Float away… We test out floation tanks in Altrincham
PUBLISHED: 11:50 13 June 2019
Kate Houghton tries out floatation therapy at Zero Gravity in Altrincham
I get terribly claustrophobic when in any confined space. I once tried a canal boat holiday: the silence of the night was ripped apart by yours truly when I dreamed I was being crushed in a lock. So, as you can imagine, settling myself into a floatation tank, dropping the lid and so plunging into darkness KNOWING I was in a box (of sorts) took some explaining to aforementioned long-suffering husband. In the end, he came too. Not to lie in wait to rescue me, but to experience it for himself, and tell me all about it should I wimp out.
Floatation therapy takes one human and places them in a large, lidded, tank containing water absolutely packed with Epsom salts, or magnesium sulphate, for the scientifically minded. The water is slightly warm and the salt content means that you bob about on the surface with ease.
Simon, who founded Zero Therapy in 2018, took my husband and I to show us both how it worked and talked us through everything we needed to know - from showering first and after, to the best way to lie in the tank. Each room has a walk in shower, with gel, shampoo and hair conditioner (for using after, not before) silicone ear plugs and a huge, white tank. When you've showered (you can wear a cossie or not) you climb into the tank and lie back.
Most of the body hangs just below the water level, with face, chest and upper legs just breaking the surface. It's an extraordinary feeling. Your body is completely supported, and all muscles are able to relax at the same time, with no pressures on any part of you. My head relaxed back, my arms and legs settled into their own optimal position (starfish, apparently) and my hips dropped under the water. At first, I was a bit tense. Soft music plays for five minutes and coloured lights fade in and out. At the five minute mark this all stops and you are left in utter darkness - pure sensory deprivation. For me, this was too much and I switched my lights back on. I found that this, plus keeping my eyes closed, was enough to allow me to keep the lid down, at least for a while. I confess I did lift it a couple of times during the hour, but as that hour absolutely rushed past, I was definitely able to relax much more than I had thought I would. Mike says he went quite quickly into a dreamy state, where his mind drifted and his body just hung, totally relaxed, in the warm water.
So that's how it feels, but why is it supposedly so good for you? Well, magnesium is vital for normal body function, especially the muscles and joints, but a lack of magnesium has also been connected to feelings of apathy, fatigue and poor stress-response. Lying in a bath filled with the stuff allows your body to absorb it and counteract the deficiency most of us have. The act of floating, of almost weightlessness, provides relief from muscular pain and tension and optimises blood flow. The sensory deprivation (or even partial deprivation) triggers a light meditative state, allowing your mind to roam free. Many people doze off. Mike did, saying he felt quite surprised when the music started up at the end of the hour, having thought he'd only been in there a very short while.
Afterwards, I felt great, but Mike was happy as can be. His lower back is a mess, quite frankly, and has caused much pain and fury over the last 12 months. After this one session, he felt more mobile than he's felt for a very long time.
Simon then asked us if we fancied trying the massage chairs. These are about as far removed from those you see in airports as a Tom Kerridge burger is from a McDonalds'. At first, I thought I might be experiencing the 21st century version of the medieval torture chair, as the arms clamp down over your forearms, your feet are gripped tightly and your hips squeezed in a vice-like grip. As the chair 'finds' your joints, your feet, legs and back are all vigorously 'rolled' - and I got the giggles in a big way. It soon settles into a routine, however, and then the bliss sets in. Feet are rolled with rotating balls (weird, but wonderful); arms are gripped by heated pads, that squeeze and release throughout the 20 minute experience; the back is rolled, stretched and pummelled; the glutes given a good workout; and the shoulders and neck rolled and stretched repeatedly. It's a truly strange experience, but oh my - I shall be going back. Afterwards it felt like my whole body was humming, vibrating with energy. Mike was in heaven - what with the total relaxation of the tank, then an almost full-body massage, he's not walked so easily in months!
We shall both be back, without any doubt at all!