My brother, Doug, came across a couple of gift certificates to Ascension Float. It's a business that provides deprivation tank floating therapy. He asked if I wanted to go, and I said YES! Let's talk about that...
So what is floating?
To float, you enter an isolation tank, usually called a sensory deprivation tank (also known as a float tank, flotation tank, or sensory attenuation tank). The tank itself is about seven feet tall, eight feet long, and four and a half feet wide. It's completely void of any light and absolutely soundproof. It has roughly 200 gallons of water that is only 10-11 inches high at the bottom that is kept at skin temperature (34°C/93.5°F), and mixed with an extremely high ratio (1100 pounds per tank!) of Magnesium Sulfate, aka Epsom salt. The buoyancy created by the Epsom salt solution effectively removes the effects of gravity on the body. It makes you feel completely weightless, allowing your muscles to relax and completely let go. Basically all your senses are muted for you to be left only with your thoughts.
I was always pretty grossed out by sharing the water someone else floats in due to being a clean freak, but the Epsom salt solution is highly sterile and the water in the tank is run multiple times through a rigorous filtration system between each float session. The system uses a micron filter, UV light, Ozone, and hydrogen peroxide application. Unlike pools and hot tubs, only one person floats at a time and showers thoroughly before entering the tank. Additionally, the Epsom salt solution is good for the hair and skin and can help leave it feeling soft and smooth, even after multiple hours in the tank.
These isolation tanks were invented in 1954 by a neuropsychiatrist named John C. Lilly. He used these iso tanks to test the effects of sensory deprivation. He coined it Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (R.E.S.T.). He also studied dolphins and their ability to communicate with humans.
Although later he used the iso tanks with LSD and Ketamine for psychoanalysis, nowadays floating has many uses. It's used as an alternative medicine, a meditation aid, for stress relief, to alter states of consciousness, and some athletes use it as a positive visualization technique to enhance performance.
Ascension Float states...
"Floating is great for anyone seeking pain or stress management, incredibly deep rest and relaxation, a more positive mood, enhanced creativity, introspection, and reflection. Regularly experiencing these results leads to greater awareness and well-being, improved quality of life and ultimately personal growth."
Read more about Ascension Float's health benefits claims here.
People now pay money to float. Here's the prices at Ascension Float as of our float on March 10th, 2018:
- One Time Float | $65 (90-minute float)
- Beginner’s Intro Four Pack | $180 (Four, 90-minute floats, non-shareable). If you aren’t happy with the results, they'll refund your money.
- Serotonin Membership | $55/month (One float a month, non-shareable). New members receive one free float upon sign up.
- Dopamine Membership | $100/month (Two floats a month, shareable). New members receive one free float upon sign up.
I've always wanted to try this. When Doug said there was a place in Airdrie, I was pumped! I read the website and there were a few things to do/not do:
- No caffeine - Whoops... I need a morning coffee (or two, or three) to exist.
- No need to bring anything, maybe a contact lens case and a hair brush.
- Don't shave that day - I shaved. I've been in Epsom salt before, no biggie.
- Remove all expectations - Not gonna happen.
We decided to check it out. It was a sunny, warm, really slushy, March Saturday at about noon. I drove up and met him there at 105, 28 Gateway Drive in Airdrie, Alberta. We walked in and no one was there to greet us. There was a sign stating that we remove our shoes and fill out the waivers and have a seat. It was quiet and we didn't know if there were floats going on so we kept our voices at a minimum and put our phones to silent... just in case.
Click or touch the pic below to scroll through more pics of the lobby at Ascension Float:
In the lobby, it had a sweet citrus smell. There was kombucha on tap and bottles of the stuff for sale, a few giant bags of Epsom salt, and a chalkboard mural of all the prices and memberships available. Seemed pretty cool so far. I finished filling out the waiver and Doug was still reading it like someone who studies the terms and service agreement. We both didn't know what to expect and were a little hesitant.
Then a guy came out wearing a t-shirt and shorts and sandals. He introduced himself as Rian. He was the owner/creator of Ascension Float. He asked us why we wanted to try floating and how we heard about the place. He took our waivers and then led us inside. We walked through the lobby door and the place transformed. It was a cozy, warm, zen-like atmosphere. Chalkboards, a salt lamp and an aromatherapy diffuser, low and dark lighting, and cool paintings. Totally got us relaxed.
