Facing our fears in float therapy

An hour without light, sensation or phones

Josh and Ally walking into Immerse Spa.
Photo: 

Josh: In high school, I had nightmares where I was horrifyingly buried alive. 

A few years later, I was asking Kingston’s Immerse Spa to drop me into a pitch-black sensory deprivation tank. You can imagine my internal shock.

Immerse Spa specializes in float therapy, where you lie in a closed pod that contains a few inches of water with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt in it. You float in the saltwater and there’s no light in the pod, leaving your body to lose all physical sensation.

Ally: When we booked the appointment I quickly realized I was days away from facing one of my biggest fears: tight spaces. 

As a long-time claustrophobe, first triggered by being locked in a Dairy Queen bathroom at the ripe age of four, I shuddered at the thought of being trapped in a dark, glorified bathtub for over an hour.

As a long-time claustrophobe...I shuddered at the thought of being trapped in a dark, glorified bathtub for over an hour.

J: After avoiding research for as long as possible, I was eventually forced to learn some details about the float therapy. Though I still wasn’t thrilled to spend time in a water-coffin, a bigger, more terrifying fear about floating quickly emerged: self-reflection.

I worried a certain type of introspection would throw me into an abyss of my deepest emotions. 

Would I dredge up a painful childhood trauma I’d blocked out and no longer remembered? Was I going to discover a new passion and have to uproot my entire life? Would I realize The Truman Show wasn't actually my favourite movie? The possibilities left me chilled.

A: I was sure that my fear of being unable to escape—and my general dislike of complete darkness—would force me to throw in the towel before stepping foot in the spa. 

When we arrived and spoke to Spence, the spa’s owner, my expectations shot up. 

He ensured us that floating was a personal experience and no one would be forced to do anything they weren’t comfortable with. We'd have full control over the pod’s music, lights and more.

I was ready to hop in the lukewarm water and face my fears, one stroke at a time. 

J: It would take two hours—an hour and 15 minutes to float, and 20 minutes to shower before and after.

Once we were in our separate rooms, I began pacing and texting friends, asking if I was insane for willingly removing all my sensations. 

As I went to respond to a message, I accidentally pulled up my to-do list for the week and got a whiff of all the responsibilities that awaited me outside my simple pod room. 

Suddenly, losing all sensations sounded like a great idea. 

I threw my clothes in a corner, took a two-minute shower, turned off the music and lights, and slipped into my floatation pod.

A: After a long, relaxing shower, I figured it was time to crack open the pod. 

The floating chamber—basically a giant bathtub with a lid—was everything I needed it to be: clean, roomy, and lock-free.

At first, I kept the pod’s lid wide open, flicked on its funky coloured lights, and focused on floating in the tank’s ultra-buoyant saltwater. 

Part of me knew swimming in the low-gravity tub would be the closest I’d ever come to floating in space. Naturally, I took full advantage. I was happy to paddle around and push myself from one side of the pod to the other.  

J: My actual floating experience is a little hazy—as to be expected when you have no concept of time or where your body is located. 

As soon as I entered the water, I felt immediate tensions flare up from every injury I’d ever had. 

Then, in an instant, it was all gone. The line between my skin and the water blurred, as did the difference between having my eyes open or closed.

The line between my skin and the water blurred, as did the difference between having my eyes open or closed.

A: Eventually, I shut myself into the floatation pod and hesitantly turned off the lights—fully depriving myself of my senses. To my surprise, it felt pretty great.

Aside from a few darkness-induced optical illusions, and a minor hallucination where I thought I saw the demon from the horror film The Nun, the distraction-free tank was extremely peaceful.

J: As I moved from side to side, I began reviewing my recent activities—in school, work, and my personal life—and asked myself if they had made me happy. Since the only part of me I could feel was my brain and metaphorical gut, I figured it was a good time to let my purest emotions do the talking. 

After around 20 minutes of contemplation, the tank lights turned on and a jet began running, indicating my time was up. Confused by the abruptness of the timer’s end, I realized I must’ve unknowingly slept for most of my tank time.

A: Without light, sound or smell, it was easy to nod off into a place between waking and sleeping in the pod.

In this half-conscious state, nothing seemed to matter. For once in my life, I was truly worry-free.

J: After a puzzling reintroduction to gravity upon exiting the pod, I felt an overwhelming sense of zen. I kept my floating mentality intact through the night and well into the next morning.

A: The loopy feeling that came with achieving pure relaxation wore off quickly. As soon as I left the pod and re-entered the well-lit real world, I was back to my everyday self. 

While my muscles felt loose and my head a little foggy, my internal dialogue—which had been muted in the tub—picked up right where it left off, listing chores I had yet to complete.

I spent the rest of my night snuggled in bed, leafing through textbooks and riding the wave of post-float tranquility. 

The next morning, however, brought new obligations and soon my time at Immerse felt like a distant memory.

J: Re-acclimating to the stressful life of a Queen’s student occurred faster than I would’ve liked, and I didn’t seem to carry any direct effects from the floating into my next few days—other than the satisfaction of not discovering a dark, hidden, personal truth.

A: While my experience at the spa wasn't life changing, floating is definitely something I’d do again. It allowed me to strip away my inhibitions and focus on being instead of doing.

J: I’m glad I floated, since it’s a rarity these days to do nothing for an hour but think about yourself—especially outside of social media, also known as stalking yourself on Instagram. 

A: The best part of the entire experience was conquering my fear of tight spaces—to an extent—and finding peace in the darkness. We rewarded our bravery with a scoop of ice cream on the way home.

J: While I didn’t find God in a sensory deprivation tank—or even any cast members from The Nun—I had a great time simultaneously forgetting who I was and learning about myself. 

I would do it again in a heartbeat—which I’m sure the floating slowed down.

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