, and every photo radiates peace and calm. The first picture of a pod, though, and my breathing gets shallow. It’s roomier than I’d imagined, but, I mean, the thing has a lid! That completely closes! Tight, like a clamshell! Happy as a clam, my ass…. But then comes a shot of someone floating with the lid ajar—ah, hadn’t dawned on me that this was an option. Even better, there’s a room with a topless tub, totally open, a shallow mini-pool. Once all the lights are out, it shouldn’t make any difference, of course, but knowing is everything. Float tank, my claustrophobia accepts the challenge!

I book the open pool, chide myself for being chicken and switch to a pod room. Everything at Soulex is spotless, gracious and soothing; showering while the pod fills, it all feels eminently approachable. With the lid about two-thirds closed, I slide into body-temp water so Epsom-salted that I am mostly submerged yet securely buoyed. Lulled by candy-colored lights and vague gentle sounds (which will fade out after several minutes), it’s all going so swimmingly heh heh that I gradually inch the lid down…down…all the way down. NO no no no no. Abort! Abort! Lid up! Which in turn brings home the point that opening the lid lets in cooler air. Interesting battle of primitive needs here; the urge to stay warm wins. The lid comes back down, darkness and silence descend; I grab the hand grips on the sides of the tub to verify my ability to haul my ass out of there in a heartbeat, and settle in for some transcendence. And…you know what? It’s fine, in fact, really quite fine.

Having opened the lid once seems to have reassured me about an escape plan. So now I can just relax. Go ahead. Go on. Relax. Atta girl. I don’t think I’m relaxing right. How can I not know how to relax? Other people do it—how do they do it? Okay, clear your mind. Shoulders loose. Let yourself just experience. Feel the soft support of the warm water, feel the chill on the fatty bits that bob above the waterline. Brrr. Briefly submerge those parts (must be done sequentially), and start over. Belly breathing now. Iiiiiin and ouuuuut. What was that movie where Alan Arkin is trapped in an isolation tank for a week and his brain turns to jelly?  Uh, more positivity, please. Let the thoughts flow by. Let it all go. I am a happy little drifting otter. Knees and stomach aren’t bad, but my breasts are for real not into the cooling properties of evaporation. I put my hands on them—well, that’s not very relaxed. I cross my arms over them. Better, but way too suitable for a casket. C’mon now. Sloooow and loose. Consciously relax each muscle. I’m not sure how tipped back my head should be. Well, what’s comfortable? I have no idea. Sixty-three years old, and I don’t know how my head attaches to my neck. Simon!! That was the movie. The evolution scene hahahahaha. Okay, settle down. Goodbye, Simon. Move on. Let your mind empty. Deep breaths. Yeah…no, but seriously—the nipples!

After what felt like a very long time, I finally spaced out to some kind of zen-ness for five or ten minutes, or so it seemed. (That was after I stopped “relaxing” long enough to grab the washcloth intended for wiping salt from your eyes, and drape it over my chest—big help.) Most interesting to me: when, after almost an hour, the lights returned, signaling time to wrap up, I was not particularly eager to lift the lid. As relatively unmellow as I mostly was, I can only blame my brain, which doesn’t even like low gears, let alone—clearly—idling.  Ultimately, amazingly, I was relaxed even while entombed—that has to be some kind of victory over claustrophobia. Maybe even a long-term one—I’ll find out next time I’m tangled up in my underwear. And while I did not emerge feeling in full harmony with the universe, or physically reborn, I did feel good, and as though my normally revving brain had had a nice nap. It was fun and interesting and I’m tempted to do it again because I’m sure I could get quite good at it, the relaxing thing, if I just work at it a little harder.

—Catherine Clifford

Catherine Clifford’s previous contributions for MyLittleBird include posts about botox, balayage  and how to talk to your hair stylist.

♦ Mother’s Day is coming. An hour-long float with a gift basket of custom-blend  herbal tea and bath salts is $85 at Soulex Float Spa.

One thought on “Fear of Floating

  1. Did I write that? It seems like something i would have written. Who’s this person being me. On the other hand, she seems to write in paragraphs that are longer than ten words. So maybe it’s not me. I need to float on this. While laughing.

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