Click or touch the following photo to scroll through more pics of the inside:
Rian showed us around, then took us into one of the float rooms.
The first room he showed us was the open tub. It's for floaters that might get claustrophobic and prefer the open space instead of inside a closed pod. Same effects, just not enclosed – no doors, no lids. The ultra violet and blue lights don't do the justice in the two photos, the room looks much better in person.
Click or touch the following photo to scroll through more pics of the open tub (not my photos):
Then Rian showed us the enclosed float tanks themselves. It wasn't a little space pod like The Simpsons went into (see video at the end of this blog), but a giant fiberglass, mini shed-like structure. I could comfortably stand up inside. It was tall, wide, and only had a little bit of water in it. There was a blue light inside just to start off, and after a few minutes it turns off.
Click or touch the following photo to scroll through more pics of the enclosed tank (again, not my photos):
There were supplied earplugs, facecloths, and a neck pillow you rest your head on if you didn't want to submerge your ears. Rian mentioned that any minor cut would shoot pain like crazy, and if we had any cuts, to use the supplied Vaseline to patch 'em up and keep the salt out. There was a freshwater spray bottle for our face, and a vinegar water spray bottle to wash the salt out of our ears after.
He gave us the overview of what to do before and after, and then he suggested we let go of all expectations. Rian said, "Try not to focus on what a float may or may not be. Instead, keep an open mind. Each float is unique to the individual and the moment. And it possibly could take a few sessions to truly relax and let go."
So... time to go in. I decided not to use the earplugs, neck pillow, and refused to have the music play throughout. Completely purist for my first experience.
I got completely nekkid (they recommend it), showered up, and popped in.
I stepped inside and laid down. The luminous blue light was on and the music played. The music plays for the first five minutes to settle you in. I immediately realized I shouldn't have shaved. OW! The Epsom salt was burning my neck. And it stung! Way to go Lee, don't listen... ugh. After a minute or two the pain subsided. But damn!
I was completely floating in this small amount of water. It took a few seconds for me to realize that I can relax my neck completely and my head will float and not sink under like a bath at home. After a few minutes, it was impossible to comprehend which parts of my body were in water and which weren't. Strange. It feels exactly like I'm laying on my waterbed without any pressure, or more simply, like floating in mid air. Then, I tried a few arm positions. I tried them down by my sides, but I felt like they were pulling my shoulders in. Then I tried keeping them palm up, above my shoulders like the pic below, and this felt perfectly calm and natural.
Then, the music faded slowly... the blue light dimmed... complete blackout.
You can't help but just smile and laugh a bit. It's quite the experience - floating weightlessly, supported by a cushion of silky, skin-temperature liquid. It's completely black. My eyes are fully open, but it's black. There were even times I had to blink heavily just to make sure my eyes were in fact open. I couldn't tell. Freed from all sensation of gravity, temperature, touch, sight, and sound, you feel the redirect of energy from physical to mental. It's like a switch... the decrease in stimuli and the anti-gravity sensation allows your mind to drift into a deep state of relaxation.
The only way I can describe what you "see" (or at least what I saw), is like very colorful dreaming, while awake, with your eyes wide open, on a black background. Kinda like the Stargate sequence from my favorite movie of all time – 2001: A Space Odyssey. It looked much like this:
About 15 minutes in, it's just you and your mind. You lose all concept of time. I had no idea how long I've been in and how long I had to go. I started counting seconds, then gave up. It must have been about half an hour in now, and my mind was flowing. Heavy visualizations materialized. And not like visualizations you get when your eyes are closed, but actual color streams and moving images that feel like they are actually there! Your eyes are open, they are there. You do "see" them.
I was seeing sheep, then cows, then faces. Faces of people I didn't know. Then I felt like I was floating in space, deep in a distant galaxy somewhere. There were these constant concentric circles that kept coming back throughout the float. It was like I was going down a covered water-slide but in reverse. I was thinking of my wife Natalie, my son Charlie, and my daughter Elle. I also kept trying to mentally project a spinning red apple to my brother in the other float tank. I also kept seeing a bright yellow shimmering light peeking behind a silhouette of the pyramids. It reminded me of this:
Then, out of nowhere, this guy showed up:
His head, as exactly shown above, kept floating in and out of the darkness. Whoa.
