Misc //

Bodies Floating In A Private Sea

Peter Walsh and Samantha Jonscher discovered the virtues of floating in the dark.

Bondi Junction Massage and Float Centre
Individual Float: $45
9am Float: $30
Introductory Float Course (Three Floats): $105

For a long time, sensory deprivation chambers only existed for me in The Simpsons. Homer sails dreamily through the air, famously. Sensory deprivation (or floatation) is the experience of lowering yourself into a pool of ultra-salinised water and floating in darkness. The water is the same temperature as your body, so you feel endless. What’s more, the 250 kg of salt dissolved in each tank keeps you buoyant, so you feel like you have cheated gravity.

In the waiting room, Sam gestured at a tropical fish suspended and motionless in a tank against the opposite wall. “Peter, that will be us”, she said, not noticing the fish wasn’t moving and gradually turning upside down in the tank. And soon it was. We were led to our respective tanks, passing paintings of breaching whales (which resemble the way a folded five dollar bill looks like a whale eating a penis).

Our guide revealed where we would be floating, a pair of plexiglass cocoons with sliding doors reminiscent of a 70s garage. She motioned to the shower and explained that for health and safety reasons everyone had to wash themselves before getting in—“Its reassuring to know that everyone who gets in there is nice and clean”. Somehow this was not reassuring. (The literature suggests that each chamber runs water through a filter between and during floats, which possibly contributes to the way you drift in what is an otherwise still body of water).

The floater has a shower—immediately guaranteeing the float is more hygienic than any childhood jaunt to the local swimming pool, which our communities used as disposal sites for smegma—and seal any cuts with vaseline to avoid the salt getting in. Peter didn’t heed this warning and also got tank water in his eyes almost immediately after lowering himself in, which was agonising. Once resolved, however, the experience was strangely hypnotising.

The earplugs you wear to keep the salt out of your ears but leave you hyperconscious of your breathing and your heart. In moments of relaxation these sounds cumulate with the pressure against your ears to collapse into a personal, hypnotic rave. Bright colors, soft focus and moments of clarity loom behind your eyelids. But the pressure of the water keeps you bound. At first it propels you upwards, its weight pushing against you like the compression socks they give to pregnant women. Like a boat floating dumbly against a pier, your body initially drifts into the tank’s sides. Once you learn to steady yourself and drift untouched, it’s as if you’re off upon a private sea.

You have the option of starting your float to 15 minutes of ambient music, which, in conjunction with the darkness, recalls the scene in the space film where the team goes into cryosleep. The first moment after the music fades and you’re left in silence is harrowing. But the hour passes, the music rises once more, and you’re forced to leave.

Sam and Pete meet back in the waiting room, salt kissed and relaxed. Our guide offers us unsupervised amounts of chamomile tea, raw nuts and ginger biscuits while we peruse a visitor’s book where people review their floats. “It was good” was the laconic agreement from previous attendees, and it was. Even just allocating an hour a week to aimless floating works significantly to facilitate relaxation.

We went back twice more: the experience varying both times. While the second float was marked by some particularly un-zen agitation for both participants (culminating in Sam actually leaving the tank early, while Peter slooped his body side to side like he was on a waterslide at Jamberoo, again getting water in his eyes painfully, but leaving the tank firmly in control of the action), the third and final one gave way to an even deeper relaxation.

After our final float when we met back on the couch in front of the chamomile tea and our fishy friend we both agreed that though it had hardly been transcendent—the internet promises unlocked childhood memories and hallucinations (Peter merely fixated on his ultimate solitude in the universe and Sam by choice or otherwise meditated her most recent sexual encounter vividly and at length)—it had been relaxing and an experience we would recommend to anyone.