I later found out that this was the character Count Orlok from the old silent horror film from 1922 called Nosferatu. It's about the mysterious Count Orlok (Max Schreck) who summons Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) to his remote Transylvanian castle in the mountains. The eerie Orlok seeks to buy a house near Hutter and his wife, Ellen (Greta Schroeder). After Orlok reveals his vampire nature, Hutter struggles to escape the castle, knowing that Ellen is in grave danger. Catch the whole film here. No idea in it's relevance to my subconscious or conscious float mind, but hey... good trip!
While floating there were a few times I pulled out of a zen like state:
- You can’t help but think of an itch when it happens, and an itch happened upon my face. You want to scratch so bad, but you can't because if you do, you'll scratch and the salt from your finger will dry up on your face and make it even more itchy. So I just zenned them away.
- Occasionally I'd be floating and I'd float into the sides of the tank. Top – bottom – left – right. It'd be nice to float in a bigger tank. Not saying the tank was small, just less distraction the better.
- Most of the time I have an extremely good sense of direction. I always usually know where North is. I was absolutely lost in this tank! Sometimes I had no idea which way I was facing. It was weird because it wasn’t like I was spinning, I was facing the same way the entire time. Just def didn’t feel like it. At all.
- And twice, I twitched. Much like when you're about to fall asleep and take a misstep off a curb and you jolt awake. I wasn't falling asleep, just completely relaxed and missteppin' waves across the universe.
I think it was at about an hour into the float, I lost all senses. No more color, no more visualizations, I was just focusing on my breathing. I think I might've even fallen asleep. I’m not sure. Then, the music faded in, and the blue light slowly came on easing me out of the float. I just laid there and smiled. I took a few moments to reflect and embrace the experience, I took some pics and vids, then, I slowly got out.
I rinsed my face with the freshwater, and rinsed my ears with the vinegar water solution. I then slowly showered up with the provided soap, which is made from Calendula (Marigolds). It's known for its anti-inflammatory properties which are beneficial for dry, itchy skin, and it's also safe and delicate for babies. The shower and soap is a must! Having any residue salt caked on you afterwards would suck. I dried off, then put on my watch, beads, and got dressed. Everything I was wearing felt so unnecessary, heavy, and burdensome. I was moving at a snails pace, but my mind was clear and at peace.
I came out of the room and saw my bro smiling. He too enjoyed it thoroughly. He said he didn't see an apple I was projecting at all, haha, oh well.
Ascension Float said all you'll need is a hairbrush coming in, and they were right. They had hairdryers, lotions, Q-Tips, and an assortment of grooming products that you are free to use. They provide complimentary tea and water, reading material, and a tranquil atmosphere. It was a good wind down post-float.
Click or touch the following photo to scroll through more pics of the post-float station:
You can relax in their chill-out lounge as long as you like afterwards. Have a tea, sit on a beanbag chair, write something on the chalkboard wall, or document your experience in their post-float journal for someone else to read.
I felt as if I had slept for 12+ hours without the grogginess after. I also felt as if all of my senses were slightly heightened. Not like superhero-ish, but somewhat personified. It was a truly unique feeling. I was now clear, refreshed, and more aware. It was fantastic.
Whether you believe in altered states of consciousness or think that the benefits of floating might be for you, this is a must do! I recommend EVERYONE try this - at least once. Both my brother and I will be back.
There's a ton of float centers available in Calgary too:
- Clear Float Spa | $59 (60-minute float), $99 (150-minute float)
- FloatLife | $45 (60-minute float), $55 (90-minute float)
- One Love Float | $69 (60-minute float), $99 (2-4 hour float), $129 (4-6 hour float)
- Soul Float | $49 (60-minute float), $60 (90-minute float)
- The Home of OM | $49 (60-minute float), $69 (90-minute float)
But if you go to Ascension Float, tell 'em Lee sent ya! You'll love it.
Check out the mini-video I shot while visiting Ascension Float:
And check out The Simpsons, Lisa and Homer, try floating for the first time: